Around 18 months ago, Louise Duncan, then 21 and a golf scholar at Stirling University, was in two minds about what she should do next. Since her degree at Stirling was in Sports Studies, she had a few thoughts on that front, while she also fancied the idea of being a paramedic.
Then, in June of 2021, her golf clubs did a bit of talking. First, she came from nowhere to win the Women’s British Amateur championship at Barassie and with it a place in the AIG Women’s Open at Carnoustie. There, on the toughest Open championship venue of them all, she had rounds of 68, 73 and 68, to be trailing Anna Nordqvist and Nanna Koertz Madsen by a mere two shots going into the final round.
That was when the penny dropped. Duncan, who is managed by Bounce Management, began to think that a career as a professional was not out of the question. “I could have won that week,” she said in our chat at the recent opening of the Stephen Gallacher Foundation Centre of Excellence at the Kingsfield Golf Centre.
On 24th November, she was at the Edinburgh office of Baillie Gifford as this major investment management company announced that they would be sponsoring her at the Ladies European Tour qualifying school and thereafter on the LET tour. A handsome sum is perhaps the best way of describing the amount which will enable her to concentrate more on getting off to a good start than paying the next bill.
Though two bogies around the turn marred her card on the Sunday at Carnoustie, she still contrived to finish in a share of tenth place which, for an amateur playing in her first major, was mighty impressive. Afterwards, she admitted to having felt “a bag of nerves” on the first tee but, such were the other 70 shots that she very quickly concluded that they were good nerves rather than bad. Her performance duly paved the way for a place at the year's Open at Muirfield where she finished inside the top 20.
Duncan was not the only Stirling University golfer to stand out on the amateur scene in 2021. Under the watchful of Dean Robertson, the Stirling University coach and a former Italian Open champion, Chloe Goadby put the finishing touches to a first-class honours degree before winning the Scottish Women’s championship at Gullane. Duncan’s British Amateur triumph came next, and then there was that never-to-be-forgotten week at the men’s Amateur at Nairn. Laird Shepherd, who had graduated shortly before, made that crazy comeback from eight down after 17 holes of the morning lap of the final to defeat Monty Scowsill at the second extra hole in the afternoon.
It is not too difficult to get across how much Duncan, who played all her early golf at West Kilbride, relished her time at Stirling. “I never really thought of going to an American college because I wanted to stay at home,” she said. “I knew of several girls who had gone down the US university route and come back better. On the other side of the coin, I know of quite a few who, if anything, got worse when they were over there. Some of them, I think, made rather random choices in deciding where they should go.”
She could understand how proud they would have been to be offered scholarships, but she wondered if they had studied the pluses and minuses of what the different establishments had to offer, starting with the credentials of the coach. Did he or she have a good record as a teaching professional, or was the person in question more of an administrator than anything else? Also, were the golf facilities close at hand, and how had the golf team been faring in the various inter-collegiate events?
“Perhaps the greatest thing about Stirling,” said Duncan, “was the atmosphere. It had an environment where you could learn. Also, because you were surrounded by top swimmers, tennis players, golfers and other athletes, sport was a big thing and you were aware of it all the time. Everyone was very supportive of each other.” In which connection, she went back to that Sunday at Carnoustie when it wasn’t just the golfers who came to watch. There was a veritable shoal of swimmers which included Duncan Scott, a winner of three silver medals and one gold in Tokyo, and Louise’s boyfriend, Jordan Hughes, to whom she has been engaged for 11 months.
“I’d never not recommend Stirling for those who want to stay based in the UK,” said Duncan. “I decided against doing the fourth year Honours course I could have done - at least for now - but I’m still able to use the facilities.”
What Duncan so liked about Dean Robertson, who caddied for her at the ’21 Open, was that his experience knew no bounds: “When Dean told you how to deal with this situation or that, you knew that he had been there and done it himself.”
Apart from the above, she was a beneficiary of Robertson’s decision to make the university’s boys’ and girls’ squads a single entity. When that happened, Robertson’s first move was to have them training together and playing with and against each other from the men’s championship tees.
The girls reacted to being torn from their comfort zone by hitting further and going up a level, while the boys started to follow the girls’ example in concentrating on their studies as much as their golf. Duncan’s huge hitting, incidentally, took quite a trick at Carnoustie in that her average driving distance of 283 yards over the first three rounds was bettered only by Lexi Thompson. Today, she counts herself thrice blessed that Robertson has happily agreed to caddie for her at the Qualifiers.
With Stirling having worked so well for Duncan, the chances are that her decision to start her professional career - she turned professional in July of ’22 - will prove another smart move.
Though she leapt to the top of the amateur arena in no time at all, her plans as a professional are to take things a step at a time. In other words, to follow in the footsteps of Atthaya Thitikul, who won her first LET event - the 2017 European Thailand championship - when she was a 14-year-old amateur and went on to win four times on the LET before switching to the LPGA at the start of ’22.
In October of this year, after two LPGA wins in her rookie season, Thitikul arrived at No. 1 in the World.
“Hardly surprisingly,” said Duncan, “I like how she’s done things.”
Lewine Mair was the first woman to be signed on as a sports’ correspondent for a national daily paper. She was with the Daily Telegraph for 18 years, six of them covering sport in general and the remaining 12 as the paper’s golf correspondent. She has also written for The Times and, today, is a regular contributor to the American digital magazine, Global Golf Post.
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