It was a day when Louise Duncan, the sweetheart of these galleries, first saw her caddy throw her playing partner’s ball over a wall and deep into a nettle bush and ended with the 22-year-old admitting that depending on the size of her first check as a pro here on Sunday , it will either be a ferry to Arran or a flight to Tobago.
The bizarre experience must have told the Scot one thing: there is never a dull moment at the AIG Women’s Open. Not when you’re Louise Duncan, anyway.
A year ago, the then-student finished tied for 10th at Carnoustie, having entered the final round two with the lead. The only drawback to the remarkable performance was that, as an amateur, she could not raise the £80,000 she would otherwise have fetched.
Now, in just her second start in the paid ranks – having missed the cut at last week’s Women’s Scottish Open – Duncan finds herself back in the mix heading into the weekend. She is in the top 20 at two-under, six behind Korean Chun In-gee (66), the three-time major winner who is one ahead of Sweden’s Madelene Sagstrom (65) and South African Ashleigh Buhai (65)
“Two-under for two rounds under Muirfield in testing conditions is pretty good and I’m pleased,” she said after a 74. “It was a grind, but after last year I knew what to expect. Although, no, I expected not what happened there on the second hole.”
Dean Robertson is her mentor as well as her backer. A former European Tour winner who played on the same Walker Cup team as Padraig Harrington, Robertson, 52, has seen it all and when Sophia Schubert handed him a ball he thought the American had just found it and wanted him out . So he threw it over his left shoulder.
In fact, Schubert asked for it to be cleaned and because of the mistake he now faced a penalty and disqualification penalty. Robertson duly scaled the wall and, wearing shorts, got down on his hands and knees and fearlessly ventured into the nettles to find it. Schubert’s relief confirmed to him that the stings were worth it
“I was like, ‘oh, no, Dane, tell me you haven’t just done that?'” Duncan said. “But it was an honest mistake and quite funny. He always tells me to stop being an idiot and calm down, so maybe he deserved it.”
Robertson, head coach at the University of Stirling, is crucial to Duncan’s rise. His ability to keep her grounded was seen to best effect on the ninth after she had made three bogeys in a row. It looked set to unravel at an alarming rate on the par five when she fell short with her third, but a stunning up-and-down stopped the rot and on the next hole there was another brave par save, thanks to a pitch from 70 meters to six feet. On the 13th, Duncan hit a sumptuous iron to two feet, and in truth she should have been a bit better, but that wasn’t about to dampen her optimism.
“I need to play the way I’ve been playing and hit more fairways and more greens because ultimately that means more chances,” she said. “Just hang in there, because another top 10, or better, is obviously possible from here.”
Because of the increase in prize money, a top 10 this time would be worth at least £130,000 and would change the wedding plans for her and partner Jordan Hughes, an international swimmer she met at university.
“If it’s a big, big check, we’ll go overseas and get it passed,” Duncan said. “Oh, if that seems bad, I mean that in the nicest way possible. Sorry, Jordan. Otherwise, yes, there could be a ferry to Arran.”