Scotland’s GULLANE — This week at Muirfield, the top three players in the world played together. Numbers 5, 6, and 7 concurred. But who did Scotland follow during the AIG Women’s Open’s opening two rounds?
They went after their daughters. Neither Catriona Matthew, 52, nor Louise Duncan, 22, were among the top 400 athletes in the world. Whatever; they are Scottish. That is all the justification we require.
With Sophia Schubert as the third, it was the ideal Scottish group, and the audience voted with their feet, with many of them strolling through all 18 holes. That is not frequently seen. Matthew’s sarcastic justification: “Clearly, Louise playing well helped.”
It did! After battling to a second-round 73, Duncan is at two under after 36 holes, six strokes off the lead. Since her residence is four miles from Muirfield, she will probably visit on the weekend even though Matthew didn’t make the cut.
Despite having a sizable market share of the world’s top golf courses, Scotland is not a very large country. A few of golf’s greatest champions may be expected to have been born in Minnesota, which is home to 12 of the world’s top 100 golf courses and has a total population that is about equal to that of the state of Minnesota at 5.5 million. The only Women’s Open Scotland can claim was won by Matthew in 2009, although that was 13 years ago. Paul Lawrie’s victory on the men’s side at Carnoustie occurred 23 years ago. Gemma Dryburgh, the highest-ranked female from Scotland, is 183rd overall and finished two over the cutline. This weekend they’ll follow her as well. On the male side, Robert McIntyre is ranked No. 101.
There are no Scots among the top 100. Hence the emphasis on finding the following great champion of this region. When you witness the chase in person, it is adorable.
Clara Young, a local, competed in a qualifying on Monday at North Berwick Golf Club in an effort to qualify for her first Open. Even Grandma came out to play a few holes while Dad was on the bag and Scott had fled from his pro shop chores. The Youngs and more than 40 other residents crowded the fairways, eager to see the homegrown talent succeed.
Jane Nelson, the former East Lothian Ladies County Golf Association secretary, was seated in the audience. She competes out of the adjacent Dunbar Golf Club and has witnessed all of these women advance. She has put effort into planning activities for them. She had witnessed Young’s abilities in North Berwick (read: kick your butt). Nelson is as reliable a source as any for information about Scotland’s emerging potential.
As Young’s pursuit veered off course, Nelson remarked, “Hannah Darling is about to tee off.” “She’s the one to watch,” I believe.
Darling was a member of the last GB&I Curtis Cup squad and is from Midlothian, which is located just west of Muirfield. She is the No. 15 amateur in the world and a rising sophomore at South Carolina. Darling’s qualifying bid fell one stroke short of a playoff while competing in front of a large audience as well. One of the several burns that snake over golf courses in this nation took Young’s chances. Returning to this week’s Open now.
Four days later, Scotland’s best chance at Muirfield is Ms. Duncan, who will shortly assume the name of her future husband if they get married. After the round on Friday, she was questioned about the wedding since, well, let’s just say she’s still fighting this week. It will be the biggest check of her life now that she has made the cut for this, the second competition since turning professional. A top-10 finish might just make that wedding a little more opulent.
When Duncan, then an amateur, shot up the leaderboard in the third round, she attracted nearly the whole population of Scotland to Carnoustie. On Friday, one Scottish spectator spoke lovingly of the “incredible scenes.” This week, Duncan shot a first-round score of 67, which prompted The Times’ headline writer to remind readers that the “Carnoustie hero” had returned. She was merely asked by reporters, “Back again?”
With a smile, she said, “Déjà vu.”
Are you a different golfer than you were a year ago? was the question she was asked when she went to the press after working hard during her second round and falling just three back.
Duncan admitted, “I think I’m a different guy, if not a different golfer. “I think I’ve learned a few things. Even though it was difficult, I managed to maintain my composure. My caddie Dean, I believe, had a significant impact on that. He could tell I was starting to lose my cool.
When her driver started to go free in the midst of the round, she may have been a little hot-headed. Three birdies gave the local press something upbeat to write about while five bogeys kept the crowd quiet. Along with possible wedding locations.