“There’s patience, and then there’s patience.” Those were the words of head coach Dan Brooks, describing the maturation of his sophomore star player, Lindy Duncan. She’s learning the latter, he said.
“You think you’ve been patient and you don’t realize what patience is,” Brooks said. “If you’re dedicated, you keep getting better and better and better at keeping hope alive, no matter what’s going on in your game, no matter what misfortune you run into.... We give up in this game in ways that we don’t even realize we’re giving up that are not apparent to anybody else. We’re just a little knocked down, a little beaten up by every little mishap.”
He’s proud of the way that Duncan didn’t let some of the mishaps interfere with her play at the NCAA Championship, where she placed eighth on May 21. But it’s clear that coaching and playing golf both involve getting a little knocked down, since Duncan was the lone bright spot for a squad that missed competing for the NCAA title as a team for the first time in 13 years.
Asked about the NCAA Central regional where the Blue Devils played for a berth in the national championship tournament, he said, simply, “That wasn’t a fun experience.”
What did the team need to do better to make nationals?
“Well,” he said, somewhat wearily, “We needed to play better golf.”
The team opened the Central regional tied for fifth, with a 14-over par first day, led by freshman Laetitia Beck, who finished a windy first day tied for third overall at even par. Day two at Warren Golf Course in South Bend, Ind. tripped the Blue Devils up, though, as the team needed 26 shots over par to get through the round, falling all the way back to 13th place, six shots back of the top-eight finish needed to advance to the national championship.
The team score of 314 was the highest total for any Duke team in a regional round since 1997, not coincidentally also the last year the team didn’t qualify for nationals. Duncan’s par effort on the second day led the team and brought her into a tie for fifth, just three shots off the leader.
They glimpsed a chance at an NCAA berth, as good early play on day three earned them a place in the top eight. The team was three-under-par through the first five holes and reached the turn at one-over par. But then, the weather intervened. A weather delay of over two hours pushed back Duke’s final nine holes, and when they returned to the course, it was the play, rather than the weather, that could be described as stormy. Bogeys on the back nine cost the Blue Devils eight strokes, and their spot in the NCAA championship, as they finished ninth, four shots back of eighth-place Wake Forest.
According to both Duncan and Brooks, the team’s poor performance at the regional tournament was the symptom of a season-long struggle to focus.
“At Duke, especially, we just don’t have a lot of time to have non-quality practicing,” Duncan said. “We have too much to do...and when we get to practice it has to be extremely high quality. And I just felt like all year long the quality wasn’t there.”
The silver lining, though, was Duncan, who carded a three-over 75 to finish tied for sixth and win one of two individual spots at the national championship for players whose teams did not qualify.
Duncan traveled to College Station, Texas for the NCAA Championship, held at the 6,260-yard Traditions Club. She struggled out of the gate in her first two rounds, but fought back to even par on the first day, and to what would have been even par were it not for a difficult two-stroke penalty in Friday’s second round. After marking her ball on the green, it moved slightly, and she agreed with her playing partners to replace the ball. But because she had not addressed the ball, she was meant to play the ball as it lay, and moving it meant a two-stroke penalty.
Although she turned in a strong round, she was falling back relative to the competition, dropping from tenth back to just inside the top 20.
Her third day, though, saw her open with five straight pars, including two up-and-downs, before registering birdies on No. 6, No. 8 and No. 10. Her only bogey came on the 13th hole, to leave her at two-under-par for the day and move her into fifth place.
She considers her final day a quality round even though her one-over-par 73 dropped her back to an eighth-place finish. Starting on the back nine, she didn’t hit the green in regulation on any of her first eight holes, but went up-and-down seven times and birdied the par-five 18th to make the turn at even par. Mud and sand led to a double bogey on No. 1, but she followed that up with a birdie on the par-three second hole. Two more birdies and a bogey the rest of the way left her with a total of 289 for the four-day tournament, eight strokes back of the leader.
“The final 18 was not my best ball-striking,” she said. “I kind of hit it all over the place.... But I played very scrappy and got a lot of tough up-and-downs… So I didn’t hit the ball that great, which happens, but I wound up with probably a better score than I actually played.”
Overall, the sophomore from Ft. Lauderdale was pleased with the effort.
“My game is starting to really come together,” she said, and though both coach and player would rather have been playing for a team championship rather than just an individual one, they agreed that the one-on-one time was beneficial.
“When the team is there,” Brooks said, “a lot of times the No. 1 player—they’re usually a little more self-sufficient, and I sometimes will not watch them as much as the others, because I feel like I can just let them go and they’re going to get us a number, and I’m going to go and support the rest of the team.”
Duke hadn’t missed the national championship since 1997, but Dan Brooks and his team roared back two years later to win the national title in 1999. Brooks is confident that this group can rebound as well.
“You certainly haven’t seen the best golf from this team,” he said.
After all, there’s patience and then there’s patience, and sometimes you need the second kind.
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