For the second-straight year, Duke failed to contend in a longtime staple of its spring slate.
As part of a loaded field — one that included six top-10 programs — at the Darius Rucker Intercollegiate in Hilton Head Island, S.C., the Blue Devils finished in the middle of the pack at +29 over 54 holes. That amounted to a 10th-place finish out of 18 programs, tying Georgia and ending 23 shots back of tournament winner LSU. While conditions were easier than the blustery state of affairs in the Bahamas just two weeks ago, Duke still failed to challenge the top of the leaderboard.
“There are some positives, our first day was just a little too high. But I feel like the next two days were pretty darn good,” head coach Dan Brooks said after the final round Wednesday, referencing the Blue Devils following up a 16-over first round with rounds of six-over and seven-over.
Coming off an uncharacteristic tie for 54th in the season opener, Phoebe Brinker gave herself a chance at her second collegiate win thanks to much-improved play from tee to green. With rounds of 72-69 to open, the defending ACC individual medalist sat just three shots behind Mathilde Claisse of South Carolina heading into Wednesday. Playing multiple holes ahead of Claisse, Brinker shot out of the gates in the final round—three birdies in her first eight holes put her in a tie for the lead.
But there is a difference between getting into contention and staying there. With a share of first place, Brinker unraveled around the turn, bogeying the ninth and double bogeying the 10th and 13th. Falling back to even par, Brinker could only manage a birdie and a bogey the rest of the way. For the week, she finished in a tie for eighth (out of 90 players) at +1, six shots back of Claisse, who won by a shot.
In a tie for 12th—and five shots back of Auburn’s Megan Schofill—as the sun rose Tuesday morning, Brinker needed an under-par round to get into the hunt. That is exactly what she did, making three birdies against just one bogey to post a two-under 69. The junior hit 11-of-14 fairways and missed just two greens in a ball striking clinic, and she only needed a few putts to drop to move up the board.
Brinker represented the Blue Devils’ only top-10 individual finish, as sophomore Rylie Heflin finished second on the team ledger in a tie for 30th at seven-over. Heflin, Brooks mentioned, has learned how to flight her ball lower after dealing with high winds in the Bahamas, a process kickstarted by, “ramping down her tempo just a little bit.” That smoother rhythm paid off as the week went on, as she closed with rounds of 73 and 71, after opening in 76 Monday.
As for the youngest member of the program, Andie Smith, it was a mixed bag in the Palmetto State. Two double bogeys and a triple, along with three bogeys, erased an early two-under mark in the first round—which Smith wrapped up with a 77. Her final round featured no birdies and a second double bogey on the short par-four 11th, causing her to finish with a 78 and end her week in a tie for 63rd at +13.
During the second round, though, she carded three birdies, three bogeys and six straight pars to end the day in 71. Brooks said Smith’s swing tweaks paid off in the second round, but old habits cost her Wednesday. Despite that, he deemed her week a positive one, saying, “the mind is strong, the attitude is great, the physics weren’t right. So she tweaked the physics and that made her better.”
Early in Monday’s opening round, it was Erica Shepherd who led the way for the Blue Devils, as the Indiana native was -1 through her first six holes.
But Shepherd struggled midway through the round. Three bogeys in a five-hole stretch sent the senior plummeting down the leaderboard, and she finished with a four-over 75. Her week ended in a tie for 40th at +8, while classmate Megan Furtney, who made just four birdies all tournament, finished in a tie for 86th at +27.
Now at the midpoint of the regular season, Brooks expressed confidence in the progress this group has made. Still, you are what your score says you are, and the Blue Devils have only mustered a solo ninth and a tie for 10th in their first two events of the spring.
“We are more on track than our numbers might indicate right now,” Brooks said. “I’m not concerned, I’m feeling good about things. Sure, I’d love to see lower numbers, but we’re a developmental program, the idea is that we’re always working towards something. We’re always working toward being better tomorrow than we are today.”
But that work will soon be put to the test. After a little over a week off, the Blue Devils head to Augusta, Ga., for the Valspar Augusta Invitational. The event is set for Mar. 11-12 at Forest Hills Golf Club.
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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.