R&A: Louise Duncan at the AIG Women’s Open

THE ONE TO WATCH: Louise Duncan lines up her par putt on the seventh green yesterday.
(Photo by Warren Little/R&A/R&A via Getty Images)

Scottish hero once again shows she is one for the big occasion

Louise Duncan stole many of the headlines at this year’s AIG Women’s Open and golfnews24 editor Mark Flanagan reflects on the remarkable efforts of the Scottish amateur at Carnoustie

As Louise Duncan stepped out on to the first tee at Carnoustie yesterday, she could have been forgiven for thinking that all the fuss she was getting was a little bit OTT.

The British Amateur champion would have known better than anyone that, despite being ‘just’ two back, this was no ordinary third round leaderboard. 

Lexi Thompson was level with her on seven under while world number one Nelly Korda was just a shot behind her alongside the Canadian powerhouse Brooke Henderson and 2018 champion Georgia Hall. The brilliant Irish player Leona Maguire was just one further back while the frighteningly-talented Jutanugarn sisters were there or thereabouts.

You could go on and on and that’s not even assessing the merits of those who began the final day ahead of her, including eventual champion Anna Nordqvist. Such was the congestion at the top of the leaderboard it would have been so easy for the Stirling University student to have been swallowed up.

As she said herself, after finishing with a par round of 72: “I thought I handled it very well. I thought I would crumble a wee bit but seemed to hold my nerve out there and played well the last day which was ultimately my goal.”

Players with years of top-level professional experience have appeared helpless as their challenge for golf’s biggest honours melted away in the heat of a ‘Major Sunday’ battle.

But here was a local hero, with hardly a stellar amateur record, going toe to toe with all of them and, for just a few tantalising minutes, threatening to fight her way back into contention once again.

BIG WINNERS: Louise Duncan with the Smyth Salver, as the leading Amateur, and Sweden’s Anna Nordqvist, the overall champion (Photo by David Cannon/R&A/R&A via Getty Images)

A drive into a fairway bunker at the par five 12th killed the momentum she had so skilfully built up with birdies at the previous two holes.

It’s difficult to know what was more impressive… the way she was able to attack the flag with her second at the long par four tenth or the way she was able to attack the flag with her drive at the short par four 11th. This was anything but crumbling.

It was sensational stuff and so easy to forget we were watching a player who started the year as not someone really in the thoughts of the Curtis Cup selectors.

Her brilliant victory at the British Amateur at Kilmarnock (Barassie) in June changed all that and yet there were still a few eyebrows raised when she was named in the eight-strong GB&I team for this week’s clash against the USA at Conwy in North Wales.

She admitted to hardly playing in 2020 – a killer if you are bothered about maintaining a prominent place in the official World Amateur Golf Rankings (WAGR) – but nobody is remotely bothered about that now.

Her struggle to tee it up at the first on Thursday was highlighted. Of course she was nervous. Who wouldn’t be? But what a response. There have been many great amateur players who couldn’t block out the occasion when playing at The Open and failed to do themselves justice in the first round. Then there are those who have managed to start well before struggling to back it up once the spotlight intensified.

At Carnoustie we saw the most heavily supported player in the field, giving it her all in her own country and thriving. 

MAJOR ATTRACTION: Louise Duncan tees off on the first hole during Day Four of the AIG Women’s Open at Carnoustie (Photo by Chloe Knott/R&A/R&A via Getty Images)

There was a ‘dip’ on Friday (73) after the euphoria of the 68 on Thursday but again she defied contention by birdieing her way back towards the top on ‘moving day’, elevating herself above Korda, Minjee Lee and so many other world-class golfers.

Her 54-hole total of 209 was the joint lowest in history by an amateur, matching Michelle Wie at Royal Birkdale in 2005 and Maguire at Woburn five years ago.

Both those players were sensations as amateurs – Louise started the competition placed No 133 on WAGR. World No 1 Rose Zhang didn’t make the cut. World No 3 Ingrid Lindblad was nowhere near it.

Her Curtis Cup team-mate Lauren Walsh finished eight shots further back in a tie for 42nd and was the second best amateur in the field. Nevermind the pros, the form book didn’t have Louise looking particularly good to stay with the top amateurs.

But my how she turned it on when it really mattered…just like she did in Kilmarnock three months ago.

And what a ride!

“I feel a bit mind blown as if it’s not actually happened yet,” she said last night. “So maybe it will take a couple weeks to sink in. 

“I feel over the moon with how I played and how I handled it. I had a great time, and yeah, really happy with how I played the past four days.”

The final leaderboard from 2021 AIG Women’s British Open