Unlike most professional athletes, former Duke star Laetitia Beck will be well-versed in representing her country when she competes at this summer's Olympic Games.
In a sport dominated by countries such as South Korea and the United States, Beck is Israel's only player on the LPGA Tour. A member of the 2014 Blue Devil team that won the national championship, she is ranked 207th on the tour, but because of player allocation limits for the top countries is 41st in the Olympic rankings and will qualify for a trip to Rio de Janeiro if she stays in the top 60. Golf is rejoining the games this summer for the first time since 1904.
"I represent my country and my culture every time I compete. I'm always very proud of it and I try to show it in any way possible," Beck said. "For me, the Olympics is just another opportunity."
Although the Caesarea, Israel, native has had an up-and-down first two seasons playing professionally, Beck played some of the best golf of her career early in the summer. The two-time All-American posted top-20 finishes in consecutive May starts at the Yokohama Tires Classic and Kingsmill championship, with her tie for 15th at the first event the best finish of her career.
At the Yokohama event in Prattville, Ala., May 5-8, Beck also grabbed the lead for the first time in her career, firing a first-round, 7-under-par 65 to take a two-shot lead.
"Obviously it didn't go as well as the first day, but I knew I was going to face some challenges and that it would help me for the future and help me learn how to handle the pressure better next time," Beck said.
That event and a tie for 18th at the Kingsmill championship May 19-22 in Williamsburg, Va., showed Beck that she was on the right track with midseason swing changes after missing the cut in six of her first eight starts of the year before the Yokohama Tires Classic.
"I've been working on my game a little more this year trying to prepare for the Olympics and have a more consistent swing," Beck said. "It's getting a little better. I still have a lot more to go."
After the Kingsmill championship, Beck tied for 65th and missed the cut in her next four starts, and she will look to bounce back in summer events leading up to the Olympics.
Although she said Duke helped her mature, Beck was not always comfortable working with her Blue Devil teammates and coaches after leaving Israel at age 14 to attend Florida's IMG Academy.
"When she came in as a freshman, I didn’t know if she and I were going to make it," Duke head coach Dan Brooks said. "I probably have had no greater evolution of a relationship than she and I had. By the time she left, we were real tight and we continue to be."
A four-time All-ACC performer, Beck capped off her Blue Devil career with a 2-under-par 68 at the 2014 NCAA championship in Tulsa, Okla., to help Duke engineer a dramatic comeback on the back nine against Southern California en route to the program's sixth national championship.
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Beck improved her stroke average during each of her final two seasons in Durham, but noted that playing with talented players from across the world with the Blue Devils prepared her to play professionally.
"As a kid, I always wanted to turn professional and never really wanted to go to school. College really helped me mature," Beck said. "After being at Duke for four years, I really changed the way I interact with different people and different cultures."
Now with the chance to play on the world's biggest stage, Beck hopes that golf will become more popular in a country with one 18-hole course.
"She’s a great ambassador for that country," Brooks said. "It’s really great that she just takes it in stride and is proud of it. She plays well with that responsibility, carrying that around, she doesn’t shy away from it."