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Duke golf’s Alex Smalley caps strong summer by making Walker Cup team

Alex Smalley on NCAAs, turning pro

Duke golfer Alex Smalley is close to completing one of the top senior seasons and careers in Blue Devils history. But before he turns professional in September, he has Duke in this week's NCAA championships.
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Duke golfer Alex Smalley is close to completing one of the top senior seasons and careers in Blue Devils history. But before he turns professional in September, he has Duke in this week's NCAA championships.

A rough end to his stellar Duke career didn’t stop Alex Smalley from putting together a strong summer on the golf course.

The former Wake Forest High School standout got a call Sunday with word he’d been selected to the 10-man U.S. squad for next month’s 47th Walker Cup Match.

He and nine other amateur golfers from around the nation will team up to face a team of amateurs from Great Britain and Ireland Sept. 7-8 at Royal Liverpool Golf Club in Hoylake, England.

“It’s pretty exciting,” the 22-year-old Smalley told The News & Observer in a phone call on Monday.

Smalley set a Duke record with a 71.32 career stroke average. The ACC named him its 2019 scholar-athlete of the year.

But his final appearance for the Blue Devils, at the NCAA championships, proved atypical.

Smalley shot back-to-back rounds of 80 over the first two rounds on May 24 and 25. He improved with a 73 on his final round but the Blue Devils finished No. 25 in the field.

“Obviously it was quite disappointing to do as poorly I did at NCAAs with how well I had played the rest of the year,” Smalley told the N&O. “It was a mess. Nothing was going well. I was putting the ball in play but everything on the fairways and on the greens was pretty bad.”

Admittedly down for a couple of days, Smalley didn’t have time to wallow.

The next weekend, he participated in a U.S. Open qualifier, seeking to qualify for the second time in three years. Smalley shot better than he had at the NCAAs but fell three strokes short of advancing.

From there he traveled to Arkansas to compete on the Palmer Cup team June 7-9. The event included top college golfers facing off in Ryder Cup-style competition with U.S. golfers against the World team.

The international team won the overall competition but Smalley won his matches over the first three days in individual and team play.

A few days later, Smalley was in Johnstown, Pa., for the Sunnehanna Amateur tournament from June 12-15.

There, Smalley shot 10-under par for the tournament, taking the championship to become the first golfer since Rickie Fowler to win the Sunnehanna in consecutive years.

In addition to experiencing the travel schedule he hopes to relive when he turns professional, Smalley showed tenacity by not letting his NCAA experience turn into an extended slump.

“Overall it turned out quite well,” Smalley said of his summer. “I was quite proud of myself with how I bounced back. You have to put it behind you. I worked on my short game and putting, had a few tournaments to get some reps in and see how it felt under competition. I was pretty consistent from US Open qualifying to the Palmer Cup to Sunnehanna.”

His summer rally continued in the Players Amateur at Bluffton, S.C., where Smalley finished eighth.

It culminated with his Walker Cup selection on Sunday.

Adding the fun is Akshay Bhatia’s inclusion on the team. The 17-year-old Bhatia and Smalley have been friends for years, having grown up a couple of blocks apart in Wake Forest.

Smalley, who now calls Greensboro home, said he’s looking forward to teaming up with Bhatia. The U.S. team begins practices this Friday-Sunday at Pinehurst. They’ll travel to England a few days later to continue their preparation.

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An Illinois native, Steve Wiseman has covered Duke athletics since 2010 for the Durham Herald-Sun and Raleigh News & Observer. Prior to his arrival in Durham, he worked for newspapers in Columbia and Spartanburg, S.C., Biloxi, Miss., and Charlotte covering beats including the NFL’s Carolina Panthers and New Orleans Saints, University of South Carolina athletics and the S.C. General Assembly.
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