The champ and I:

Apr 302002

It’s an odd feeling, standing on the driving range next to a golf champion.

Perhaps what’s more odd is the fact that I tower over this golf champion.

Can’t really help that, though. I was blessed with height and, thanks to a few cheeseburgers and microbrews, a little girth, too.

Lynette Duran, however, was blessed with something else.

The woman can hit a golf ball. She can hit it long. And she can hit it straight.

Last weekend, Duran hit the ball long enough and straight enough to give the CSU freshman golfer the individual title at the Mountain West Conference championship in Sunriver, Ore.

CSU will head to its second consecutive NCAA regional tournament next week, due in large part to Duran’s performance.

This past Monday, Duran was kind enough to allow me to join her on the driving range and see for myself just what it was about this Lakewood, Colo., native’s game that was so impressive.

Besides, I’ll do just about anything for free range balls.

As we hit golf balls together side by side, we started conversing. There was the usual small talk – where are you from, what year are you – but I quickly got to the chase.

“All right – favorite golf movie?” I asked.

After much deliberation, she replied: “I’d probably have to say ‘Tin Cup,’ but ‘Caddyshack’ is good, too.”

Now, even though I have a near-religious attachment to “Caddyshack,” I quickly discover Duran is as easy to talk to as her swing is smooth – very.

I’m finding my shots aren’t going nearly as straight (and often as far) as the champion’s. I’m a reasonable man, but I have my pride, here.

But when I learn Duran has been competing in tournaments since she was 9 years old, I don’t feel quite as bad.

My pain is further alleviated by the fact Duran WON her first-ever tournament at that same age – a juniors par 3 tournament at the Foothills public course in Lakewood.

Yeah, I’m not minding that old duck-hook near as much.

After all, for Duran, golf is (and pretty much always has been) the vast occupant of her time.

“I’ve been hitting the ball around since I was 3 (years old),” Duran said. “My dad, both my little sisters and I would go out whenever we could.”

Despite her near-constant time on the golf course, it doesn’t appear to be wearing on her.

“I just think it’s the life,” Duran said. “A lot of people want to have this life, to be able to play college golf. (Golf’s) a lot of my life, but it’s fun.”

You could say Duran’s fun came to a peak last weekend, when she shocked many by taking the first individual conference title in women’s program history.

“Really, I wasn’t surprised. That’s the level of play I expected from Lynette,” said Megan Menzel, CSU’s second-year head coach. “Being one of our top recruits, I expected her to fill some big shoes. She’s very calm and plays one shot at a time.”

That calmness helped Duran past her biggest obstacle in the tournament.

The leader after two rounds of play, Duran opened the final round with a double-bogey on the first hole. Most freshmen might have been shaken by such a start. Duran was motivated.

“I just told myself ‘that’s going to be my worst hole,'” Duran said. “I felt like I had gotten it out of the way early, and I forgot about it.”

Thanks in part to that forgetfulness, Duran finished the round with a three-over 74 and a one-stroke championship victory.

Pretty impressive stuff for a freshman.

Back on the range, it’s sadly apparent the junior (that’s me) has no golf game.

I’ll get a hold of one here and there, but on the whole I’m very inconsistent. Then there’s Lynette. Every ball she hits goes in the same place: straight ahead and far. Kawhack! Straight ahead and far. Kawhack! Straight ahead and far. This is like the golf version of “Lather, rinse, repeat.” On and on it goes.

Once the interview portion of the afternoon is over, we start talking like old dorm buddies – finals, career aspirations, party habits, etc.

Like many before me, I’m getting to know the person behind the champion. Duran is quick to make a joke or humor my 3-wood performance. I think her humor gets to me more than her golfing accuracy.

“She’s such a fun-loving and considerate person,” Menzel said. “You’re always looking for low-maintenance players and Lynette’s the whole package.”

The sun gets lower and I’m feeling pretty good about my afternoon. I got to know a fellow Ram, I got to know a great young lady and I got to know a champion.

Hey, like I said, anything for free range balls.

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