2001: Competition - Curtis Cup on Duncan’s mind
by Lisa Antonucci
Although it’s still a year away, Meredith Duncan has the Curtis Cup on her mind. It’s something she has always wanted, especially after watching her cousin, Buy.com Tour player Kris Cox, head to the Walker Cup with Tiger Woods while she was in high school.
“He told me, whatever I do, to try and make a Curtis Cup team because it would be the greatest experience of your life,” said Duncan of Shreveport, La. “It’s been a goal ever since.”
The LSU senior is certainly doing everything to put herself in prime position to make the team. Proving that match-play is definitely her forte, Duncan won her second national amateur crown of the summer June 29, defeating Mimi Epps, 6 and 5, in the 36-hole final of the 99th Women’s North and South Amateur. Duncan won her second consecutive Women’s Western title two weeks earlier.
Duncan, 21, admits that when she won last year’s Women’s Western she was little disappointed the U.S. Curtis Cup team wasn’t in the field. But at this year’s Western, she found satisfaction in defeating such notable players as Virada Nirapathpongporn and Candie Kung, who she beat in the finals. By the time she hoisted her bronze Putter Boy trophy in Pinehurst, the list had expanded to include one of last year’s Curtis Cup team members, Hilary Homeyer, who she defeated, 4 and 3, in the second round. Duncan also knocked off Naree Song Wongluekiet, the tournament medalist, 1 up, in the semifinals.
“It’s awesome,” said Duncan. “I played awesome all week. Really, I just played steady.”
It was a breakthrough week for Epps, a native of Houston and a recent graduate of Texas A&M. While she recorded a handful of top-5 finishes in college, she was never a top contender. Since graduating in May, Epps has been able to focus on a summer of amateur golf. She stepped up her practice regimen and subsequently has enjoyed improvement in her game.
Epps, 23, faced her own slew of marquee names to get into the finals, including Duke sophomore Leigh Anne Hardin, Duke senior and defending champion Candy Hannemann and Wongluekiet’s twin sister, Aree.
“The story of David and Goliath has been my inspiration this week,” said Epps. “I knew I had the game, but I’ve never really been in this position before.”
She defeated Hardin, 4 and 3, in the second round before facing Hannemann, the reigning NCAA champion. But two eagles helped secure a 2-and-1 victory over the Brazil native and a spot in the semifinals against Wongluekiet. Epps made four birdies against Wongluekiet en route to a decisive 4-and-3 victory.
In the championship match, Epps’ short game – the very thing she clung to for confidence in her earlier matches – began to elude her. Although she had an early 2-up lead in the morning, she missed the green on Nos. 13, 14 and 16, failed to get up-and-down each time and went into the last two holes all square. It was a position she could not hold.
The Texan was over the green at 17, short of the green on 18 and failed to save par both times. Epps found herself 2 down at the break.
“I hit some poor shots coming in,” said Epps of those final holes in the morning. “I also became a little timid with my putter, which had been my saving grace all week. So that hurt my confidence. Then I think I started to force things a little bit.”
Epps called home during the break and got a quick pep talk from her father, Charlie, who is the head pro at Pine Forest Country Club. Starting the afternoon round, Epps felt like she still had a good chance of winning – until she ran into Duncan’s red-hot putter.
Duncan made birdie at Nos. 1, 3 and 4 and quickly expanded her lead to 5 up. Duncan failed to get up-and-down from the bunker at No. 5, but Epps made it a mute point with a birdie. It would be Epps’ last.
Epps got one hole back at No. 8 when Duncan was forced to call a penalty stroke on herself when her ball moved after she already had addressed her putt. The incident did nothing to shake her, though, and instead seemed to help spur her on to birdies at Nos. 10 and 12. Duncan had a 6-up lead and was dormie heading to the 13th tee. She closed the match with a safe two-putt par.
For Duncan, the week was another huge confidence boost, as well as a learning experience. She has two more match-play events this summer – the Trans-National July 16-21 and the U.S. Women’s Amateur July 30-Aug. 4 – and she expects to contend in both.
“I’m taking everything I can from this and running as fast as I can with it,” said Duncan. “I’ve got two weeks at home to enjoy it. This gives me a tremendous amount of confidence for the rest of the summer. I’m just going to go home, practice a bit and make sure I keep the flow going.”