Coming off a second place finish at the 2001 NCAA Championship and losing only one starter off of a squad which won a school-record nine tournaments, the 2001-02 Duke women's golf team had its sights set on the ultimate goal: a second national championship.
Before the season began, the Blue Devils were hit with adversity as the reigning NCAA Individual Champion, Candy Hannemann, was injured during the U.S. Amateur in August.
The injury forced Hannemann to have surgery on her ankle in September, which sidelined the senior for the entire fall season. Duke was not short on talent as the Blue Devils returned two-time All-ACC selection Kristina Engstrom, 1999 ACC Individual Champion and All-America Maria Garcia-Estrada, All-America Virada Nirapathpongporn and All-ACC selection Leigh Anne Hardin.
Along with the returners, Duke welcomed four-time Swiss Juniors and Ladies National Champion, Niloufar Aazam-Zanganeh.
The fall season was up and down without the Blue Devils' leadership from Hannemann. Duke finished tied for 11th in The Preview to open the fall campaign and then turned in first, third and fifth place finishes to round out the fall. Engstrom was the only individual medalist of the fall with a three-day, career-best total of 219 at the Franklin Street Trust/Tar Heel Invitational.
As a team during the fall, Duke shot below 300 in only four of the 11 rounds and fell back in the national rankings.
All during this time, Hannemann was rehabbing her ankle and was getting ready to take the spring by storm. The first spring tournament came on Feb. 25-26 at the Arizona Invitational and Hannemann was in the lineup.
The tournament began with Duke posting rounds of 296 and 293 on the first day to lead the competition. The Blue Devils came out on fire on the second day to fire a 287 and took home the title by seven strokes.
Hannemann's debut was a little shaky on day one, but the Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, native was back to her normal self on the second day leading Duke with a 69. Four Blue Devils shot 74 or better and the team score of 876 was 18 shots better than Duke's best finish in the fall.
Finishing first in the spring would become like clockwork for the Blue Devils. Duke notched a 12-stroke victory at the Lady Gamecock Classic and Aazam-Zanganeh notched her first collegiate victory with a three-day total of 215. The Blue Devils then dominated the Betsy Rawls Longhorn Classic and the Bryan National Collegiate before heading into
the postseason with a four-tournament win streak.
At the ACC Championship, Duke accumulated some incredible numbers, winning by 29 strokes and recording an ACC Championship- record score of 866. Hannemann became the fourth-consecutive Blue Devil to claim individual medalist honors in the championship, while no other Duke player finished lower than tied for seventh.
Duke continued its dominance at the NCAA East Regional with scores of 291-280-288 to win by 13 strokes. The 280 in the second round missed a Duke record by one stroke, while Hardin fired rounds of 71-67-72 to win individual medalist honors.
Heading into the NCAA Championship, the Blue Devils were the hottest team in the nation, as confirmed by some of the impressive numbers Duke registered in the previous six tournaments: won six consecutive tournaments, shot no higher than 298 in the last nine rounds, had four individual medalists and boasted a 74.49 spring stroke average by the golfers traveling to nationals.
The Blue Devils headed to Auburn, Wash., for the NCAA Championship with a lot of confidence. The five golfers traveling to the Washington National Golf Club had all picked up individual medalist honors, a feat no other team in the nation had accomplished.
After two practice rounds, Duke kicked off the tournament with a 294 and was tied for second, nine shots behind Arizona. Nirapathpongporn carded a 68 on day one to lead the individual competition by one stroke.
On day two the Blue Devils made up three strokes on first-round leader Arizona and owned sole possession of second place. Nirapathpongporn continued her charge towards individual medalist honors as she maintained her lead with a 69 on Wednesday. She was tied with Georgia's Summer Sirmons at seven-under-par heading into the third round.
Duke's two-day total of 587 was six strokes off of Arizona (581) heading into Thursday's action. The Blue Devils were in second place, but the reigning NCAA Individual champion, Hannemann, was not playing her best with rounds of 75-78.
In the third round, the Blue Devils were once again able to make up three shots and sat three shots out of first place heading into Friday's final round. Arizona continued to lead the championship with an 874 as Texas (876) and Duke (877) were nipping at its heels.
Nirapathpongporn was able to gain some distance in the individual competition with a 70 and was nine-under-par after three days. She had a three-shot lead with one round remaining. Hannemann started making her charge with an even-par 72 and Hardin posted her second-consecutive round of even par or under with a 71.
Everyone knew heading into the final day of competition it was going to be a down-to-the-wire finish and the fans were not to be disappointed.
Duke and Arizona battled all day long, after Texas fell off early, with the championship coming down to the final three holes. The Blue Devils were able to make up nine strokes on Arizona in those crucial three holes to take the title.
The Blue Devils carded five birdies on the last three holes and four on the last two while Arizona made six bogeys and one double bogey on its last three holes. Firing a birdie on hole 16 was Hannemann, on hole 17 were Hardin, Hannemann and Nirapathpongporn and on hole 18 was Aazam-Zanganeh.
Duke captured the championship with a four-day total of 1,164, which was six strokes better than Arizona, Auburn and Texas. Auburn turned in a team-best 287 in the final round and Texas rebounded from a slow start on Friday with a birdie on hole 18 to finish tied for second.
Nirapathpongporn continued her stellar play with an even-par 72 in the final round to claim the individual title with a NCAA record-tying total of 279. She won the title by five strokes over four different players.
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 eight tournaments and a school-record seven in a row to conclude the season.
It was how the team handled adversity while trailing the entire NCAA Championship that everyone will remember about this special Blue Devil squad. The experience will live with them for the rest of their golfing careers.