By DAVID DROSCHAK
Jamie Green couldn’t even text his family or friends to relay the news that his Duke Blue Devils won the 2013 Atlantic Coast Conference Men’s Golf Championship in dramatic fashion. Torrential rain over the final nine holes fried the coach’s cell phone.
But there were plenty of high-fives and hugs to go around in person at Old North State Club as the battle-tested Blue Devils captured their first ACC title since 2005, fighting the elements and three other teams down to the wire to set a school record for wins in a season at five – all coming in the Carolinas.
“I heard all the other coaches telling their players, ‘This is what you practice for,”’ Green said as the race for the team title got intense under soaking, windy and darkening conditions. “If you kept watching the leaderboard it kept bouncing around, but when you got to that last hour it was just a survival test. There were times when you wondered if a certain putt was even playable. Some guys were rolling putts through lakes.
“I saw the hats turned backwards and we had their blinders on and we finished well. It was a lot of fun.”
Duke came into the final round trailing Florida State by four shots and just one ahead of four-time defending champion Georgia Tech. Virginia Tech jumped into the race quickly on the last day too to make things even more interesting as all four teams made the turn within a few strokes of each other.
Then came the heavy rain, adding to the pressure down the stretch. In the end, it came down to the final risk-reward par-5 18th along Badin Lake, a peninsula-designed Tom Fazio hole that can produce eagles for successful gambles or high numbers for those not so lucky.
Florida State’s Doug Letson was the first Florida State player to hit the final hole and his unfortunate 10 set the tone for what was to follow for the Seminoles, as the next three Florida State golfers all carded bogeys while Duke made a few clutch par putts and the title belonged to the Blue Devils, who finished at 25-under to edge the Seminoles and Hokies by three shots.
“The conditions were unbelievable,” said Duke senior Brinson Paolini. “Your hands were like prunes, you couldn’t even feel club and no sense of where the club head was – just no feel at all. We all were just trying to keep our head down and make good decisions.”
In uncharacteristic fashion, the Yellow Jackets faded over the back nine and ended up 12 shots off the pace.
However, it was another big tournament for the smallest player in the field, 5-foot-9, 147-pound Anders Albertson, who finished fourth last year as a freshman. Albertson finished with rounds of 66, 67 and 68 for a 15-under total 201, breaking the individual ACC record set by reigning U.S. Open Champion Webb Simpson when he played for Wake Forest in 2008.
Albertson, who mastered the front nine at Old North State with a combined 11-under par for three rounds, joins other Yellow Jacket greats such as David Duval and Bryce Molder who have captured ACC individual titles.
“It’s funny because I spoke with Webb the night before the tournament started,” said Albertson, who became friends with Simpson after the two met at a Christian college golf fellowship retreat. “He mentioned something about his record but I didn’t know what it was.”
“I saw at the turn we were two back of Florida State so I was trying to do everything I could to get our team a win,” Albertson said. “Unfortunately I didn’t make any birdies on the back.”
Duke had three players finish in the top seven – Adam Sumrall (5th), Paolini (T7th) and Julian Suri (T7th) – while the other two team members finished tied for 17th.
The late Rod Myers won Duke’s last ACC team crown eight years ago, and Green is in his fifth season in Durham.
“For Jamie, it means the world to him just like it does to us,” Sumrall said. “It’s something we talk about every year when we set our goals, to unseat Georgia Tech and whoever else. They’ve had a stranglehold on this for the last few years so to get it this year with four seniors, to pull it out under conditions like that, is unreal.”
N.C. State’s Albin Choi, the highest ranked player in the field at seventh in the nation and one of the favorites coming in, never could get it going with rounds of 72, 73 and 72 to finish well off the pace of the leaders at 1-over.
Choi registered nine birdies and 10 bogeys over three rounds.
“I couldn’t string anything together,” Choi said. “I had some moments of excellence where I made some birdies but just made four birdies total the last two rounds and that’s just not going to cut it around here. It just wasn’t my week. I’ll deal with it and move on.”
The Wolfpack was ninth out of 11 teams and hasn’t finished higher than fifth since 2006.
“It seems like every year we’re confident but it is kind of the same results we’ve gotten the last three years I’ve been here, which is very unfortunate,” Choi said. “I can’t explain it. If we knew we wouldn’t be doing it, right?”
Meanwhile, North Carolina was tied with N.C. State heading into the final round but finished 12 shots better after getting final rounds of 70 from Brandon Dalinka and 71 from Michael McGowan of Southern Pines.
McGowan finished at 4 under, a second career top 10 at the ACC Championship and a score that would have been much better had he not carded an 8 on the final hole in the first round. The senior dumped his 210-yard approach shot into Badin Lake and then left his drop in a bunker, where he experienced additional trouble getting to the green.
“I made a 45-footer for an 8 so that was probably the most excited I was all day,” he said. “I know as a team I wanted to be a part of an ACC Championship but it just wasn’t meant to be. We can only look ahead to NCAA Regionals now.”