LPGA's Duncan perseveres through struggles

Meredith Duncan reacts to her putt at No. 10 on Champions Course. Duncan moved up 29 spots from T74 to T45.

PITTSFORD, N.Y. – Meredith Duncan eyed the bag of bottles and cans lying behind the garbage bins on the practice range. Earlier in the week, she took her own bag to a local Wegmans grocery store for recycling and made $20. When money gets tight, “Dunc” gets creative.

Moments before, she had come out of the Wegmans sample tent clutching trial-size packets of Tide, sunscreen, deodorant and Band-Aids. Duncan, 32, filed through that tent every day with fans, stocking up on road supplies.

On Sunday afternoon, the former U.S. Women’s Amateur champion worked on the range a few paces from Paula Creamer at Locust Hill, beads of sweat dripping from her freckled brow. Duncan missed the cut at the Wegmans LPGA Championship because she spent too much time chopping it out of the rough.

The average fan walking up to the range that afternoon couldn’t possibly know the financial chasm that exists between someone such as Creamer, chasing her second major title, and Duncan, who hoped to get an odd job mowing yards or babysitting the next week in Rochester.

Duncan drove her newly leased Honda Pilot to New York and needed to stay in the area for a Monday pro-am after the tournament. With the next event in nearby Waterloo, Ontario, Duncan couldn’t return home to Louisiana during the off-week.

“I’m probably going to be America’s houseguest for the week,” she said, “see if I can borrow a couch, an extra bed or an air mattress.”

Duncan knows the solution to her problem is an obvious one: play better. But that doesn’t erase the fact that a player who holed out for eagle on the 90th hole to earn her card at LPGA Q-School can play in a major championship and then wonder where she’s going to lay her head the next week. Duncan’s reaction last December to earning her card was sobering: “I have to find a way to pay for it now.”

Six months later, she’s still searching. Duncan set up a PayPal account earlier in the year so that friends and family could easily donate $100, or whatever they could afford. She uses money from that account to pay for her flights. Last week Duncan wrote several checks from several different accounts to pay her caddie fee.

“I would’ve quit a long time ago,” concedes Duncan’s good friend, Brittany Lincicome.

A PGA Tour card doesn’t garner the same endorsement dollars it once did, but the average card holder can expect about $100,000 in sponsorship dollars. Duncan’s only commercial sponsors are Titleist and FootJoy (ball, shoe and glove deal).

Duncan, now in her ninth year as a professional, estimates she needs roughly $35,000 to compete this year. She has raised some of that money playing in pro-ams. It’s hard to imagine a more enjoyable player with whom to play a pro-am round or put on a clinic. No one on tour has a wit quite like Duncan’s.

If money were no object, Duncan would love to fly out a family member, even her dog, to accompany her at events. The ability to bring in an instructor to walk nine holes of a practice round would be handy, too.

“I think if you look down the line,” Duncan said, “there are a lot of girls in this position.”

Health problems have held back Duncan more than she’d care to admit. She has struggled with back issues during her entire professional career. More recently, a tear in her right rotator cuff has caused concern. She’s not sure how that happened, but knows that playing catch with her 8-year-old nephew back home hasn’t helped.

Duncan holds a degree in kinesiology from LSU and always thought she would make a great P.E. teacher. But there’s a dream in her heart that won’t die.

“She has told me before that she is playing for her dad,” Lincicome said. Duncan first earned her LPGA card in December 2003, one month after her father died of pancreatic cancer.

It has been a struggle the entire way.

Despite her financial position, Duncan finds a way to give back. This year, her charity event raised close to $30,000 for a Louisiana school for children with disabilities. Not a single penny from the event went to Duncan’s personal account. She has raised $180,000 over the last five years.

If fans at the Wegmans LPGA Championship knew Duncan’s story, they’d root for her like they root for Creamer. In fact, they’d probably take up a collection of their recyclables.

“People ask me all the time, ‘Why do you keep doing this?’ ” Duncan said. “Because I still believe I can do better.”

We believe it, too.

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