ACC/SEC championship redux
Even though I wrote a feature story earlier this year about their woes and predicted correctly here last Thursday that Wake Forest would knock them off this past weekend, I guess there was always a part of me that thought the Duke women might actually stick it to all the naysayers and win their 14th straight ACC title this past weekend. We are talking about one of the premiere golf programs in the country with two big-time players in seniors Amanda Blumenherst and Jennie Lee. But in the end, the lack of depth proved too big a hurdle for the Blue Devils to clear at Sedgefield CC in Greensboro, N.C. When Yu Young Lee couldn't play Friday because of illness, it forced Duke to count a 80 from Alison Whitaker and an 84 from Kim Donovan in the first round, leaving them 23 shots back of the Demon Deacons after only 18 holes.
You actually have to give Duke some credit for bouncing back with scores of 290 and 295 in the final two rounds, which allowed them to finish third, one stroke back of North Carolina and 25 behind Wake. The bigger question arising from actually be might what happened to Virginia? The No. 4 ranked team in the country finished fifth, 38 strokes back of Wake, with Calle Nielson (first-round 69) and Whitney Neuhauser (third-round 68) being the only two players to break par in any round.
With the team championship out of reach after Friday, Duke's attention landed on three-time ACC individual champion Blumenherst, who made a clutch birdie putt on the final hole to force a playoff with Wake Forest's Natalie Sheary. Yet, as if proving once and for all that this just isn't the year for the Blue Devils, Blumenherst three-putted from 40 feet when in the first playoff hole for a bogey to fail in her attempt to become the first female college player to win four straight conference titles.
"It was [the same putt as I had before to tie at the end of regulation," commented Blumenherst on the playoff putt. "I guess I just didn't hit it as hard as I did earlier. It was the exact same line and I even putted it to the same place. I must not have given it enough juice and it broke off at the end."
Duke coach Dan Brooks, meanwhile, was reflective after the final round. "It was a pretty long streak so you have to feel great about it," he said. "I guess streaks have to come to an end. It hurts a little bit -- we like to win. It has been great to be on top. We are going to do everything we can to get back on top."
While Wake Forest ended the Duke women's dynasty, the Georgia Tech ended a victory drought when they walked off with the ACC men's title at Old North State Club in New London, N.C., by three strokes over Clemson. The Yellow Jackets hadn't won a tournament since grabbing a share of the ACC title with Virginia Tech in 2007, but claimed their third conference title in four years when they shot a five under on the back nine, led by Chesson Hadley and Cameron Tringale.
As Georgia Tech claimed its first title of 2008-09, Georgia won its fifth at the SEC men's championship. The Bulldogs, ranked No. 1 in the Golf World/Nike Golf coaches' poll, jumped to the front in the first round at Frederica CC in St. Simons Island, Ga., and didn't faltered, winning with 15-under 849, 13 strokes better than Arkansas.
"We never expected it to come this easy for us," said Georgia coach Chris Haack, who earned his six conference title and the school's 27th overall. "In the past the great teams that I have had were the teams that were strong top to bottom. Having all five guys finish in the top 15 shows how strong we are in every position." Florida's Billy Horschel won individually with a final-round 71 and a 10-under 206 overall.
At the SEC women's championship, Auburn trailed by three after the second round, then charged to a eight-stroke victory over Arkansas and Alabama at The University Club in Blythewood, S.C. Cydney Clanton, Patricia Sanz and Haley Wilson each posted par or better final-round scores to give the sixth-ranked Tigers their eighth SEC title with a 18-over 870 total.
Georgia's Marta Silva Zamora was the only player under par, shooting a three-under 210 to win by four strokes and become the first freshman SEC medalist since 2005.