By CARTER CHEVES
With so much success over the years, the Duke women’s golf philosophy is pretty simple, according to coach Dan Brooks.
“At Duke it’s all about the process,” Brooks said as the Blue Devils prepare for the ACC Championship at Sedgefield Country Club in Greensboro on April 15-17. “Playing one shot at a time, love of the game and keeping it in perspective. We don’t want our players to get in their own way and get too hung up on results. If you are living and dying with every shot you won’t perform your best.”
Last year, at the site of the PGA Tour’s Wyndham Championship, Wake Forest captured its second straight ACC crown and fifth overall. Virginia was second and perennial power Duke slipped to third. Only five shots separated this power trio.
Duke did exact a measure of revenge with an eighth place NCAA finish; best of the three ACC teams advancing to the postseason. Florida State finished 10th and UVA was 13th, while Wake Forest failed to advance out of its regional to the championship.
Brooks, now in his 27th season in Durham, has a premiere program that annually attracts some of the nation’s top junior players, who then excel collegiately at Duke, with a group making a nice living on the LPGA Tour.
There are currently six former Duke players with LPGA Tour cards. They include Amanda Blumenherst, Anna Grzebian, Liz Janangelo, Brittany Lang, along with Tour rookies Allison Whitaker and Jennie Lee.
Prior to Wake Forest winning the last two ACC titles, the Blue Devils had won 13 straight, and 16 total. Duke won NCAA titles in 1999, 2002, 2005, 2006 and 2007.
Brooks believes his young 2011 Duke team can climb back to the top of the ACC, and be a contender nationally. The Blue Devils have been ranked in the nation’s top five all season.
“Despite our youth, we have the physical skills to win the ACC, but it won’t be easy,” Brooks said. “Wake Forest has won the last two championships and I’m sure they would like to keep on winning. Virginia, North Carolina, Florida State and N.C. State are all capable of winning as well. It’s a tough conference.
“Throughout last fall and this spring we’ve been learning patience and getting ourselves mentally ready to compete at a very high level.”
Defending ACC individual champion Michelle Shin of Wake Forest will be in coach Dianne Dailey’s lineup, along with 2009 ACC Co-Player of the Year Natalie Sheary. There is also Cheyenne Woods, an all-ACC selection in 2010, giving Dailey a team that could three-peat.
Kim Lewellen’s Virginia program could be in position to win an ACC title for the first time. Three-time all-ACC player Callie Nielson leads a Cavalier team that is loaded from 1-5.
The Triangle teams – UNC and N.C. State – have their work cut out for them.
Junior Catherine O’Donnell, the ACC Freshman of the Year in 2009 and a 2010 all-ACC selection, leads a youth brigade for North Carolina coach Jan Mann. The Tar Heels have played most of the season with three freshmen in their lineup, one of whom is Katherine Perry, a Cary native and former prep star at Athens Drive High School.
In Raleigh, Page Marsh is also contending with inexperienced youth. Only one Wolfpack player – Brooke Baker – had competed on a regular basis in the collegiate game coming into the season.
The league’s top player in 2011 resides at Duke. Sophomore Lindy Duncan, the 2010 ACC Player of the Year, was ranked third nationally among collegiate players in the Golfweek/Sagarin Rankings as of late March.
“What sets Lindy apart is her determination,” Brooks said. “She has set her sights on playing professionally. Lindy has beautiful tempo in her golf game. Every swing is with balance and great tempo. She’s a tremendous player.”
Last year Duncan averaged 72.7. This year her stroke average is down to 71.1. She recently won the LSU Tiger Golf Classic, claiming her second career collegiate victory.
“I hoped for this kind of success,” Duncan said. “That’s why I worked extremely hard over the summer. I came back to Duke this fall more focused. When I was 14, I decided I wanted to play golf for a living. I realized I needed to work really, really hard to make that happen.”
Two new coaches have arrived on the ACC scene. Patti Rizzo, a 20-year LPGA veteran, and a former Hurricane player, replaces Lela Cannon at Miami. Rizzo had been the coach at Division II Barry University for five years. Meanwhile, Amy Bond has taken over at Florida State. Bond was a four-year letterwinner at FSU (1996-99), and most recently had been the head coach at Princeton for four years.
While just about every ACC team has a marquee player or two, or even three, it’s still a team game where the best four scores count over the 54-hole grind.
Fans are invited to Sedgefield to see just which team gets it done.