Duke’s first match of the fall pits it against 10 of the top 15 finishers in last year’s national championships, but the Blue Devils—behind National Player of the Year Lindy Duncan—bring one of their deepest teams to date.
Returning all six letter-winners from last year’s squad and adding two freshmen, Duke opens the year at the three-day Cougar Classic at Yeamans Hall Club in Hanahan, S.C. Sept. 9-11.
Joining the field at the College of Charleston for the second straight year, the Blue Devils will look to improve upon their tied-for-seventh place finish in 2011.
“[Last year], we didn’t finish that great, but it made you want to come back and take it on again,” head coach Dan Brooks said.
Facing a field that features each of the top five teams in last year’s NCAA Championship round, Duke faces a tough opening challenge. Duncan’s performance will be key to Blue Devil success. The senior tied for sixth in last year’s Classic, and in each of her 10 finishes for the 2011-12 season, she placed no worse than eighth, accumulating four victories.
Moreover at 71.07 shots per round, Duncan finished just three overall strokes short of eclipsing the Duke single-season scoring record of 71.0 set by Amanda Blumenherst.
“Lindy is always getting better,” Brooks said. “Every semester she’s been here, she’s gotten a little better…. She was National Player of the Year last year, but she’s looking to be one of the best players in the world on the LPGA [tour], so she needs to improve. As good as she’s been, she can get better. And I’m sure she will.”
And Duncan has already taken the first steps to elevate her game to an even higher level.
In June, she competed for the United States in the Curtis Cup for women amateur players and in August, she competed in the Jamie Farr Toledo Classic. Although she missed the cut, she gained valuable time on the course playing with professionals, including a 2011 major winner.
“Playing in the LPGA event was great as well because you get to assess your game against the pros,” Duncan said. “I got to play a practice round with Stacy Lewis on one of the days. So I just played 18 holes with Stacy Lewis, her coach and her caddie, and my dad was there, so that was a great learning experience.”
Joining Duncan, both of Duke’s freshmen—Ashley Xiao and Celine Boutier—qualified for the Blue Devil lineup.
“They’re really great for the team,” Duncan said. “They’re both very calm in their demeanor, but they really have this fight in them…. They’re very patient, which is great too.”
In July, Boutier—a native of Montrouge, France—not only won European Ladies Amateur title, but also beat her nearest competitor by six strokes.
Boutier also advanced to the second round of the U.S. Women’s Amateur in August.
“She’s somebody who tends to rise to the occasion,” Brooks said. “She likes the big events. I’ve seen her do very well in those.”
Xiao, a walk-on from Guangzhou, China, has impressed the team as well, playing with a scrappy style, Duncan said. And Xiao’s scrappiness may be just what Duke needs to succeed at Yeaman Hall Club.
“It takes a little creativity,” Brooks said. “It has square greens. You get some very abrupt banks where you play the shot a little too long, you go over the back, and now, you’re basically pitching over a wall…. Some of [the bunkers] are 10-feet high—some crazy shots compared to normal golf—but it should be a lot of fun.”
With three players making their second straight start in the Cougar Classic, the Blue Devils may have the necessary experience to tackle the course.
“We have a great shot at contending, possibly winning it,” Duncan said. “We have a lot of depth to the team.”