After coming in 10th and third in the NCAA Championships the last two years, the Duke women's golf team opened the 2004-05 campaign ranked second in the nation, which broke a streak of six straight years being ranked No. 1 nationally in the preseason polls.
Even though the Blue Devils boasted a roster of only five golfers, the "Mighty-Five had something to prove. The fall started off with five victories in five tournaments and the Blue Devils were back in their familiar position--ranked No. 1.
Duke opened the season with a six-stroke victory at the NCAA Fall Preview in Sunriver, Ore. It was highlighted by a then-school-record round of 64 by sophomore Brittany Lang. Lang collected nine birdies in the round and ended up finishing third overall with a three-day total of 209.
In those five victories, the Blue Devils showed some incredible heart as they came from seven strokes down at the Mason Rudolph Championship to defeat defending NCAA Champion, UCLA, by one stroke. Then at the ACC/SEC Challenge, Duke headed into the final round trailing Auburn by 15 strokes, but led by a NCAA-record round of 62 by Liz Janangelo the Blue Devils were able to pull off a one-stroke victory to win their fourth- straight tournament.
The spring started off earlier than normal at the Northrop Grumman Regional Challenge on Feb. 7, but due to suffering from pneumonia, Janangelo did not travel with the team. The Blue Devils played with only four golfers and finished third. Then, Duke traveled to the Lady Gator Invitational and struggled for the consecutive straight tournament finishing third.
The Blue Devils were back to normal in the next three events winning the Betsy Rawls Longhorn Invitational, Bryan National Collegiate and their 10th-straight ACC Championship. The victory at the Bryan National was improbable as Duke traveled once again with only four golfers as senior Niloufar Aazam-Zanganeh was sidelined with a wrist injury.
The ACC title came in record fashion, winning by an ACC Championship mark of 47 strokes. Lang continued her impressive spring campaign by winning her second straight ACC Championship and third overall tournament out of five events.
All spring the Blue Devils dealt with two very important wrist injuries to sophomore Anna Grzebien and Aazam-Zanganeh. Both were seeing a trainer often and were trying to rest the very important wrists since the Blue Devils only had five golfers on the roster.
Next up was the NCAA East Regional where the Blue Devils were the five-time defending region champions, but it was being played on a course where they finished third earlier this season. Duke ended up finishing second to Ohio State, but it was the coming out party for Grzebien as she registered her first career victory with rounds of 73-69-67 to finish with a career-best 54-hole total of 209.
The Blue Devils then headed for Sunriver, Ore., to compete in the NCAA Championship. Back in 2000, Duke traveled to Sunriver as the No. 1 team and turned in a 14th place finish, which was the second-worst turnout in Duke golf NCAA history.
Head Coach Dan Brooks grew up in Baker City, Ore., and had many of the same friends and family that were in attendance in 2000 there again in 2005 to cheer on the Blue Devils. It would end up being a special week for the Brooks family as well as the Blue Devils.
The lone senior, Aazam-Zanganeh, arrived a day later than everyone else as she graduated from Duke two days prior to the championship started. Once she got there, Aazam-Zanganeh was ready to add a second NCAA title to her collection.
On the first day, Duke hung in with the leaders to finish fifth with a total of 292, which was five strokes off leader, Southern California. Led by freshman Jennifer Pandolfi's round of one-over-par, 72, the Blue Devils battled the high winds and cold weather to stay close in the afternoon.
Duke went off in the morning on Wednesday and were faced with more high winds and heavy rain. After all was said and done, the Blue Devils shot a round of 303 and trailed Auburn by nine strokes with 36 holes remaining. Grzebien, Lang Aazam-Zanganeh each carded rounds of 75 on the day to lead the Blue Devils. Both Grzebien and Aazam-Zanganeh settled into the training room for the first two days and got relief to their injured wrists that seemed to hurt worse with the cold weather.
With 36 holes left, the Blue Devils were not fazed with a nine-stroke deficit as earlier in the season they had come back from as many as 15 strokes with 18 holes remaining.
The first nine holes on Thursday, which could also be called "Moving Day" for the Blue Devils, were much like the first two. Then, Brooks made the turn and stopped in the clubhouse to check the scoreboard and found Duke trailing by 10 strokes to Auburn---but as he went back on the course the weather was getting better and the birdies
started to arrive.
The Blue Devils ended up notching 15 birdies on the back nine and shot 11-under-par over the final nine holes as they shot an amazing six-under-par ledger of 278. From being down 10 strokes to leading by eight over Auburn, the Blue Devils had a comfortable lead going into the final day of play, but Duke knew they had to post a good round on Friday to win a third title.
Highlighting Duke's incredible comeback during the third round was Grzebien, who collected a career-best round of 65. She opened play with a bogey on the first hole but then played the next 17 holes at seven-under-par with seven birdies. Grzebien held a four-stroke lead in the individual action and was looking for her second straight victory.
"I started off with a three-putt and bogied the first hole," said Grzebien. "But then I got settled and I was able to leave myself flat putts. Even though some of them were a little longer, I could at least see the breaks." Also notching stellar rounds on Thursday were Aazam-Zanganeh with an even-par 71, Lang with a three-under-par 68 and Pandolfi with a 74.
As the Blue Devils headed out for the final round, the weather got worse and the gallery was treated to rain, snow, hail and an occasional glimpse of sun. Duke didn't shoot its best score of the week but was able to hold on and claim its third NCAA title, while Grzebien turned in a 73 to win the NCAA Individual title by one stroke over Virginia's Leah Wigger.
It was a day where Janangelo came through with her best round of the tournament as she finished with a 72 and Lang finished with a 71. "These gals had something in the team that showed a lot of maturity and they pulled it together," said Brooks. "We were most united all year at the very end when we needed it the most. Under these conditions, we had the patience we needed to win."
With the victory coming in Brooks' home state, it was a little extra special for the four-time National Coach of the Year. "A lot of my family and friends were here," said Brooks. "We had come out here in 2000 and really didn't have a good showing. A lot of the same people drove five hours from my hometown to see us not play well. It means a lot to be with these great players, to do what they did, and have my family and friends be with me. It was fantastic." The championship was a total team effort as each player had at least one round counted during the four days of competition.
For the season, Duke won nine tournaments and registered the most important victory in Sunriver. Brooks earned National Coach of the Year accolades for the fourth time and now owns 89 career victories, which is two shy of tying the NCAA all-time record of tournament wins. He battled media and others criticizing his decision to hold a roster of five golfers the entire year but came out on top.
"Not one time throughout the entire year did I hear anyone say very much at all about the shorthanded thing, other than to joke about it, and how much the media asked about it," said Brooks. "Not one time did anyone feel bad that we didn't have more players on our team. They had every right to feel bad about it. It made me realize that I've got quite a group here."