A word of advice to the rest of the women’s teams around the country whose eyes are getting a tad bit larger after seeing top-ranked Duke finish third at this weekend’s Lady Tar Heel Invitational: Get your licks in while you can. If not for a scorecard snafu on Saturday at the UNC Finlay GC—freshman Alison Whitaker signed for a 77 when she shot a 78, forcing the Blue Devils to count junior Jennifer Pandolfi’s career-high 86—the Blue Devils may well have made it 10 straight victories at the Chapel Hill, N.C.
Still, the fact that two different teams now have knocked off the Blue Devils in their first three events in 2006-07—Vanderbilt grabbing its first win since 2004 at the Tar Heel and Georgia claiming a nine-shot victory at the Golf Daytona Beach Fall Preview—suggests a third straight national championship for the Duke is far from a foregone conclusion. Recall that for the last three seasons, Dan Brooks’ squads have won its first three, four and seven tournaments, respectively. While winning the Mason Rudolph last month, the fact Duke hasn’t come out top of the other two events was enough for Brooks even to comment about the slower start.
“Obviously we are not playing the kind of golf that we will eventually be playing,” Brooks said Sunday. “The approach we take to training, the way we focus ourselves, the intensity we got at it and the way we play on the golf course is good, effective. The nature of any sport is you cannot play the best all the time.”
The thing of it is, it’s not that Duke has taken a step back. More to the point, other teams are stepping up. Vanderbilt coach Martha Freitag describe the Commodores triumph as “good as any win we’ve had at Vanderbilt.” In Georgia, with transfer Garrett Phillips joining All-Americans Taylor Leon and Whitney Wade and rising sophomore Mallory Hetzel, coach Todd McCorkle has the deepest squad since the Bulldogs won the 2001 NCAA title.
Talking to McCorkle at the start of the season, he made a telling observation about the outlook for the coming year. “I am convinced that for the past few years we all looked at Duke as the favorite; if they play good we can’t do anything about it,” he noted. “But with my team this year I think if we play well, we have the potential to have five girls be All-Americans. If we take care of business and do the things we aspire to, it would be tough to not say that things couldn’t go our way.”
Potentially seeing that Duke is vulnerable will likely have this same affect on other top programs, bringing Arizona State, Pepperdine, USC and others into the discussion over just who is the best team in the country.
Still, anyone who thinks the Blue Devils won’t be in the mix—if not the favorite—come the post-season has to do a little more homework. Sophomore standouts Amanda Blumenherst and Jennie Lee have already posted three top-10s each in three starts, and senior Anna Grzebien is as clutch as any player in the country. Said Brooks: “The fact that we are not winning every single tournament is not a problem.”
I couldn’t agree more.