DURHAM, N.C. -- Aside from the long list of historic feats accomplished, it should be noted that Duke Golf — both women and men — simply dominated the Atlantic Coast Conference this past April. For the first time since 2013, women's head coach Dan Brooks and men's head coach Jamie Green both led their teams to conference titles, a clean sweep for the blue and white that displayed the continued advancement of the championed programs.
While both teams were expected to perform impressively, nothing is certain come postseason time. Every team and every player prepares to bring their best to the table, aiming to secure glory for their university.
In the case of Duke women's golf, these Blue Devils entered the annual league tournament with a target on their back, seeking an almost unfair 20th ACC Championship trophy. To put things in perspective, Wake Forest falls second in line on the list, with five. Since 1984 when the tournament officially began for the women, Duke has dominated the conference landscape, winning an unprecedented 13 consecutive times from 1996-2008.
None of that mattered this year, however, as the Blue Devils were well aware of the talent that existed in the rest of the field and how difficult it would be to finish atop the leaderboard.
Entering play at the Reserve Golf Club in Pawley's Island, S.C., the seventh-ranked Devils were one of eight teams listed in GolfStat's Top 50 rankings. An opening round of 284 (-4) gave them a one-shot lead heading into the second day of competition, with junior Leona Maguire, the No. 1 ranked amateur golfer in the nation, setting the tone with a four-under-par 68.
Duke looked to maintain its advantage on day two and did just that, putting together a 286 (-2) round that kept the Devils above a testy trio of rivals as North Carolina, Clemson and Florida State — all of which were tied for second in hot pursuit of Duke. Freshman Ana Belac shined with a team-low 70 (-2) that moved her from 27th place into a tie for seventh.
On the third and final day of the tournament, Duke capture that 20th championship thanks to an extraordinary effort from Maguire, who secured the individual title, her second in the last three years. Following the event, she expressed great pride in her team's ability to pull through.
“To get the team win is huge for us; we've been playing pretty solid all year but we haven't gotten as many team wins as maybe we would have liked,” Maguire said. “We talked a lot about sticking to our game plan and playing Duke Golf, and we did that. The ACCs are always a favorite tournament of mine, so to get a win was pretty special. I'm excited with where I am and where the team is heading into the postseason. We've got a pretty strong conference right now, so I knew to win it was going to take some good golf and I was just glad I could do that.”
Brooks echoed Maguire's sentiment, acknowledging the strength of the conference.
“You can't take it for granted,” he said. “The ACC is getting tougher. We're heading into the regional postseason, and we needed the conference-level tournament to be a tough one because that's your last chance to really prepare yourself for that.”
Senior Sandy Choi impressed as well, closing out with a 71 (-1) on her way to finishing with a share of fourth. It would prove to be her second top-four finish in the ACC Championships, matching her effort from her freshman campaign in 2014 when the Blue Devils won their 19th title.
Rounding out the weekend with an 859 (-5) team score, Duke finished with a nine-stroke lead over Florida State; individually all five Blue Devils finished in the top 17 of the field.
The men's team followed with their own history a week later, putting forth arguably their most complete weekend of golf this year. In impressive fashion, Duke reclaimed its status as tops in the ACC after finishing the championship with a 12-stroke margin of victory.
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, located in Clinton, S.C., thanks to four Blue Devil efforts in the red.
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,” said the coach. “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.”
Such persistence has been a characteristic of the team this year, especially as of late. Since winning the Grand Canyon Invitational in mid-March, Duke managed to finish in the top five of each of the three subsequent tournaments, including the ACC Championship.
Sophomore Alex Smalley led the way for Duke in Clinton, shooting a 212 (-4) which was good enough to land him tied for fifth. What was most impressive was his ability to rebound, as a 73 (+1) opening round would soon be followed by back-to-back under-par efforts to guide the Blue Devils to victory.
Junior Jake Shuman, who entered the tournament as Duke's No. 5 man in the lineup, managed to finish second on the team and eighth on the leaderboard after working to earn a 214 (-2) through his three rounds.
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."
With seniors Matt Oshrine and Alexander Matlari both finishing at 215 (-1), and freshman Chandler Eaton concluding his first ACC Championship at 216 (E), the fact that not one Blue Devil finished above par was a testament to the team's grit and focus throughout.
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 most recent and convincing victory.
As both the women's and men's programs advance toward to their regional tournaments, one can only assume how much the momentum from having swept the conference has fortified their mentalities and preparation moving forward. With plans of adding more to the trophy cases, neither team is satisfied with what many universities would be overjoyed with.
There is more work to be done.