If 90 percent of golf is mental, the Blue Devils can expect quite a workout this weekend at the NCAA championships.
For the 20th time in the past 22 years, the women’s golf team has qualified for the final tournament of the season, though this year’s format differs significantly from years past. Instead of the traditional stroke play, where the team with the lowest collective score is the winner, the format this year calls for 54 holes of stroke play – and then, for the top 15 teams, two days of match play, including 36 holes in one heat- and humidity-filled day at at the Concession Golf Club in Bradenton, Fla.
“I think it’s all going to end up mental,” sophomore Sandy Choi said. “Physically, every one of us is going to be exhausted. Hydrating and eating is going to be the key for this tournament.”
Head coach Dan Brooks is already playing mind games, running through potential scenarios and pairings for the match play event. Some players perform better under the pressure of match play, in which the scoring is counted by individual holes won against an opponent instead of just the overall number of strokes in a round.
Still, he talked about wanting to get the pairings right. ( An S-curve format will be used with, for example, Duke picking one of its players, then the Blue Devils’ opponent picking its player to complete the pair and then a player to start the second pair, then Duke picking a player to match the second pair and one to start the third pair and so on.) Brooks also acknowledged that “you don’t want to overthink this stuff. I think you can get in more trouble trying to guess.”
As far as the actual playing of golf goes, the Blue Devils are at their best at the right time of the year. Duke won its NCAA regional in South Bend, Ind., and freshman Leona Maguire won the individual title with a four-under-par 212 in 54 holes. Maguire, who hails from Ireland, is the No. 1-ranked amateur female golfer in the world and also won the ACC individual title.
Teammate Celine Boutier, a junior from France who is ranked the No. 5 best amateur golfer in the world, was the top player on last year’s national championship team and the 2014 national player of the year. Boutier finished second at the South Bend Regional, one stroke behind Maguire.
But the pair, Brooks said, has handled the natural competition like professionals.
“Leona and Celine, that’s where you think the tension and animosity might be – if there isn’t a little bit, then something is wrong,” he said. “They both want to beat everybody, including your teammate. That’s what they do, they beat people. But within that, they are just absolutely as mature as can be.
“They play their best; they congratulate each other.”
While Boutier was playing in a 36-hole U.S. Women’s Open Qualifier in Manakin-Sabot, Va., Monday, the rest of the Blue Devils – Leona and her twin sister Lisa, fellow freshman Gurbani Singh and Choi – were practicing in the heat of the early afternoon to best prepare for the conditions in Florida. If the Blue Devils can continue to play at the same level they did in the regionals then everything else, including the mental games, should take care of itself.