In football or basketball, surmounting a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter, while difficult, would be considered doable. In golf, down 10 shots off the cut in the final round of a NCAA Regional, such a task would seem improbable, if not downright impossible.
And yet, the Blue Devils did just that.
Down 10 strokes to North Florida in the middle of the third and final round of the NCAA Norman Regional, Duke managed to pull off the spectacular comeback, converting a whopping 17 birdies on the day to leapfrog the Ospreys into the fifth place spot on the final hole. The Blue Devils finished the event with a total team score of 21-under at 843 total strokes, both new program records at an NCAA regional.
“They relish[ed] the moment” Duke head coach Jamie Green said of his team’s performance. “We’ll always remember how this tournament finished and what they did to get here this week. They believed in themselves.”
The comeback began with the excellent play of Kelly Chinn and William Love, as they both shot a 67 on the day to finish five-under. Chinn’s performance saw the sophomore record six total birdies, including back-to-back on holes 16 and 17, and holes two and three. The excellent play from Great Falls, Va., native placed him seventh overall in the individual standings, the highest finish by a Blue Devil at the tournament.
“I started off the round knowing I had to shoot something low,” said Chinn. “Had a few birdies to start and then just kept going. Just the energy amongst the holes was huge.”
“Kelly (Chinn) was pretty much Mr. Steady the whole week,” said Green. “No question [Chinn] made plenty of birdies today and throughout the week.
Freshman William Love, who came into the day at two-under, caught fire at the perfect time. After two double-bogeys plagued his first nine holes, Love recorded six birdies and three pars after the turn, dragging his score on the day down to five-under. His final birdie on the ninth hole punched the ticket to the NCAA finals.
“William (Love) was a little bit of a roller coaster…but he got the look in his eyes,” said Green. “And [Love] was really excited as the other guys were to be in a position to have it matter when you get hot. And he definitely got on a roll in the last nine holes.”
“I got some momentum, started making a few putts, hearing the guys around me, seeing putts go in all over. And just really caught fire,” Love said of his final nine holes. “Felt great to make that putt on [hole nine] after watching everything that happened and knowing that putt helped us to move on.”
Two other underrated contributors on the day were Ethan Evans and Luke Sample. Evans started the day with two quick bogeys, but pulled back to even before the turn. Sample also battled through adversity, erasing his four bogeys on the day with birdies. Both golfers clutched up when it mattered most, each recording with back-to-back birdies on the last two holes. Evans finished the day in style, with a jaw dropping 75-foot chip-in on the ninth and final hole.
“Birdie on nine as Luke and Ethan did was just a tournament changing for us. They knew where they stood, they knew where we stood. They knew that making birdies was going to be in all likelihood necessary and the team in front of us weren’t going to back up…it was an amazing experience.”
With new life, Duke travels to Scottsdale, Ariz., for the NCAA Championships from May 26-31. It will be the program’s 38th all-time appearance, and the eighth under Green.
“Our prep will be for desert golf: Get hydrated, getting ready to see how the golf course plays once we get out there,” Green said. “But there’s no doubt this team is capable of certain levels of firepower and massive amounts of birdies and eagles. Our guys believe in each other and they believe in themselves. They know they can do it.”
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