Pair of freshmen give women’s golf an international edge

Head coach Dan Brooks thinks his two freshmen can help Duke win multiple tournaments.
Head coach Dan Brooks thinks his two freshmen can help Duke win multiple tournaments.

With the graduation of Aussie Alison Whitaker last May, Duke lost not just a vocal team leader, but also it’s only foreign flair. Once again this year, head coach Dan Brooks has reloaded his team with international talent, debuting two of the top freshmen in the country two weeks ago in the NCAA Fall Preview. Although freshmen Laetitia Beck and Alejandra Cangrejo may be new faces at college events in the United States, they both dominated the international amateur scene before making the decision to take their talents to Durham.

Now with two tournaments under their belts, Beck and Cangrejo are hoping to quickly adjust to the rigors of college golf and help the Blue Devils return to the top of the national heap.

Cangrejo, of Bogota, Colombia, is one of the most decorated golfers to ever come from her country. Ranked the fourth-best freshman in the country by Golfweek, Cangrejo dominated tournaments across South America and the United States as a junior golfer, winning 18 times since 2007, including once against professional golfers in the Fay Crocker International in Argentina.

Though Cangrejo was a natural as a child, the game originally came to her by accident. At a young age, Cangrejo fell off a horse and suffered a severe injury to her right arm and only picked up a set of clubs as a part of rehab. After deciding that tennis and swimming weren’t for her, Cangrejo began to go to weekend tournaments at local clubs—and immediately saw results.

“I started going to tournaments just to do some exercise, and I started winning little tournaments. I had a lot of fun, and I started building a passion for it,” Cangrejo said.

Cangrejo’s profile grew from there, to the point that college coaches were counting down the days to talk to her. NCAA rules mandate that coaches are allowed to contact prospective players at the beginning of their junior year, and Cangrejo was receiving correspondence from day one.

“That very day [September 1st, 2008], Coach Brooks contacted me. I didn’t know what were the good universities here…. I’m from Colombia, you know,” Cangrejo said. “I started to learn a little about all the colleges, and then I came here… and loved the place.”

Beck had a much different journey to Durham, one that started in Europe. Born in Belgium, Beck moved to Israel when she was 6 and started playing golf three years later, to the pleasure of her golfer parents. Despite the limited golf infrastructure in Israel, Beck lived at one of two clubs in her hometown of Caesarea and picked up the game quickly, winning her first Israel Ladies Championship at the tender age of 12.

Two years later, Beck moved to Florida to attend the IMG Golf Academy, one of the nation’s premier golf prep schools where student-athletes learn from renowned golf instructors hand selected by teaching legend David Leadbetter. A historical hotbed for golfing stars, the IMG Academy prepares golfers to succeed at the professional level, but it doesn’t prepare students to be thrust into team golf—a format that’s completely new for Beck.

“I have to think differently from last year when it was just about me,” Beck said. “I don’t think there’s more pressure. I think you have to get used to [being on a] team.”

Beck will have little time to accustom herself to the team atmosphere, as she has been selected to compete for Israel in the World Amateur Team Championship in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Oct. 16-23. Beck will compete against 54 other countries in the biennial competition, and will face off against former Blue Devil Whitaker, who is a member of the Australian team.

“I’m excited to represent Israel, it’s the first time we have a team,” Beck said. “But it’s like every other tournament; I just do the best I can. I try to never put too much pressure on myself.”

Both Beck and Cangrejo have had solid outings in Duke’s first two tournaments, which have both been held at difficult golf courses. While it will take time to mesh with their new teammates and adapt to the college environment, the two freshmen have exceeded the expectations of their coach, who admits that it can often be difficult for golfers to make the college transition.

“They haven’t experienced this whole team thing. That can feel a little heavy on you,” Brooks said. “Anybody who’s played in a Ryder Cup can tell you how much harder it is to play for a team.”

Along with the three Blue Devil sophomores—Lindy Duncan, Courtney Ellenbogen and Stacey Kim—the play of the two freshmen indicates that the future is bright for Duke golf. Brooks, however, insists that the time is now for his squad.

“We’re not holding out for next year or the year after,” Brooks said. “We’re going to get it done this year.”


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