Not much can surprise head coach Dan Brooks at this point. In his 35 years leading Duke women’s golf, he has claimed seven national championships, visited the White House three times and won several National Coach of the Year awards. He is a man of golf and a man of the world.
But when Brooks and his national champion women’s golf team visited the White House last Friday, they got to witness a true rarity: a moment of self-deprecation from President Donald Trump.
“[Trump] is friends with [Swedish golfer] Annika Sörenstam. He said she hardly even brushes the grass,” Brooks said. “She’s what we call a ‘picker,’ no kind of big divot… He talked about how big his divots are.”
Regardless of the President’s shortcomings on the golf course, everyone involved got a taste of something new during the expedition up north.
Before heading to the White House, the team walked around the National Mall and other monuments. Sue Gordon, former director of the CIA’s Information Operations Center and former forward for Duke women’s basketball, gave the team a private tour of the International Spy Museum, where you can see a hidden Soviet camera in a glasses case and an East German microdot in a hollow tooth.
The real highlight, of course, was at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. It was a lot to handle for some of the players.
“Until this morning, it didn’t feel real,” redshirt junior Miranda Wang said. “I didn’t know what I was going to do, but I didn't feel any pressure or anything like that. When I actually went to the White House and I was standing in the hallway waiting for the President to come… It was like playing [the] last few holes of the national championship.”
For Wang, an immigrant from Beijing and one of four international players on the championship-winning squad, a trip to the nation’s capital held extra significance. She first visited D.C. when she was 12, shortly after her family had settled in California. That trip was supposed to help her learn about American history and culture—her efforts on the golf course have made her a part of the nation’s athletic history.
“[I feel] like I belong more to this country now,” Wang said. “At the beginning, I struggled to leave [home] because of the language barrier, and all kinds of things were different from home. But now, I just feel like I can live comfortably in this country and I felt really honored to be to be able to meet [the President].”
‘That never gets old’
After touring the White House three times, Brooks might know the place better than some faculty at Duke. Last week, Brooks and his team walked through the Oval Office, a first for all of them, along with the 21 other teams honored at the White House on the same day. Unlike Brooks’ previous two visits, which came after championships in 2005 and 2007, President Trump did not address all the athletes as a group.
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While it might be a thrill for Brooks, a History major from Oregon State, he says the main source of enjoyment from visits to D.C. is his players’ happiness.
“It's great to see them putting the time in, making the accomplishment and being rewarded for it,” Brooks said. “That never gets old. I always enjoy seeing them reap the benefits of their efforts.”
It was also a learning experience for the team. Duke found itself waiting for the President in the Blue Room, where Grover Cleveland exchanged vows with his bride, Frances—the only President ever to do so in the White House. Junior Hannah O’Sullivan sat on a Parisian sofa she was told was over 200 years old.
“[Brooks] always encourages us to really grasp and appreciate the meaning of what we're doing,” O’Sullivan said. “He made sure that we really soaked in the fact that we're walking through the hallways of history.”
The current Duke roster was joined by Virginia Elena Carta, the leader of the Blue Devils’ title run and a monumental figure in recent Duke history. She founded the Birdies for Babies fundraiser that has already raised more than $30,000 for Duke Children’s Neonatal and Pediatric Intensive Care Units. Carta flew in from Cambridge, England, where she is studying environmental policy, to receive the honors at the White House.
“I've been missing Virginia so much,” O’Sullivan said. “It’s so exciting to be able to welcome her back, and it was only right that she was there. It really completed the trip because in her four years, she contributed so much to our team and the school and the community.”
Earlier this year, Trump presented the national champion Clemson football team with an array of fast-food favorites, including selections from McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s and Domino’s. Because Trump’s choice was prompted by a government shutdown, the decision (and the misspelling and miscounting of ‘hamberders’ in a viral Tweet) brewed up controversy in both political and culinary arenas.
Unfortunately, Duke women’s golf did not receive similar treatment. Water was the most the team could ask for.
“I actually wouldn’t have been upset if there was fast food, though,” said freshman Megan Furtney. “That would have been pretty cool.”