Aussie Whitaker gets top- level experience in Melbourne

For many Duke students, spring break provides an opportunity to escape from Durham and see exotic bits of the world, if only for a few sun-soaked days. Last month, senior Alison Whitaker left the country, as well—but rather than spending her time lounging on the beach, Whitaker was busy trading shots with some of the best golfers in the world at the Handa Women’s Australian Open.

 Whitaker, a native of Melbourne, Australia, has made the journey back to her homeland three of the past four years to take part in the Women’s Open—the crown jewel of Australian golf. This year’s edition was held at the Commonwealth Golf Club in Melbourne—just a seven-iron away from the Duke senior’s home. The Women’s Open allowed Whitaker to take a break from the grind of team golf, and gave her a chance to return to her golfing roots.

“It’s such a treat to be able to go and play in front of a home crowd,” Whitaker said. “I flew around the world, got hammered with jet lag and jumped straight into a whole bunch of golf.”

This year, Golf Australia, the down-under equivalent of the USGA, pushed back the start of the Women’s Open from its traditional February date to March 11-14 to align the tournament with a break in the LPGA schedule and entice some high-profile golfers to vie for the championship.

Whitaker was in her element rubbing shoulders with world-renowned players such as Laura Davies (73 professional wins)and Karrie Webb (seven LPGA major championships), and finished tied for 21st out of a 150-player field.

Tournament golf in Australia, as opposed to team-oriented golf in Durham, provides a different challenge for Whitaker, and the Aussie has shined in her trips home. In her three appearances in the Women’s Australian Open, the two-time All-ACC recipient has never finished worse than 55th. Part of that success can be attributed to Whitaker’s familiarity with Australian-style courses.

The architecture of most Australian courses provides a stark contrast to the majority of courses in this country and allows Whitaker to showcase different aspects of her game. While country clubs in the United States commonly feature tree-lined fairways, strategically placed water hazards and generally slower surfaces, the geological makeup of Australia provides more natural courses that embrace the terrain of the country and the links-style origins of the game.

“I had to change my game to suit the courses we play over here,” Whitaker said. “Over here, there’s a lot more water… and the grass grows vertically, which means it stops the ball a lot quicker, so you have to hit a higher shot.”

The pressure of playing individually versus playing in a team format also gives the Women’s Open a different layer of competitiveness for Whitaker. Without teammates to rely on, players have no one to answer to but themselves, something Whitaker relishes.

“It’s a nice break to just play for yourself now and then, and it’s a different experience,” Whitaker said. “All of a sudden it’s not your team that’s on the leader board—it’s your name.”

With a raucous gallery behind her—mostly composed of Whitaker’s friends and family—the Duke star coolly reeled off rounds of 70-74-78-74 on the 6,102-meter, par-73 Commonwealth course. The senior described her rounds as a blur, mostly because she was having such a great time on the links.

 “[Davies, Katherine Hull and I] had a blast out there. At the end of the [third round], I couldn’t tell you how any of us played…. I had to look at my scorecard because I couldn’t remember if I played well or if I played bad,” Whitaker said. “I just had fun out there.”

According to Whitaker, the lessons she learned from playing against the best have proven to be priceless back at Duke.

“Playing with Laura Davies…. She plays the way people play when they’re playing with friends. She just has so much fun with it [and] she’s completely fearless,” Whitaker said. “That’s the biggest thing I’ve taken out of [the experience]…. You just have to be true to yourself out there on the golf course.”


Share and discuss “Aussie Whitaker gets top- level experience in Melbourne” on social media.