Blast from the past: How two international students catapulted Duke women's golf to success

<p>The front page of The Chronicle on May 30, 2002, after Duke women's golf won its second national championship in four years.</p>

The front page of The Chronicle on May 30, 2002, after Duke women's golf won its second national championship in four years.

In honor of Duke’s Centennial, the Blue Zone’s new Blast from the Past series highlights pivotal figures and events in Duke sports history. Next, we look at the stars that helped build Duke women's golf:

Candy Hannemann grew up in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil — 4,650 miles from Duke University Golf Club. Her teammate Virada “Oui” Nirapathpongporn joined the Blue Devils from Bangkok, Thailand, 8,994 miles away. 

The distances didn’t stop either athlete from launching the Duke women’s golf program to new heights at the turn of the century. When the duo clinched individual NCAA golf championships in back-to-back years, they set the Blue Devils on an unprecedented path of success.

The university’s first women’s golf team was founded in 1974 by Jane Lloyd, who led the program to four wins in her five seasons as coach. She was succeeded by Ron Schmid, an assistant pro at the Duke Golf Course and assistant men’s golf coach. During his four years at the helm, the Blue Devils clinched their first ACC title and played in their first NCAA tournament. Though these early successes hinted at the potential of the program, there was still more to come.

In 1985, Dan Brooks took over as head coach of the program, leading Duke to three wins in its first five events and clinching the first of what would eventually become 21 ACC championship titles. Team success fluctuated for ten years before the Blue Devils hit a hot streak in 1996, when they began to dominate the ACC and took home the conference title 13 straight years.

It was in 1999 when Hannemann stepped foot onto Duke’s green for the first time. She was warmly welcomed by the team, especially the senior captains. As she helped the program to ACC and NCAA titles as a freshman and another ACC title as a sophomore, Hannemann quickly established herself as a powerhouse on the links. 

It was in 2001, however, that she demonstrated just how well she could play. During her junior campaign, Hannemann recorded a four-day score of 75-72-69-69=285 to clinch the NCAA individual championship title in a Florida playoff round. On top of the Division I college crown, her efforts also earned her the Honda Award — an honor annually bestowed upon the top player in the nation. She was the first golfer in Duke’s history, male or female, to win either title. 

Meanwhile, Hannemann’s freshman teammate Nirapathpongporn was eyeing similar successes of her own. She had finished the 2001 season as an ACC Freshman of the Year and tallied the second-best stroke average for a freshman at Duke. In her sophomore campaign, she was determined to deliver the program another record accomplishment.

When the 2002 NCAA Championships rolled around, Nirapathpongporn golfed a 68-69-71-72=279 to beat out Hannemann, tie the NCAA tournament record and secure the second NCAA Individual Champion title in Duke’s history. The feat earned her a Honda Award of her own. Nirapathpongporn’s new stroke average of 73.21 also placed her third in Blue Devil history. Meanwhile, Hannemann’s team-low score of 68 propelled the program to its second national title in the team championships.

Together, the two athletes demonstrated the potential of Duke women’s golf and propelled the team towards future success. By helping the Blue Devils to titles and accolades that had previously seemed out of reach, the pair transformed an impossibly high bar into the starting point for Duke’s young players.

With the help of 2005 individual champion Anna Grzebien, the Blue Devils coasted to additional NCAA victories in 2005, 2006 and 2007. Ever since, Duke’s women’s golf program has been known as “the trophy team” for its impressive collection of hardware: seven national championships, 22 ACC titles, four individual NCAA victories and 12 national players of the year.

Both Hannemann and Nirapathpongporn spoke highly of their time at Duke, recalling a close-knit team culture and fond memories that cemented their love of the sport. After graduation, they stayed active on the links and continued to support other young athletes.

Hannemann went on to play in the LPGA Tour for 10 years before picking up a career in sports marketing. She currently serves on the Board of Directors at the American Junior Golf Association, where she focuses on diversity, equity and inclusion work and mentors young Brazilian golfers. 

Nirapathpongporn continued her golfing career, becoming the first Duke alum to win the U.S. Women’s Amateur championship in 2003. She also competed on the LPGA Tour for several years, where she secured two tournament victories. In 2011, after 15 years of living in the United States, Nirapathpongporn moved back to Thailand. She continues to golf while advocating for more female and Asian representation in the sport.

Hannemann and Nirapathpongporn left a lasting legacy on Duke’s women’s golf program, making a name for the Blue Devils and shattering previous ceilings of success along the way. After traveling thousands of miles to join the team, they discovered a new home, a new purpose and new success.

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