On Friday morning, Duke began its quest for a ninth league title in program history at the Country Club of North Carolina’s Dogwood Course. The Blue Devils entered the ACC Championship as the No. 7 seed, but recent wins at the Stitch Intercollegiate and against UNC Greensboro put them in a position to charge up the leaderboard.
Duke ultimately placed fourth in stroke play at 4-under to advance before falling in Sunday’s match play semifinals to Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets went on to defeat Wake Forest for the title Monday.
Duke brought five golfers on the hour-long drive to Pinehurst, N.C.: Freshmen William Love and Ethan Evans, sophomores Kelly Chinn and Luke Sample and junior Ian Siebers. Chinn is a member at the 7,301-yard, par-72 course and set the course record there during the 2021 US Junior Amateur.
The team got off to a rapid start in round one with all five individuals finishing under par en route to a 6-under 282. Siebers and Sample set the pace with a 2-under round of 70, and Evans, Chinn and Love also had solid rounds of 71. All players cashed in at least three birdies, which was a testament to their approach-shot accuracy and consistency on the greens.
“We went in there with a pretty high level of confidence, and we went in there expecting to be there in match play,” head coach Jamie Green said. “To just have the vision and have the belief, I think that was the key.”
During round two, the Blue Devils took a slight step back, shooting a 3-over 291. The course conditions changed throughout the day, which presented many challenges for Duke and other teams. Still, Sample bounced back from a bogey-bogey start to finish even par alongside Siebers, who shot bogey-free. After 36 holes, the Blue Devils found themselves in fourth place behind Georgia Tech, Wake Forest and Florida State.
“One of our leaders in terms of adapting and doing what needs to be done for the team was Luke Sample,” Green said. “The fact he has matured so much emotionally and mentally on the golf course has allowed him to not be so high and low and to not be so down when things don’t work out while playing. I think this showed over the weekend.”
Duke entered the third and final round of stroke play in position to reach the match play portion of the ACC Championship for the first time since the format was introduced in 2021. After a weather delay until Sunday, the Blue Devils got the job done with a 1-under 287. Sample was the stand-out performer, carding a 5-under 67 to surge to joint-third on the leaderboard and provide Duke with important birdies down the stretch.
The New York native kept his composure throughout the round, playing consistently until the 17th and 18th holes, where he cashed in a birdie and an eagle. Siebers also performed in the clutch, capping off his 1-under 71 with a crucial birdie on 18. The rest of the team battled through bogeys throughout the round but persevered nonetheless to earn the team a bid to face No. 1-seed Georgia Tech in the semifinals.
“Entering the tournament, I was talking about how we need to play on Monday and it didn’t matter if we dominated stroke play or got in on a playoff,” Green emphasized. “I think just this vision along with the success we’ve had as a team recently allowed our guys to follow this vision and perform.”
The Blue Devils fell to the Yellow Jackets 3-1-1, bringing their ACC Championship hopes to an end. Chinn gave Duke its only victory and secured his third collegiate match play victory in his 2&1 win over Georgia Tech’s Connor Howe. Despite bursting out of the gate to a 4-up start, Evans slowly saw his lead dwindle away and tied for the match. Sample, Love and Siebers all lost their matches without getting to hole 18.
Despite the loss, the Blue Devils still have more to look forward to. The team turns its attention to NCAA Regionals, for which selections will be announced May 4.
“There is still the same level of confidence within the team as going into the week,” Green said. “We had our ups and our downs, and we’ve definitely underperformed as a team in some tournaments, but one thing for certain is that throughout the year I felt like a growth in the team was going on and we were really putting ourselves in good positions and making adjustments and adaptations.”
Get The Chronicle straight to your inbox
Signup for our weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.