A tale of 4 seniors: Degrees crucial to next step

Duke's senior, Courtney Ellenbogen, center, hugs Alabama's senior, Jennifer Kirby, left, in Round 3 of the 2013 Women's NCAA Championship.

Duke's senior, Courtney Ellenbogen, center, hugs Alabama's senior, Jennifer Kirby, left, in Round 3 of the 2013 Women's NCAA Championship.

Women's Rankings »

RankNameSchoolRating
1Alison LeeUCLA  69.68 
2Annie ParkUSC  69.98 
3Gaby LopezArkansas  70.08 
4Yu LiuDuke  70.13 
5Stephanie MeadowAlabama  70.15 

Women's Team Rankings »

RankNameRatingEvents
1Southern California 70.56  10 
2UCLA 70.68 
3Duke 70.79 
4Stanford 71.56  10 
5Arkansas 71.66 

COMPLETE THIRD-ROUND SCORES HERE

• • •

ATHENS, Ga. –– Courtney Ellenbogen’s degree in economics made the decision rather easy: She’d have to be a solid top-50 player on the LPGA money list to make more money than what she’ll take home as an investment banker in Manhattan.

Get this Dukie a subway card. Better yet, get her a rail pass for her upcoming trip to Europe or a ticket for the Tube for when she’s in London July 28 working a four-week training session for Deutsche Bank.

“Both those worlds are pretty competitive and intense,” Ellenbogen said.

One just happens to guarantee a paycheck.

There are two seniors in Duke coach Dan Brooks' lineup, and they are on two vastly different paths. Ellenbogen raced back from regionals in Norman, Okla., to walk at her graduation. Lindy Duncan, a three-time first-team All-American, skipped graduation and flew straight home to prepare for nationals. Duncan will turn professional immediately after the NCAA Championship.

Friday’s final round will be a bittersweet day for most seniors in the field. But at a time when it’s trendy to turn pro early and toil in the play-for-pay ranks with few playing opportunities and even fewer potential sponsors, these seniors will leave Athens, Ga., with a safety net that, in most cases, is worth six figures.

UCLA coach Carrie Forsyth knows what it’s like to have players leave early – even mid-season – to pursue a professional career. When someone like Tiffany Lua chooses to stick around and complete her psychology degree, it allows Forsyth to build momentum for her program, planning around a core player.

“That’s how you build a program,” said Forsyth. “When a player leaves, for whatever reason, it does damage the team. There’s no question.”

Alabama coach Mic Potter hasn’t had one player in his program leave early to turn professional. Senior Jennifer Kirby said it’s a testament to the kind of players Potter recruits. Kirby won a national championship while at Alabama, her career highlight, but perhaps more importantly, learned how to live on her own. Kirby will turn pro immediately.

Duncan was the most likely person in this year’s crop of seniors to turn pro early. She told herself early on that if she were to leave Duke early, it would be after two years. Duncan believed it made little sense to leave after three, even when she won last year’s Player of the Year honors.

Duncan has a 72.14 scoring average in four years at Duke, six victories and 23 rounds in the 60s.

“(Duke) made me more mentally tougher than I would’ve been anywhere else,” said Duncan. “Every day is a grind.”

From the golf to the classes to the weather, nothing was easy. Duncan said Duke coach Dan Brooks believed this season to be the wettest he’s seen in Durham.

“You deal with it and get stronger, or let it overwhelm you,” she said.

Last Sunday, a quiet player from California named Jennifer Johnson won on the LPGA in Mobile, Ala. Had Johnson stayed at Arizona State, she’d be a senior this week. Duncan said she has long respected Johnson’s game and considers hers to be similar. Both are quiet and steady.

“I hope to go down the Stacy Lewis path,” said Duncan, referring to Lewis’ five-year career at Arkansas and subsequent LPGA Player of the Year performance.

While Duncan jumps head first into the Symetra Tour this summer, Ellenbogen will be touring Amsterdam, Berlin and Prague with her boyfriend. She’ll then trade long hours on the range for working overtime on Wall Street.

Duncan hopes to never use her degree. But she has it.

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