Brinker places second in bid for repeat title at ACC Championship, Duke women's golf ousted in semifinals

Phoebe Brinker placed second individually at the ACC Championship, one year after winning the individual title.
Phoebe Brinker placed second individually at the ACC Championship, one year after winning the individual title.

GREENSBORO, N.C.—Duke has recaptured some mojo. That was not enough, though, against surging Clemson. 

Saturday at Sedgefield Country Club gave way to the match play semifinals of the ACC Championship. And while the second-seeded Blue Devils and third-seeded Tigers duked it out throughout the morning and early afternoon in the Gate City, it was ultimately Clemson that came out on top 3-1-1. The Tigers went on to knock off No. 4-seed Virginia in the Sunday finale, also via a 3-1-1 mark.

“Well, it was a good conference championship, from the standpoint that prior to N.C. State, we hadn't been having a really good spring, and we now have had two tournaments where we've played Duke golf,” said head coach Dan Brooks, opting for an optimistic outlook. 

It ended on the 17th, as Phoebe Brinker — the silver medalist during stroke play Thursday and Friday – faced a 2-down deficit to Clemson’s Annabelle Pancake with just two holes to go. Despite needing to stuff her approach at the uphill par-four, the Delaware native found the middle of the green. 

That left the door open for Pancake, who barged right through it with a stellar second shot to tap-in range. Once Brinker missed her putt, it was over. Isabella Rawl (5&4) and Chloe Holder (3&2) had already bagged wins over Megan Furtney and Erica Shepherd, respectively, and Pancake’s 3&1 win clinched the third point to send the Tigers to the title match. 

A Clemson celebration, between players and parents, ensued off the 17th green, while the Blue Devils were eliminated a round short of the finals for the second-straight year.

“I made a couple of mistakes that I definitely didn't make the first two days out here,” said Brinker, whose driver struggles forced her to hit three-wood off multiple tees.

Brinker battled back from an early three-hole deficit, though, knocking in a short par putt on 13 to even the match. But an airmailed approach on the 14th led to a bogey — and Pancake taking a 1-up lead. Then, the Archmere Academy alum three-putted the par-three 16th after a slightly misjudged tee shot. 

Brinker was off by a fraction, and her Clemson counterpart took advantage. 

Rawl and Holder also took advantage, as Furtney and Shepherd, respectively, could not keep pace on the closing stretch. With Rawl 1-up and short of the green on the par-three 12th, Furtney went after the pin. But the Illinois native left her tee shot on the upper plateau of the green, resulting in a three-putt. When Rawl chipped it close, she had a 2-up edge. Furtney proceeded to lose 13 and 14 with bogeys, and Rawl put the first Tiger flag on the board.

Holder was also 1-up on Shepherd through 11, and both had makeable birdie putts after terrific tee shots. But Shepherd missed on the high side, while Holder fed her ball into the cup to go 2-up. The Indiana native then tried to force the issue on 13, leaving herself short-sided with her approach and notching bogey to fall 3-down.

After rolling in her par putt to clinch the 3&2 win, Holder acknowledged the Clemson fans back on the tee with a hearty fist pump. 

That put Clemson within a point of advancing, setting the stage for Pancake.

However, it was not a clean Tiger sweep, as Andie Smith snagged a 2&1 win over Melena Barrientos. Brooks sent the freshman out first in her ACC Championship debut and stuck by Smith’s side the entire round. 

After the match, Brooks noted that outside of a seven-hole, nine-over stretch during the third round of stroke play Friday, “the rest of her golf in this tournament was really, really good.”

As for Anne Chen, her back-and-forth battle with Savannah Grewal was left undecided — the two were tied through 19 when Clemson clinched the victory. Neither player had more than a one-hole lead after the third hole, and the Houston native rolled in a clutch birdie putt on 18 to send it to extra holes.

To get to match-play, the Blue Devils teed it up for 54 holes of stroke play Thursday and Friday. And Brinker, as she was in her six-shot title win in Pawley’s Island, S.C., last year, was the headliner.

After opening with 71 and 69, Brinker went out in two-under 33 Friday and was in joint second. But eight shots behind Virginia’s Amanda Sambach, the No. 42 amateur in the world,  any hopes of a repeat appeared lost. 

That is, until the back nine started. 

Improbably, Brinker birdied 10, 11, 12 and 13. Suddenly at -10, she had cut the deficit in half with five holes to go.

“I kind of thought that we were all really playing for second after the lead she had, but I was able to make a couple birdies,” Brinker said. “So I knew that after I had made those four birdies, I was in contention.”

After three pars, including a deflating one at the par-five 15th, Brinker birdied the final two holes to finish at -12. Her 64 set a new record for lowest round in an ACC Championship — she previously shared the mark with former Florida State golfer Kristin Tamulis, by virtue of her 65 last year. 

Across the last two ACC Championships, 128 golfers have teed it up. Brinker lost to only one — Sambach, whose 202 total set a new conference tournament record.

As a unit, the Blue Devils finished second in stroke play at -11, eight shots back of Wake Forest. Chen, who finished solo fourth at Sedgefield as a freshman, made three birdies and an eagle over her final seven holes to finish at -2, good for solo ninth. 

Smith and Furtney finished in a tie for 15th at +3, while Shepherd struggled en route to a tie for 45th at +15. 

All in all, Duke has clearly taken a step in the right direction in April. With a win in the Wolfpack Match Play nearly two weeks ago, and now this, the Blue Devils’ confidence is at a season-high.

“It didn’t come out in the end the way we wanted it to, but these two tournaments were what Duke does,” Brooks said.

That confidence will be put to the test in the NCAA Regionals, set for May 8-10. Duke will find out where it is headed during the April 26 selection show at 1 p.m.

Max Rego profile
Max Rego

Max Rego is a Trinity senior and an associate sports editor for The Chronicle's 118th volume. He was previously sports managing editor for Volume 117.


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