124th U.S. Open

Pinehurst No. 2

The Loop

College golf's most improved players

November 18, 2011

Improvement is what every coach and player are looking for. Here's a glance at some individuals who really raised their games this fall.




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Tyler Duncan, Purdue

It wasn't as if the 21-year-old from Columbus, Ind., had come to Purdue as a reclamation project; he had a respectable 73.60 average during his freshman season in 2008-09, leading the Boilermakers in scoring. Yet during his sophomore and junior years the progress Duncan had hoped to see never truly materialize, his average rising to 74.44 and 74.70 respectively.

So it is that Duncan's 71.14 average in five fall starts as a senior (which included three top-three finishes and a fourth top-10 showing) can be viewed as a long time coming. He current stands third in the Big Ten, behind Illinois' Luke Guthrie (71.0) and Northwestern's Erin Chun (71.13).

"I think he'd be the first to tell you he didn't hit the ball perfectly this fall or didn't really change his swing or whatever," said Purdue coach Devon Brouse when asked what the difference was for Duncan. "But he just scored. Ultimately it's just that number that you write beside your name that separates you in our game, and he's just finally stopped worrying about all the things that have held him back the last few years."

Indeed, a victory at the Indiana Amateur this past summer appears to have been the confidence booster that Duncan needed to get back

"His attitude is different now than it has been the last two years," Brouse says. "He had that competitive edge his freshman year and as you say really kind of made a nice start to college golf but then it seemed he kind of got caught in the self-doubt the next two years. Just being able to finish strong last year and have a good summer just seems to make a lot of difference in his belief in himself. he's grown up. A lot of them do and you like to see that."

An even more interesting part of Duncan's 71.14 average is the fact his lowest round of the 14 he's played this fall is only a 69, suggesting a consistency that will serve him and the Boilermakers well heading into the second half of the season.

"We're obviously hoping he can build on that this spring because our team has been pretty steady the last couple years, but we just have not had that lead horse so to speak," Brouse says. "If Tyler can give us that this spring, I think we can be a factor."

Photo courtesy of Purdue Sports Information Department

Honorable mention:

Nate McCoy, Iowa State

McCoy's summer play should have been the tipoff that his senior season would start out sizzling. The 21-year-old from West Des Moines won four amateur events in Iowa to claim the state golf association's player of the year honors (outpacing, among others, his father Mike, a standout amateur in his own right) plus he shot a 22-under 266 to win the Dogwood Invitational. After returning to Ames in August, McCoy proceeded to post three top-10s in four starts, including a victory at the Rees Jones Invitational. His 71.08 average this fall is 3.03 strokes better than his 2010-11 number and sets a pace that would break Iowa State's all-time single season mark.


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Lauren Stratton, Vanderbilt

Last month, my colleague Stephen Hennessey wrote a nice piece for the Campus Insider blog on the junior from Spring Hill, Tenn., pointing out the new found confidence that she has displayed this fall. Still from a strictly analytical standpoint, Stratton's performance during the first half of the 2011-12 season has been nothing short of remarkable.

In four tournaments this fall, Stratton's worst showing was a T-12 (her other finishes being a T-3, T-6 and a 2nd). By contrast, in her 22 previous college starts, Stratton finished better than T-12 only twice, and one of those times was an 18-hole event with only 25 total participants. In fact prior to this fall, Stratton had finished inside the top 20 in just four tournaments total.

Not surprisingly, Stratton's stroke average shows similarly remarkable improvement. As a freshman, Stratton posted a 75.0 average while playing 31 rounds. As a sophomore, she posted a 75.1 average while playing 34 rounds. Thus far as junior she has posted a 70.8 average in 12 rounds.

Suffice it to say, Stratton's development couldn't be coming at a more appropriate time; Vanderbilt hosts the 2012 NCAA Championship on its home course.

Photo courtesy of Vanderbilt University

Honorable mention:

Kim Kaufman, Texas Tech

In fall 2010, the 20-year-old from Clark, S.D., got off to a hot start with fourth-place finishes in her first two starts only to card just one top-10 the rest of the year and close with a 75.4 average. A year later, Kaufman again jumped out well with a T-9 and a third-place showing in her first two fall events, but backed those up with a second at the Susie Maxwell Berning Classic and T-13 and T-14 in her final two starts. Kaufman's fall average, meanwhile, is a 72.53.