ATHENS, Ga. – Boosted by the play of All-ACC players Alex Smalley and Chandler Eaton, the Duke men’s golf team advanced to the NCAA Championship for the third consecutive season thanks to its second-place finish at the Athens Regional, that wrapped up Wednesday in Athens, Ga.
The Blue Devils shot two-over 286 as a team in the final round and their one-under total of 851 allowed them to join Georgia (844, -8), Vanderbilt (853, +1), SMU (868, +16) and Liberty (870, +18) as the low five teams to advance to Fayetteville, Ark., to compete for a national championship next week.
“We’re thrilled,” said head coach Jamie Green. “The guys are elated. It was fun playing again with Vanderbilt and with Georgia, on its home course. This is a unique golf course that has a lot of similarities to Duke’s course. To see their guys play it in a comfortable state was a nice spot for ours guys to be. That said, our guys had a good plan hole-by-hole and they stuck to it.”
Smalley (72-69-71) and Eaton (72-69-71) each posted an even-par 71 on Wednesday and finished tied for seventh on the individual leaderboard with a one-under 212. Sophomore Evan Katz (73-70-71) also carded a 71 on Wednesday, and joined teammate Steven DiLisio (73-68-73) in a tie for 10th place at one-over 214.
“It is so hard to advance,” said Eaton. “There are so many good players, so many good teams. You’ve got to keep your head down and just play. Our team, we’re just grinders. For whatever reason, we hate losing in each of our own unique ways. I couldn’t be more thrilled to be moving on. I was fired up, and I still am. I’m ready to get to Arkansas.”
Eaton’s card featured three birdies on Wednesday, including a birdie for the third consecutive round on the tough, par-4 finishing hole. Smalley and Katz each balanced three birdies with three bogeys on their way to shooting 71.
“We cleared fifth place by a few shots so we had a pretty stress-free last round,” said Smalley. “But we were still fighting for something – we wanted to chase down Georgia on their home track. It was a great week for our guys, we played solid all week and everyone has a lot of trust in their games right now."
DiLisio pared 16 of 18 holes Wednesday and shot two-over 73, while sophomore Adrien Pendaries (72-71-76) was the fifth Blue Devil to finish in the top 30 with his 54-hole total of six-over 219. Duke joined Texas (Austin Regional) as the only teams to have all five players finish in the top 30 of their respective regional.
The low five teams from each of the six regional sites advance to the NCAA Championship, which is set for May 24-29 at the Blessings Golf Club in Fayetteville. Duke advances for the third straight year, the fourth time since 2015, and the 20th time in the program’s history.
Duke finished under-par as a team in an NCAA Regional for the second straight season and just the fifth time in the program’s history. Last year’s team blitzed the Raleigh Regional, setting the program’s regional record at 22-under par and finishing in second place.
T7. Alex Smalley (72-69-71=212, -1)
T7. Chandler Eaton (72-69-71=212, -1)
T10. Evan Katz (73-70-71=214, +1)
T10. Steven DiLisio (73-68-73=214, +1)
T28. Adrien Pendaries (72-71-76=219, +6)
1. Georgia (284-280-280=844, -8)
2. Duke (289-276-286=851, -1)
3. Vanderbilt (286-284-283=853, +1)
4. SMU (297-288-283=868, +16)
5. Liberty (294-288-288=870, +18)
----- top 5 advance -----
6. Tennessee (290-295-288=873, +21)
7. Nevada (296-289-290=875, +23)
8. Memphis (292-293-292=877, +25)
9. Kentucky (294-294-292=880, +28)
10. Campbell (300-287-296=883, +31)
11. Alabama (302-294-295=891, +39)
12. UNCW (301-302-292=895, +43)
13. Princeton (309-307-304=920, +68)