It seems more than just coincidence Lindy Duncan’s climb to the top of the college golf rankings coincides with Duke’s return to favorite role heading into the Atlantic Coast Conference women’s golf championship.
Duncan, a junior who is the reigning ACC player of the year, was always a top golfer as a teen-ager with her father doubling as her coach, but she never really won big on the junior circuit. Signing a golf scholarship with Duke was a dream come true for the Florida native, but Duncan soon realized there was more to college golf than hitting long drives.
“My dad and I put our nose to the grindstone and worked on getting my swing on plane for many, many years,” she said. “I’ve always been a pretty decent player and a decently long hitter, but coming to college I really learned more about how to manage my game and I’ve gotten steadily better. It has really been a good combination and just a lot of fun. I love playing golf. It’s a big passion of mine. It is just exciting now that things are coming together.”
And over the last several seasons, the ACC’s most dominating team for more than a decade realized there was more to winning championships than just putting on a royal blue hat and strutting down the fairway.
“There hasn’t been a great big alteration in what we do, but there has been a little change in the degree of heart and dedication, and if that continues in the trajectory we’ve seen so far this spring then I see some good things for us,” said Duke coach Dan Brooks. “If (golf and winning) doesn’t matter to you on a deep level then you probably aren’t going to have a good team. I think our players are starting to buy into that concept a little bit more.”
Duncan, who played in the 2009 and 2011 U.S. Women’s Opens, has been the team’s best player during her rise to the top of the college golfing world, but she has also set an example of hard work and dedication, which has rubbed off on her teammates as they prepare to try to dethrone North Carolina as ACC champion.
Duncan is the first to admit her putting needed work, while Brooks has turned her new mental approach into positive scoring.
“I made the cut at the U.S. Women’s Open last year and I realized my ball striking was pretty good, but those ladies were just putting circles around me,” Duncan said. “So, I really worked on my putting and that has improved a lot. I got to see the players’ games and how I matched up and where I was weak at. I’m lucky to be in this position and I just hope I can keep getting better.”
“She has become a more patient player,” Brooks said. “She has always had great skills, but she used to not be quite as tough when things weren’t going well for her out there. She hangs in there now much better than she used to. It has been a real challenge for her and I’m real proud of her.”
Duncan, the only ACC female ranked in the nation’s top 30 in mid-March, says her putting problems stem from growing up in Florida, where most of the course she played on had “pancake” greens.
“I had to gain experience and practice more on severely breaking putts, which has been incorporated into my practice big time,” Duncan said. “And I’m always trying to get my putting stroke better and my speed better. I’m learning how to putt those big breakers.”
“It is hard to know exactly what is helping the most, whether it’s a lot more time spent on undulating greens or the toughness she developed by working that hard and then now you’re more patient,” Brooks said. “So maybe it’s the combination of working your tail off and learning about yourself.”
The Tar Heels, under second-year coach Jan Mann, lapped the field last year at Sedgefield Country Club in Greensboro, winning by 24 shots – a gaudy Blue Devil-type of number of previous seasons.
“That was last year and this is this year,” Mann said. “We once again have some great teams competing. We take nothing for granted. Duke has been playing very well, and of course the other teams are very strong. We’re going to have to play our very best to have a repeat.
“Years ago it used to be just a few teams were always up at the top,” Mann added. “Now you’re seeing in today’s women’s collegiate golf that teams are much more equal. That doesn’t surprise me because you’re getting better and better players and more of them as far as junior golfers are concerned. All of us can recruit strong players and that has made a huge difference.”
Duncan chose Duke over Florida in a close call. In the end, it was Duke’s winning tradition, long lineage of producing LPGA Tour players, and strong academics that swayed the two-time All-American to play in Durham.
“With the economy and the status of the LPGA Tour you just never know, so being able to have a Duke degree will be very special for me,” Duncan said.
The Triangle-area teams belonging to Brooks and Mann, along with N.C. State and Virginia, are the favorites heading into the ACC Women’s Championship on April 13-15. All agree that the Donald Ross design of Sedgefield favors a team with a good short game and solid putting stroke.
“It challenges the better player because in my view the better player has a great short game, and Sedgefield demands that you have a great short game. I love that place,” Brooks said.
“I do feel like our team has a good short game,” added Mann. “That was one of the reasons why we were able to come out ahead last year. We did well around the greens and that truly does make a difference on a Donald Ross course, to be able to maneuver around the greens.”
One week prior to the ACC Championships, six ACC teams, including the state’s Big Four, will compete down the road at the Bryan National Collegiate at Bryan Park Golf Club.
“In golf we’re not watching tape or sizing up our opponents or anything like that,” Brooks said. “So, what we really need going into the ACC Championship is tough competition. We just need to be on a good golf course with good teams so we’ve got a measuring stick of what good is out there.”
Women’s College Golf
Bryan National Collegiate
at Bryan Park
at Sedgefield CC