CLINTON, S.C. – In absolutely dominating fashion, Duke reclaimed its status as tops in the ACC after finishing the championship on Saturday with a 12-stroke lead.
Shooting a collective 850 (-14), the Blue Devils secured their eighth conference title, and first since 2013.
Rounding out the tournament as just one of two teams under par, Duke showed a great deal of mastery on the grounds of the Musgrove Mill Golf Course thanks to four Blue Devil efforts in the red.
Head coach Jamie Green was beyond pleased with his team’s performance, and he credited a great deal to their mentality throughout the tournament.
“It was one of those things where they were so dialed in,” Green said. “There might have been a little awareness of where the other teams were, but they were taking care of their own business and executing their game plan.”
Regarding the overall consistency of his team throughout the weekend, Green believes it benefitted his players knowing that no one individual was holding the team back.
“One of the things I think can make a team special is when you have players that are all very strong across the board,” he said. “Nobody feels like they’re shouldering the burden. Nobody feels like they have to carry the team. They all know that they can individually win the golf tournament. At any point, each guy can look up and see another teammate is playing well, and that’s a motivating factor, which helped them stay focused on their business.”
Sophomore Alex Smalley led the way for Duke, shooting an overall 212 (-4) for the event. Rebounding from Friday’s 73 (+1) opening round, the Wake Forest, N.C. native put together back-to-back under-par performances on Saturday to finish tied for fifth on the leaderboard. Smalley’s second round was highlighted by a bogey-less front nine along with four birdies in total, good enough for a 69 (-3). Smalley’s concluding round was also brilliant, as a double bogey on hole no. 2 would prove to be the only blemish en route to recording a four-birdie 70 (-2).
"My swing felt great on the range this morning, and I just held that feeling throughout the entire day," Smalley said. "I was proud of the way everyone dug deep when things got tough and grinded it out to the final putt on 18 to get the win."
Head coach Jamie Green had high praises for Smalley following his brilliant weekend performance. “Alex is one of those guys who is an exceptional iron player, and this weekend he really attacked his targets on the greens,” observed Green. “He makes sure he’s assertive with his iron shots. Overall, he relies on intuition and what feels right. Even if he gets off to not such a great start, at some point he finds something that’s working and sticks with it. He’s a very special player.”
Coming in at the number two spot for Duke was Jake Shuman, who entered the championship fifth for the Blue Devils’ lineup. Shuman’s momentum from his first round carried into Saturday morning, as the Needham, Mass. local would put together a 71 (-1) round highlighted by three birdies and an eagle. Despite scoring a 75 (+3) on his final round, Shuman’s 214 (-2) would be good enough for a share of eighth on the leaderboard.
Following the tournament, Shuman struggled to contain his excitement surrounding his team's feat. "Winning the ACC Championship is something we have dreamt about for years," he said. "This is one of the best, if not the best, conferences in the country. It's really hard to win this tournament, but to win it by 12 shots speaks to the golf we played. I'm really proud of this team. Not just the five of us in the lineup, but the entire team. I'll remember this for the rest of my life, but we have to stay hungry and get back to work for regionals."
Seniors Matt Oshrine and Alexander Matlari both finished the tournament with 215 (-1) outputs, and would share possession of 10th. Oshrine bested Matlari in round two, shooting an even 72 to the latter’s 74 (+2). However, Matlari bounced back in the final round with a 72 (E) of his own which included four birdies, as his teammate would round out his day with a 75 (+3).
Oshrine spoke to how special this weekend was, and how it came at such a significant time. "I couldn't have asked for a better way to start the postseason of my senior year, and can't wait to take this momentum into NCAAs," said Oshrine. "This weekend is something I definitely will never forget."
Matlari echoed the sentimenet of his teammate in addition to highlighting the team's depth. "This week was special because it finally showed on paper how deep our team is. We had all five guys finish in the top 15, and there are other members of the team at home who could do the same. It gives us a lot of confidence to know how many great players we have on the team, and in order to win championships, you need more than just one or two really good players - you need a whole team, and that's what we have this year."
In his first ACC Championship as a Blue Devil, Chandler Eaton impressed greatly, tallying a 216 (E) to finish the weekend 14th on the leaderboard. After an even-par effort on Friday, Eaton managed to remain even after shooting a 73 (+1) and a 71 (-1) on rounds two and three, respectively. A second round that saw four bogeys would only make way for the poised freshman’s final round that would see five birdies.
Eaton, as he has appeared all season, was calm and collected following the win, but proud nonetheless. "This week was really special," noted the Alpharetta, Ga. native. "I'll have this memory forever. We stayed patient and didn't make the emotional decisions that lead to mistakes. It's so cool to share this with the team and all of our coaches and supporters."
Having already won the ACC title in 1954, 1959, 1961, 1962, 1966, 2005 and 2013, Duke can now add 2017 to the list with an exclamation point following this weekend’s convincing victory.
Head coach Jamie Green, like the rest of the program, is excited about this team’s potential moving forward, but is thankful to have been a part of what they most recently accomplished.
“It’s a thrill to be able to take this trophy back to Durham. It makes it that much more special, because the league is so strong top to bottom. I had people come up to me throughout the tournament commenting on how well our guys handled their emotions. To be able to produce for three rounds the way they did, it’s a joy to watch them bask in it and be able to savor the accomplishment of taking home the ACC trophy.”