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Duke's Ana Belac, determined as they come, turns page to pro golf

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The college-golf careers of many seniors around the country came to a sudden end on March 12 when the NCAA decided to cancel all remaining athletics because of the COVID-19 pandemic. will highlight some of these seniors and their stories.

Duke women’s coach Dan Brooks had never seen Ana Belac’s swing in person when he flew to Sweden to watch the Slovenian recruit compete in the 2015 Annika Invitational Europe.

It didn’t take long for Belac to serve notice. The first shot Brooks saw her hit, off the tee at Bro-Balsta Golf Club’s par-3 13th hole, found the bottom of the cup for Belac’s first – and still only – hole-in-one.

Talk about a first impression.

“You can’t do much better than knocking it in the hole,” Brooks said.

While the timely ace helped, it wasn’t the deciding factor in Belac ending up in Durham, North Carolina. Brooks left Sweden that week blown away by Belac’s competitive intangibles.

“She had a determination and seriousness about her,” Brooks said. “She wasn’t out there to fool around, and I liked that about her. … Sometimes you just have a feeling about a player.”

Brooks was right. Not only did Belac finish her Duke career, which was cut short last month by the COVID-19 pandemic, ranked among the illustrious program’s top-10 best in several statistical categories, but the Blue Devils’ lone senior did so while proving herself a strong, no-nonsense leader who never shied away from competition.

That toughness was on full display at the 2019 NCAA Championship, where Belac tied for 16th before going 3-0 in match play to help Duke capture its seventh national title.

“I remember one of the days she had to warm up four different times because of weather delays,” Brooks said. “It takes some serious fortitude to handle that. That’s what she and her teammates did better than anything that week is handle the marathon aspect and the challenge of a national championship.”

Belac’s resilience was put to the test once again on March 12 when the NCAA canceled the remainder of its winter and spring seasons because of the coronavirus. The Blue Devils were an hour into their road trip to Augusta, Georgia, for the Valspar Augusta Invitational when Brooks got the call to turn the van around because Duke was suspending all athletic activities.

A few hours later, the NCAA ruling came down.

“It was a huge shock,” Belac said. “It was so unimaginable that you don’t really know what to think.”

Brooks scrambled to put together the Blue Devils’ annual season-ending dinner at the Washington Duke Inn, which came together in just three days. For hours the team ate, laughed, shared stories, cried, handed out awards (Belac was named MVP). Then, just like that, it was over.

But the stoic Belac, who remained in Durham, didn’t shed many tears after that. She didn’t sit and sulk for days. Instead, she asked herself, now what?

For Belac, that means turning pro. The impending statistics grad earned Symetra Tour status at Q-Series last winter and last week officially announced her decision to relinquish her amateur status.

“Obviously, I was sad because I still had a lot of goals I wanted to accomplish and that got taken away from me,” said Belac, one of three Duke players, along with Miranda Wang and Hannah Sullivan, who will not be on the team next season. “But I had a goal beyond college to play professionally, and I know there is a lot more to come.”

She just doesn’t know when. The Symetra Tour season is currently scheduled to resume June 19-21 at the Island Resort Championship in Harris, Michigan, so that’s what Belac is targeting as she practices daily at Mill Creek Golf Course in Mebane, North Carolina, which is about 30 minutes from Duke’s home course, which is closed.

“If that changes, I’ll just regroup and set a new date,” Belac said. “I’m not thinking about what-ifs.”

Talk about determination.