Sundays in golf just mean more. The outcome of an entire multi-day tournament can be determined in one day, maybe even a few holes on the back nine.
The Blue Devils went down to Georgia and found themselves in that exact position, as Duke rallied Sunday to cap off a fifth-place finish out of 15 teams in the Golf Club of Georgia Collegiate in Alpharetta, Ga.
The Blue Devils, led by Kelly Chinn in his best individual finish so far this season (T-14), finished 12 under par on the weekend, six strokes ahead of sixth-place Charlotte and three strokes behind fourth-place Washington. Duke as a team went under par in each of the three rounds in Alpharetta, only one of four teams to do so, and has yet to finish outside the top five in any tournament this fall season.
The first round posed a challenge for the Blue Devils, who finished eighth on the day. Chinn got hot early, with birdies on holes one and three but regressed back to even with consecutive bogeys. That did not stop the junior from Great Falls, Va., as he sank three more birdies, preceding his clean back-nine finish that added another. Luke Sample battled to finish the day +1, courtesy of birdies on holes 16 and 18.
But the main comeback came from the player with least experience — freshman Bryan Kim, the 2023 U.S Junior Amateur Champion. The Brookeville, Md., native had a rough first day shooting +6, and nothing seemed to be going his way.
“He was pretty frustrated with his round of golf, assessed some things, spent time on the putting greens, and adjusted his setup,” said head coach Jamie Green of Kim. “That says something about an elite player — they’re not too stuck in their ways. He acknowledges that there can be changes and knows it's not going to wreck his routine or or mess up his mojo.”
Kim ended the second round shooting 65, tied for the best individual score in the tournament. The freshman stepped up big for the Blue Devils, keeping the team under par after a rough second day.
“He's been playing the level of golf that we were excited to have him decide to come to do,” Green said. “He really is a special player, he does a lot of things in a very mature way.”
Saturday was tough for the likes of Chinn and Sample, both ending over par on the day. Nonetheless, they ended the day with some momentum as Chinn closed his last nine with birdies and Sample stopped the bleeding with seven consecutive pars.
Then came Sunday, and the Blue Devils got to work.
Where Friday was all Chinn and Saturday was all Kim, Sample took the spotlight by going five-under par Sunday. What really excited the building momentum from the Blue Devils was his eagle on hole nine (a par 5). Inspired by his teammate, Chinn also eagled the same hole to go T-7 overall.
“It definitely catapults. Both guys played the whole tee degree really well, had opportunities to make putts that weren't overly long and we were already off to a pretty good start,” Green said. “It was really kind of a shot in the arm that we needed to see if we could actually make a run.”
And the Blue Devils entered the race for first place. After sinking the eagles, Duke made the turn to the back nine -13 and tied for first place. But the Blue Devils’ surge ran out of magic after the 14th hole with bogeys down the stretch, especially by Chinn’s double bogey on hole 17. Nonetheless, Duke had a chance Sunday and despite the unlucky finish, there is some promise.
“They can go out and none of them feel like the burden is on their shoulders. And they don't feel like some teams around the country that are particularly star-heavy.” Green said. “We're in a position where we have a lot of depth.”
Duke prepares for the conclusion of the fall season in two weeks at the Cal Poly invitational in Carmel, Calif., and also in Greensboro, N.C., for the Bryan National Collegiate.
“We've got to get a little better at having our bad days, having your misses be playable,” Green said. “Some of our tee shots were a little too far offline, where we're having to scramble. It's okay to not have to be perfect. In fact, that's quite normal. And so if we can get just a little bit better at how we are missing, I think we can have a lot of fun out in California.”
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