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Lindy Duncan dukes it out at Kia Classic, five strokes behind leaders

Lindy Duncan dukes it out at Kia Classic, five strokes behind leaders
Lindy Duncan walks off the tee box on the 17th hole during the second round of the Kia Classic at the Aviara Golf Club on Friday in Carlsbad. (Steve Dykes / Getty Images)

The Blue Devils head cover on LPGA Tour player Lindy Duncan’s driver gives away her college allegiance.

She is enormously proud to be a Duke alum, and rightly so. She left Durham, N.C., in 2013 with a degree in psychology and the second-best career scoring average in the history of a storied women’s golf program. She was a four-time All-American.

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“Fun fact. The Duke women’s golf team has won one more national championship than the men’s basketball team,” Duncan said after she shot a one-under-par 71 at Aviara Golf Club in the second round of the Kia Classic on Friday.

Tied for ninth at five under, Duncan is five shots off the lead of world No. 1 Sung Hyun Park of South Korea and Thidapa Suwannapura, of Thailand. Both cruised to bogey-free 66s.

Duncan knows her school, of course. The Duke women and their head coach of 34 years, Dan Brooks, have captured six national titles — the last in 2014. Coach Mike Krzyzewski and his men won their fifth in 2015.

That’s where the edge to the women ends.

Duke basketball star Zion Williamson is thought to be a near-lock as the No. 1 pick in this year’s NBA draft. He’s guaranteed to make close to $9 million in each of his first two seasons, and millions more in endorsements.

Duncan, 28, secured only conditional status on the developmental Symetra Tour in her first year as a pro in 2014. She finished 12th on the money list and grossed $39,587 — before taxes or the expenses of 19 grinding weeks sharing motel rooms and rental cars.

Duncan had neither a full-time caddie nor any endorsements until this year, following her best LPGA season in which she recorded three top-10 finishes.

In the livelihoods of two sports professions, there couldn’t be a bigger chasm.

“That’s sort of the unfortunate reality of where we are right now with women’s golf,” Duncan said.

She is not complaining, just matter-of-factly stating a reality.

“I think there’s a lot of really smart, hard-working people, like [LPGA commissioner] Mike Whan, who are really pushing to get us out there to get better and more media coverage,” Duncan said. “I think they’re working their butts off.”

Just like the players.

With no guarantee of even playing on the LPGA each year, Duncan found the transition to pro golf extremely challenging. She laughed when she said that the Duke experience was so comfy that, “You don’t have to do anything but show up.

“I worked really hard in school, and I really enjoyed it,” Duncan said. “But it’s a big difference.

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“Out here, I’ve kind of gone a little bit slower than I anticipated. In college, your world is so small compared to this professional world where there are people from all over the world who are exactly like you.”

Duncan found a more comfortable mind-set last year and made all but two cuts in 27 starts. She shot a career-low 64 in the LPGA Texas Classic to finish second. She notched her best major finish with a tie for 15th in the Women’s PGA.

But golf never lets you celebrate long. Heading into this week, Duncan hadn’t finished better than 38th in five starts. On Friday, she had a strong round, going three under through 14 holes, but bogeyed 15 and 17 to drop from fourth to ninth.

Those mistakes loom large with players such as Park and Suwannapura at the top of the leaderboard.

Park, 25, already has won two majors, including the 2017 U.S. Women’s Open, and five tournaments overall in two-plus LPGA seasons. She returned to No. 1 in the world for a third time when she captured the HSBC Women’s World Championship in February.

Speaking through an interpreter, Park said, “Of course making No. 1 in the world is important, but winning is more important to me. My goal this season was five wins, and I’ve done one already, so four more to go this year.”

South Koreans Chella Choi and Inbee Park were tied for third at nine under. Nine-time major winner Inbee Park shot a bogey-free 67, and first-round leader Choi scored 70.

Etc.

The cut came at one over, and among those who didn’t make the weekend were Canadian major winner Brooke Henderson (two over), former USC star Lizette Salas (two over), and World Golf Hall of Famer Julie Inkster (six over). … Neither of the pregnant golfers competing this week made the cut. Brittany Lincicome shot 77-78, and Sarah Jane Smith shot 81-78.

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