DURHAM, N.C.-- Dan Brooks is kind of a mystic guru in knowing how to put together women’s collegiate golf teams. His coaching style has led the Blue Devils to five NCAA championships and 17 ACC titles.
This year’s group is one of the more interesting squads he has assembled.
The Blue Devils are a real mix of outstanding players from all corners of the world. This team of eight, including the six returning letterwinners, features players from five different countries. Only three members of the team are from the United States; the two freshmen hail from Montrouge, France and Guangshou, Guangdong, China.
In his 28 years as a head coach, Brooks has put together many different teams, teams made up of all American players and teams with a mix of international and American players.
“It’s not a conscious choice,” he explained. “I’m just looking for great players and great students, people that I think would be the best fit for the team and the school.”
And with this multi-cultural team, Brooks has a secret weapon in third-year assistant coach Jeannie Cho.
A 2003 cum laude graduate of the University of Florida with a degree in Quantitative Sciences, Cho speaks four languages (French, English, Spanish and Korean). A native of Boulogne, France, Cho is able to communicate with the players and their families in their native tongues when necessary.
“Mainly with the parents,” explained Cho. “When we interact as a team, we want to make sure everyone understands what’s going on so we keep it all in English.
“Any time parents come and watch tournaments, I think it comes in very handy, because most of the parents are more comfortable in their native language and I use all four languages with them. Sometimes I use it with the players as well, when they may want to talk about something privately and feel more comfortable using their native language.”
Cho, who spent six years playing professional golf on the Futures and LPGA Tours, believes the interactions between the players is very important to their total development as college students.
“It’s a benefit for the players. They learn a great deal about each other’s culture, which broadens their horizons,” she explained. “I like the team chemistry as well right now. It’s a very international team and everybody appreciates the differences and it is interesting that everyone learns about each other. On the other hand they also have a great deal in common that tends to bond them together with going to school at Duke and being on the golf team.”
The Blue Devils, of course, are led by three-time All-America and reigning national player of the year Lindy Duncan of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., who has been tabbed the No. 1 player to watch this season by Golf World. Her team was tabbed No. 3 by Golfweek and No. 5 by Golf World in preseason rankings and then moved to No. 1 in the latest Golf World ledger on Oct. 3.
Duncan recognizes the strengths that Brooks brings to not only her game but that of her teammates as well.
“Coach is really good at balancing everything,” said Duncan, who played this fall on the United States Curtis Cup team as well as in the LPGA’s Jamie Farr Toledo Classic. “Everyone is different and everyone comes from somewhere different, but he is really easy to be around. He’s great with our practice schedule, but he’s tough and he makes us tough. When we go to tournaments we are ready to compete. That’s what I love about being here at Duke. Every time we have a tournament I feel very prepared and I think that helps the other girls as well.”
Duncan registered an impressive 2011-12 campaign in which she was the PING NGCA national player of the year, Golfstat Cup winner, ACC player of the year for a third time and NGCA first team All-America, while posting a 71.07 stroke average. Duncan collected four wins last season, including the ACC Championship. At the 2012 NCAA Championship, Duncan finished tied for sixth with rounds of 70, 75, 75 and 70 for a total of 290. The sixth place finish was Duncan’s second straight top 10 finish in the NCAA Championship.
“Lindy is always working hard. Everything she does, all her preparation each day is to make her feel good when she stands on the first tee,” explained Brooks. “Getting her degree, conditioning, working on her game, all that is for the betterment of her game. She totally understands that she is growing herself up, that she’s learning to be tough, that she is getting an education as a backing, which makes it so she can relax and make putts. Most people don’t get it, but she gets it completely. It’s all about making five-footers. You get your degree so you can make five-footers. If you understand that, you stay in college. You’ll grow yourself up, toughen yourself up, and then you can relax and enjoy playing golf. I’ve never had a person on my team that understands that better than she does.”
Duncan finished second in the opening tournament of this season at the Cougar Classic, marking the 26th time she has finished in the top 10 in her career, and her 14th consecutive top eight finish.
“She’s here because she wants to be a great golfer, she wants to be the best golfer in the world,” added Brooks. “She has always told me that she is getting a great deal out of the entire college experience. The fact she gets up in the morning with a lot on her plate between schoolwork and golf and she learns how to handle all the facets of life thrown her way, will be the same way she will have to handle life on the tour and this is very important.
“She is always watching, measuring, observing,” he continued. “She was able to play a practice round with Stacy Lewis at the LPGA Jamie Farr tournament. She played with Natalie Gulbis in the U.S. Open and she learned how to handle herself as a pro from watching these players. At the U.S. Open there were several extended rain delays and she watched as Gulbis took everything in stride, signed autographs and stayed strong. Lindy recognized she gave out, because she felt the delays were boring. In her mind everything was high impact. With Natalie it was handling the situation, keeping your head up and staying in the moment as a professional would handle things.”
A player like Duncan can be very valuable to a golf team unless the gap is so big between the top player and the second and third players on the team that they can never catch her.
“As soon as she is in another category, then it’s not as motivational for the other players,” explained Brooks. “What you hope for is that you have a team that does want to beat her. They are competitive and they can compete and beat a player like Lindy. On this team we have needed more of that. We need players to be saying, ‘If I don’t beat Lindy, I am going to be right on her heels.’ We need everyone right there fighting to beat Lindy. This team has the potential that Lindy may not always be the one on top. That’s great. They are going to have to play really well to beat Lindy, but it’s not automatic this year.”
Duncan also recognizes the potential strength of this year’s team.
“We have a very competitive team this year and they have brought up the national championship several times, which hasn’t been talked about a lot recently,” she said. “I saw last year how special it was for Alabama, because I am good friends with girls on that team. I saw how cool it was to be a part of something that special that you never forget. We have some very good pieces in place to make a run at that title; we just have to see what takes place.”
Duncan is joined on the team this year by Celine Boutier, a freshman from France who had a very impressive summer in capturing the European Ladies Amateur with a 16-under-par 268. She also finished second in qualifying at the Ladies British Open Amateur with rounds of 70-71 before falling in the second round of match play, and she advanced to the third round of match play at the U.S. Women’s Amateur before falling 1-up to eventual champion Lydia Ko.
“Personality-wise, I think the thing that Celine brings is a lot of fiery competitiveness. She doesn’t hit it real far, but she has won a lot,” said Books. “I have seen her behind the last day of a tournament on a couple of occasions and come back and win the tournament. She’s just very fiery and that will be great.”
Boutier is enjoying the fact that she is playing on a team with the top collegiate women’s player in the country.
“I have learned a lot from Lindy already,” she said. “I learned how she practices and how she plays on the course and how she carries herself on the course. Her preparation is key to her success.”
The other freshman joining the team is Yi Ashley Xiao, a member of the Chinese National Team from 2009-11. Xiao owns seven career tournament victories, most recently the 2012 Grand Final of Mission Hills Junior Series title with rounds of 66-73-69 for a total of 208. She also played in the 2008 World Amateur Golf Team Championship for the People’s Republic of China.
Junior Laetitia Beck, who hails from Israel, is a two-time All-ACC performer and earned ACC rookie of the year honors in 2011. This summer she advanced to the quarterfinals of match play at the Ladies British Open Amateur, after placing 55th in qualifying.
“One of my favorite things about coaching is that you never know what that next season is going to be like,” said Brooks. “Laetitia Beck has grown a great deal since her freshman year and is a team player for us. It’s just great to see them change and become better players and then when the next group of freshmen come in, you get to see this progression and growth as a team once again.”
Beck’s classmate Alejandra Cangrejo, who hails from Bogota, Columbia, had a solid summer as well as she advanced to the semifinals of match play at the North & South Women’s Amateur, after tying for seventh place in stroke play qualifying.
Seniors Courtney Ellenbogen from Blacksburg, Va., and Stacy Kim from Columbus, Ga., give the Devils extensive tournament experience, along with Canadian native Irene Jung a sophomore.
While the NCAA Championship isn’t played until May, the fall is a time for the Devils to show just what they can do on the national level. Following a second place finish to Florida in the Cougar Classic in early September, the Blue Devils travel to Athens, Ga., to compete in the NCAA Fall Preview in early October and close out the fall campaign in the state of North Carolina for two tournaments — the Tar Heel Invitational in Chapel Hill and the Landfall Tradition in Wilmington.
“Even though we’re staying in the Southeast this fall, we’re playing against some really good fields,” commented Brooks. “The SEC has become a very strong and deep golf conference and all our events include a bunch of those teams. Also, the Preview for the NCAA Championship will be at the University of Georgia in early October and the best of the best will be there.”