Notebook: Duke rights the ship with Allstate win

The Duke women's golf team after winning the Allstate Sugar Bowl Intercollegiate.

The Duke women's golf team after winning the Allstate Sugar Bowl Intercollegiate.

Women's Rankings »

RankNameSchoolRating
1Alison LeeUCLA  69.59 
2Annie ParkUSC  69.73 
3Yu LiuDuke  69.81 
4Stephanie MeadowAlabama  70.00 
5Gaby LopezArkansas  70.01 

Women's Team Rankings »

RankNameRatingEvents
1Southern California 70.32 
2UCLA 70.60 
3Duke 70.79 
4Stanford 71.49  10 
5Arkansas 71.52 

A wormhole in college golf has closed, leaving behind the Twilight Zone in which a Duke team hadn’t won a tournament in nearly two years. The Blue Devils broke a 21-tournament winless streak Feb. 28 at the Allstate Sugar Bowl, but the question is, what’s next?

In a 15-team field that included top-20 teams USC, Colorado, Alabama and Baylor, the Blue Devils hung close to the top of the leaderboard until the final round, when they broke away in the final holes to finish three shots ahead of Colorado. Coach Dan Brooks’ philosophy is to let his team play and not change coaching strategies depending on the state of the leaderboard. His players seemed to get it on their own as they combined for 16 final-round birdies.

“They’ve had their glimmers here and there, but they haven’t ... had the fortune of having it all turn together at the same time,” Brooks said.

When wondering why a Duke team that used to be lumped in the same sentence with the national-title contenders of the Pac-12 has struggled for a team victory in the past two years, consider this word: parity. Brooks, a coach with 111 career wins, thinks women’s college golf is as deep as it’s ever been.

“There’s a lot more teams that could win when you get in tournaments, so we’re very happy to have the win,” he said. “It’s encouraging and motivational, but at the same time I realize how much talent there is.”

Four Duke players finished in the top 20 at Allstate, something that hasn’t happened since last year’s Atlantic Coast Conference Championship. The Blue Devils have a reliable leader in Lindy Duncan, the No. 1 player in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings. Brooks calls her one of the best he has ever coached when it comes to identifying strengths and weakness in her game and her fitness and addressing them. Duncan had help from sophomore Laetitia Beck, who also finished in the top 10, and juniors Stacey Kim and Courtney Ellenbogen, two players who have stepped up their games this spring.

“I think we just had a really good spring as far as preparation,” Brooks said. “I see the team coming together and doing a lot of the little things that pull you together as a team and get your energy going in the right direction.”

Duke has two tournaments before the ACC Championship kicks off postseason. Duncan qualified for the national championship as an individual last year, but the team missed the big tournament for the first time in 13 years.

Consider it another streak to avenge.

A look ahead...

What: Bruin-Wave Invitational

When: March 5-6

Where: El Caballero CC, Tarzana, Calif.

Why it’s important: Top-ranked UCLA will be gunning for its fifth win of the season, and on home turf no less. Among the teams with the best chances of stopping the Bruins: Oklahoma State (No. 9), Pepperdine (24) and Stanford (44). Also keep an eye on UNLV and San Diego State, teams that finished second and third, respectively, at last week’s UNLV Spring Rebel.

• • •

Raider surprise: It’s too early to tell if Seminole State will be the newest small-college sensation, but the Raiders made a strong case for themselves Feb. 21 at the Lady Moc Golf Classic. Seminole State, of Sanford, Fla., was the only two-year college at the 17-team event played Feb. 19-21 at Eaglebrooke Golf Course in Lakeland, Fla., and earned the first victory in the 15-year history of the program.

Seminole State held at least a share of the lead through all three rounds and finished at 49-over 913, two shots ahead of Division II powerhouse Florida Southern. Nova Southeastern, the defending Division II national champion, was third.

• • •

Short shots: Illinois won its first title of the 2011-12 season at the Westbrook Invite. The Illini, who had two runner-up finishes in the fall, finished the event with an 11-under 853 total, which is 22 shots lower than the previous 54-hole school record. Senior Nora Lucas won the individual title. . . . No. 2-ranked Alabama stumbled at the start of the Allstate Sugar Bowl, landing in 10th place of 15 teams after Round 1. The Crimson Tide steadily moved up the leaderboard – to eighth after Round 3 and to fourth by the end of the final round, during which Jennifer Kirby and Brooke Pancake were a combined 7 under. . . . North Carolina State players Brittany Marchand and Augusta James had to play off for the individual title at the Louisville-hosted Sir Pizza Cards Challenge (Marchand won) as the team won its second title of the season. A bit of coincidence: The Wolfpack’s first victory of the season came in the fall at the Cardinal Cup, an event also hosted by Louisville.

• • •

Five questions with North Carolina-Greensboro freshman Fanny Cnops, of Gent, Belgium, who won the Kiawah Island Intercollegiate (played at Oak Point GC and Cougar Point in Kiawah Island, S.C.) on Feb. 28 for her second consecutive collegiate victory:

1. Your last two titles (dating to the fall season) were won at Oak Point. Why does that fit your game so well?

I think you just have to first be comfortable with the course and really place your ball and be smart because there is a lot of water and you have to be focused on the course and how you play. I think this course really suited my game.

2. How would you describe your game, your strengths?

I’m a pretty long hitter. At Oak Point, I only used my driver twice on 18 holes. I think this is an advantage to be more straight. I think my average was 14-15 greens, so that’s an advantage too.

3. Your resume includes collegiate titles and international titles (such as the 2011 Ladies German Amateur). How do you compare the two?

It’s totally different because when I play internationally, I play individually, but when I play here for college, I only think about the team. After my round, I’ll think about how my ranking is individually. For example (at Kiawah), after my final hole I didn’t even know I won.

4. You’ve entered the final round with at least a share of the lead in your last three events. Do you prepare differently in that situation?

I know that in the fall, two or three times that I started the final round with the lead and twice I had a bad round, so I think I learned from experience. I’m still nervous but it’s positive stress, so I can handle it more now. I still go through my routine, but I talk a lot more to myself. . . . Normally I like to chase people, and I don’t like to be in the lead for the final round. I like to be third or fourth and to chase people, but now I’m more comfortable.

5. You’re still in your first year living in the U.S. What’s been the biggest adjustment?

I feel pretty much at home here, that’s why I chose this city because it’s not too big city. It’s really nice; the people are really nice. I think the most is the food because in my country we don’t have a lot of fast food; we cook a lot. That’s the only real adjustment here.

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