STILLWATER, Okla. – Jamie Green knew his team was playing well, but he couldn’t quite believe what he was seeing.
“There were a couple of times I looked at (scores), and I was like, ‘Wow.’ ” said Green, Duke’s head coach.
Duke was ripping apart terrifying Karsten Creek Golf Club – where the winning team at the 2003 NCAA Championship shot 39 over. The Blue Devils at one point were 15 under on the round, and they ended the day with a course-record 12-under 276.
In the process, Duke raced from fourth to a three-shot lead (over host and top-ranked Oklahoma State) at 10 under with 18 holes to go in stroke play. A surprise from the No. 28 team in the nation? Not totally.
“Every tournament, we have a really low round,” said senior Jake Shuman. “It was just a matter of which day it was going to be.”
Recent history proves him right. The Blue Devils were in ninth after the first round of the ACC Championship, but went 12 under in Round 2 to rocket to a tie for fourth. At NCAA regionals, the team opened in 10th before another 12-under second round bumped the group up to a tie for third.
Prior to that, the team had an 18-under second round to move from fourth to first at the Stitch Intercollegiate – a tournament the Blue Devils would go on to win.
It was here seven years ago that Duke had a scorching final round to grab the final match-play spot at NCAAs. That marks the last time the Blue Devils made match play at nationals. But with one round to go and just needing to finish top eight, Duke is primed for a match-play repeat at Karsten.
Shuman’s Even-par 72 didn’t count for the team on Sunday (the four other starters were under par), but the senior did pick out a bit of a secret weapon.
Shuman and fellow senior Adam Wood decided that for Sunday the team should wear a blue-and-white-striped shirt that they refer to as the band shirt – in reference to the shirts resembling what the school’s pep band wears at basketball games.
The team finished off an ACC title last year wearing similar shirts and have worn these ones in final rounds in a pair of wins this spring.
“The band shirt is our low round shirt,” Shuman said.
The shirts obliged Sunday. Duke compiled two eagles and 20 birdies on the round and three players broke 70.
Chandler Eaton, a junior, had his round to 6 under with three to play. He bogeyed the par-4 seventh (his 16th) and hit a lost ball off the tee at the par-5 ninth on his way to a closing double bogey. His 3-under 69 still pushed him into the top 10 at 4 under.
Fellow junior Alex Smalley (T-11, 3 under) made five birdies in a 2-under 70, and freshmen Adrien Pendaries (T-30, 1 over) and Evan Katz (T-35, 2 over) posted rounds of 69 and 68, respectively.
Duke had a solid fall, but some poor final rounds marred its early returns. The team standard appeared lacking, and coaches wanted to work on that.
Green isn’t a huge fan of team mottos, golf is an individual game after all, so instead he told his players to come up with words that represented their own values. Once they had them finalized, Green had the players put their words on display in their locker room at Duke’s golf facility. It means they’ll walk by them on essentially a daily basis back home.
The word Eaton chose that he says helped him most: Self-esteem.
“It’s so easy to lose confidence in the game because it’s all on you,” Eaton said. “You’ve got to keep believing in yourself.”
Duke certainly did that on Sunday. Shirts, words … whatever it was, the Blue Devils moved into command at Karsten Creek.