For the Blue Devils, their ACC Championship tune-up ended on the upswing.
Duke wrapped up its regular season over the weekend, defeating UNC Greensboro in match play Sunday afternoon at Greensboro Country Club. The par-72, 7,296-yard course saw all eight matches go at least 15 holes, a testament to the evenness between the two top-50 programs. In the end, Duke secured the victories needed to win by a final score of 5-3.
“I thought it was really a very valuable exercise for both our teams. We were hoping to get a little match play … we just don’t do it that much in stroke play throughout the year,” said Duke head coach Jamie Green. “We picked that golf course … [because] it was Bermuda grass greens and Zoysia grass fairways, which you don't see a lot. That’s what the ACC Championship is going to be on.”
Sophomore Luke Sample had a monster day Sunday, scoring the deciding point of the match while battling through some adversity. Sample trailed Nick Lyerly for nearly all of the front nine before pulling even with a birdie on the par-3 eighth. He capitalized on his momentum with a birdie on the ninth hole and a par on 11 to go up two strokes. The New York native dropped the 14th hole, but he regained his advantage on 15 and sealed the 2&1 victory.
“Luke has really stepped up,” Green said. “He’s been playing some clean golf of late and he’s rolling. He played one of the better players in Nick Lyerly.”
The Blue Devils’ Daniel Choi and Ethan Evans each picked up their first-career match play victories, major milestones for the rookies. Both wins were impressive in their own right. While Evans never trailed en route to his 4&3 win over the Spartans’ Connor Brown, Choi originally lost his two-stroke advantage over Parker Truesdale at 14 with a double bogey.
But Choi, a Westlake, Texas native, dug deep and pulled it back to even on hole 15 with a clutch birdie. After parring holes 16 and 17, another birdie on 18 sealed the 2-up win for Choi.
“Daniel didn’t play so hot in the fall by his own expectations and estimation. But, he came back with a bit of a renewed perspective in the spring, and has shown some real impressive signs of maturity,” Green said. “It’s great for him and good for the other guys to see that pay off for him.”
The other two victories came from junior Jimmy Zheng and sophomore Kelly Chin. Chinn won three straight holes on the front nine to build up a decisive advantage. He preserved the lead throughout the round and ultimately won 3&2 over Noah Connor. Meanwhile, Zheng contributed a dominant match victory as well, jumping out to a fast start with a birdie on the second hole, a par five, and never looking back. Zheng went up by as many as five holes on Tommy Lamb at the turn. Although Lamb made a small comeback on the back nine to make it within two, Zheng then birdied 15 and parred 16 to secure the 4&2 win.
After its successful play in Greensboro, Duke begins postseason competition this weekend, with the ACC Championship teeing off from the Country Club of North Carolina in Pinehurst, N.C. Individual play will start Friday morning and last the first two days of the weekend before match play takes over Sunday.
Look for Duke to possibly take advantage of the fact that Chinn is a member at the Country Club of North Carolina and has hosted teammates for rounds in the offseason. The Blue Devils will hope to put up excellent performances in pursuit of their first ACC title since 2017.
“Our expectation is to go out there and do what we’re capable of,” said Green. “Sometimes things can move fast, especially in ACC or [NCAA] regional or national championship play. You really got to kind of slow things down if it gets away from you. Hopefully, we’ll show the maturity to do that if it happens, and we’d love to have a long week.”
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