Duke women’s golf records historic performance, takes first at Florida State Match Up

Katie Li won first overall at the Florida State Match Up.
Katie Li won first overall at the Florida State Match Up.

The Blue Devils’ hard work is finally paying off. This weekend’s return to Florida marked Duke’s top performance of the spring and second win of the season as the Blue Devils conquered the Florida State Match Up in Tallahassee, Fla.

Taking first place against the Seminoles by 10 strokes, the Blue Devils showed the rest of the 14-team field what it means to play Duke golf. The team wrapped up the final day with a record-breaking score of 30-under-par, 834, and had three golfers among the top 10 individuals, including freshman Katie Li who claimed the first overall spot. 

“[The Florida State Match Up] went very well. Our players did great work preparing for it, and they coupled that with composure down the stretch to finish it all off,” said associate head coach Jon Whithaus. 

With each day of play, the Blue Devils’ consistency in preparation and training guided them to low-scoring rounds. Taken all together, they demonstrated the program’s strength — Duke’s 30-under across the competition’s 54 holes is the second-lowest in school history, and the lowest score ever reached at the tournament. 

“[Our players’] focus on diligent preparation with smaller details is starting to accumulate, and it’s fueling … higher levels of self belief on a more consistent basis,” Whithaus said. 

The Blue Devils opened competition in round one at 7-under, three behind Florida State and second place overall. By the second eighteen holes, though, Duke had flipped the script, putting up a first place 24-under finish for the round, the third-lowest score in NCAA history. While the team shot just over par in its final round, the +1 score had little effect on the Blue Devils’ -31 — a school record for 36 holes — throughout the preceding first and second rounds of play.

“[One strength of our team] is our depth. It’s not surprising when any players leading the field are shooting under par,” Whithaus said. “[A second strength] is the explosiveness that many of our players can get on their best days … we have several players that can get it going and shoot significantly under par.” 

In addition to setting team records at the competition, Duke had many strong individual showings.

Li’s individual competition performance at 12-under-par, 204, for 54 holes ties her for the third-lowest score in school history on a par-72 course. Her tournament win as a freshman marks the 16th in school history and first since former Blue Devil Gina Kim in 2018-19. 

“This week just felt very smooth,” Li said. “My whole freshman season so far I’ve felt like my game has been a little off every single time and to be candid, it [has been] frustrating, but this win proved something to myself.” 

Li opened with a strong pair of 66s — a career-best 6-under — in rounds one and two, making her the first Duke freshman to achieve such a feat. In the first round, she shot six birdies and balanced two bogeys with an eagle. Li hit similarly in the second round, with seven birdies, three bogeys and another eagle. She sealed her competition score with a round-three even-par. 

“I was patient the whole way and I tried really hard to not let what was happening around me affect me whatsoever … [I’ve learned] to trust the process and results will eventually follow with patience,” Li said. 

Li wasn’t the only golfer with solid performances over the weekend. Graduate student Emma McMyler hit a pair of even-par rounds across her first and third and shot 4-under in her second round. For senior Phoebe Brinker, rounds one and three meant a pair of 71s. Senior Anne Chen and sophomore Andie Smith both shot 7-under in round two — the lowest score across any round of competition for the Blue Devils and a career-best for Smith — helping to propel Duke past its competitors as well. 

Junior Rylie Heflin also traveled to Tallahassee and competed in the individual category, shooting +3 overall. Her final score of 219 left her tied for 24th place across the entire field of 78 competitors. Heflin hit back-to-back rounds at even-par before closing the competition with a +3 final round. 

“All six players played very well, all had rounds under par … Katie was consistently great throughout, but all six players were playing great golf,” Whithaus said. 

While the Florida State Match Up was originally scheduled to run over three days, with the competition ending Sunday, rounds two and three were each pushed one day early in anticipation of inclement weather. As such, the Blue Devils played their first two rounds Friday and their final round Saturday. Changes to course setup on day two challenged many teams, but Duke was prepared to overcome such obstacles. 

“It’s to our advantage when conditions or situations change. The mental toughness that our players pride themselves on is more of a benefit when things are unpredictable,” Whithaus said. “Our players, not surprisingly, handled the changes … very well.” 

Despite strong showings across the board, the Blue Devils still have room to improve as they approach the end of the regular season. Two areas that Duke plans to continue developing are self belief and patience, particularly focusing on the patience to perform consistently during longer events. 

The Blue Devils now turn their attention to their next competition — The Old Barnwell Match Play in Aiken, S.C. — with a feeling of confidence and plans to consistently hone their skills in training as they have done all season. 

“This is a very talented [and] very tough team. [We are] very excited about every opportunity we get [to play], and when we choose to execute and make smart decisions, we have very high expectations that go along with that,” Whithaus said.


Ryan Kilgallen

Ryan Kilgallen is a Trinity first-year and an associate news editor for the news department.

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