Duke women’s golf falters in season opener

Well, it looks like it might take a while for the winter rust to wear off for the Blue Devils.

At the start of the post-Gina Kim and Jaravee Boonchant era, Duke ditched the unpredictable February weather here in North Carolina for Melbourne in Florida, where temperatures in the 70s even at this time of year are always the norm. But with head coach Dan Brooks and company once again harboring high expectations, the 16th-ranked Blue Devils began their spring roster with a disappointing tie for 10th place in the 54-hole Moon Golf Invitational at the Windy Suntree Country Club. After an even total in Tuesday’s final round, Duke finished +18, 28 shots behind conference foe Florida State.

“We got off to a rocky start,” Brooks said Tuesday night. “Our first day was not good, then we’ve been playing good golf the last few days, considering it’s our first competition. I just think we had a little hole that first day.

Needing a final day rally on Tuesday just to crack the top eight, Duke was stuck in neutral, as the quintet of Erica Shepherd, Megan Furtney, Phoebe Brinker, Anne Chen and Rylie Heflin averaged 37.2 on their front nine of the final lap. . Only Baylor, Louisville and Augusta, which shot a combined +21 on Tuesday, lifted the Blue Devils slightly from 11th place to where they started the morning.

Scoring was a problem for the entire 84-man squad, with just 20 rounds in the 60s at the Sunshine State. But Duke had an even harder time putting together small numbers, as Chen’s Monday 67 and Brinker and Heflin’s Tuesday 71 were the only under-par rounds in the schedule for the 54-hole event.

Thereafter, Duke simply couldn’t keep pace with ninth-place Arkansas, let alone the victorious Seminoles or its ACC counterpart Virginia – the Cavaliers finished second at -4, at six shots from second-place Florida State.

But that wasn’t due to overwork issues, a typical strategy when golfers fall behind early.

“They’ve been fighting hard the past few days, they haven’t been pressing or anything to try and get all the punches back. They were pretty good at letting go that first day, and that’s what you have to do,” Brooks said.

These struggles could be attributed to one thing in particular: an inability to avoid big numbers. As a roster, Duke recorded seven double bogeys in Sunday’s first round, including three at par five.

In fact, the Blue Devils played par fives at a 5.1 average over the three rounds. Considering the length and accuracy of the tee that Brinker and Shepherd bring to the table, that’s just not enough.

“Surprisingly, that’s a positive in my opinion, because we lost a couple of shots because of some silly stuff,” Brooks remarked on the par-5 scoring issues. “But that doesn’t indicate how talented you are and that’s just silly stuff, it has to do with coming out of winter.”

Shepherd paced the Blue Devils on Sunday, but his 1 of 73 was only enough to barely slip into the top 25 of the individual standings as the focus shifted to the final 36 holes. The Indiana native, who is set for an All-American-level junior campaign, couldn’t get on the greens in the first round, totaling 32 putts.

It was the theme of the week for Shepherd, as she also had 32 putts on Monday and Tuesday – notice a pattern? All joking aside, the putter will be the clear x-factor for the Center Grove alum as the season progresses.

“I just think more time,” Brooks said of what Shepherd needs to improve. “We need a bit warmer weather where you can really camp on the greens and hang out. We need to play more rounds, nothing beats having more rounds and the last two or three weeks have been pretty cold and we never know what winter is going to bring.

Even in the second round, when being knocked out would have seemingly freed them up, the Blue Devils couldn’t make any sort of charge up the leaderboard. Furtney’s quadruple bogey 9 on the fifth par five, part of a +7 week on that lone hole, sent the junior to her second of three straight rounds in the 80s. The Illinois native finished at +24 for the tournament, only one place ahead of last place.

Chen, on the other hand, bounced back nicely from a first-round 79, as four birdies on a seven-hole streak on Monday turned things around for the Texas native. For the day, the sophomore landed seven birdies, including five after hitting his approach shot from within 10 feet. Clearly, the former AJGA All-American has a propensity for shooting flags.

“If you hang up on day one you’re not going to shoot 67, you have to forget about day one and just go out and play. And she was able to do that. You might think if you fight really hard the next day , you can get it back if you think that way, but it doesn’t work…. You don’t try harder. It doesn’t work,” Brooks said of Chen’s ability to rebound.

Brinker and Heflin, the latter competing in the first spring event of her college career, were out of contention, finishing tied for 26th and 50th respectively. Their one-under rounds on Tuesday, however, were proof that the weather will likely yield lower scores for the pair.

Heflin showed flashes back in the fall, especially with a second-round 70 at the Tar Heel Invite. As for Brinker, it shouldn’t take him long to get back to his competitive form – occasional rounds at the Washington Duke Inn, as tough as that track may be, doesn’t compare to starting under the gun at an actual tournament.

Now, just four days away from the competition, the Blue Devils are focusing on a longtime staple of their February schedule: the Darius Rucker Intercollegiate in Hilton Head, South Carolina.

“They’re really free to work on their studies to make sure they’re all caught up because they’re going to go right into spring break with another tournament,” Brooks said.

Max Rego

Max Rego is Trinity’s junior and sports editor for the 117th volume of The Chronicle.

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