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Duke Falls to the Number One Spot

Nov. 14, 2000 -- How did I know that I wasn't going to be an LPGA golfer? That's easy. I played collegiate golf against Annika Sorenstam.
 
People ask me all the time why I didn't stick with my first career move, professional golf. I usually tell them that it's because I found something that I could do better, but, in all honesty, I pretty much knew I didn't have that special something. What is that special something? I'm not talking about desire. That's a given. I'm talking about gifts from God. You know, like distance and incredible touch.
 
When did I know that I didn't have these things? In reality, I found out my senior year at Duke when I was grouped with Arizona's Annika Sorenstam in the second round of the 1991 NCAA Women's Championship. I was actually a co-leader of the tournament after the first day, but after a few holes of golf with Annika in round two, I began to fold like a cheap lawn chair. She was intimidating to say the least - as a freshman!
 
Annika hit it an average of 20 yards past me off the tee for starters and she never missed a green. She took a 7 iron to my 5 iron and that made all the difference on the par 3's. She made the game look easier than I had ever seen it played at my level. It was certainly a blow to my confidence and I was convinced that she was a sign of the times when it came to up and coming talent on the collegiate scene.
 
I was right. These days, NCAA product is powerful, especially at my alma mater, Duke University. From my freshman year until now, I've seen that program go from respectable to phenomenal and it's mostly in part to Head Coach Dan Brooks' excellent recruiting skills. Since my exit in 1991, names like Jenny Chuasiriporn (runner-up at the 1998 U.S. Women's Open as an amateur) and Beth Bauer have come and gone. These days, the team is sporting names like Candy Hanneman, Virada Nirapathpongporn and Leigh Anne Hardin.
 
These three players, along with a strong supporting cast took, the Lady Blue Devils from a number 2 preseason ranking to the top spot heading into the spring. Four team victories in the fall will do that. Nirapathpongporn and Hardin are freshmen and already have a win in the college ranks. They, like Annika, are learning what it's like to taste success early in their respective careers.
 
In 1999, while Chuasiriporn, Bauer and Hanneman were all on the team together, Duke won their first ever NCAA golf title. The only negative about it is that their victory has an asterisk beside it in the history books. The final round was cancelled with only a few holes to go because of torrential downpours. This year, they hope to win the title the good old-fashioned way and re-establish themselves as the best that the nation has to offer. I wish them luck and we all know success is when opportunity meets preparedness. They can do it.
 
Along with Duke, there are several teams to keep an eye on heading into the spring. Who knows, maybe your school is in the race. Be sure to check out the rankings and follow your favorite team. The next LPGA superstar could be waiting in the wings.