Scotland is eager for another major champion — they see it in contender Louise Duncan

There's plenty of local support on hand for Scotland's homegrown contenders.

Getty Images

MUIRFIELD, Scotland — The No. 1, 2 and 3 golfers in the world played together here at Muirfield this week. Nos. 5, 6 and 7 did, too. But who was Scotland out following during the first two rounds of the AIG Women’s Open? 

They followed their girls. Twenty-two year-old Louise Duncan and 52-year-old Catriona Matthew, neither ranked in the top 400 in the world. Doesn’t matter; they’re Scottish. It’s all the explanation we need. 

It was the perfect Scottish group (with apologies to the third, Sophia Schubert), and spectators voted with their feet, many of them walking along for all 18 holes. You don’t see that often. Matthew’s deadpan reasoning: “Obviously, Louise playing well helped.” 

It did! Duncan sits at two under through 36 holes, six shots back of the lead, after grinding out a second round 73. Matthew missed the cut, though she’ll likely visit on the weekend, her home being four miles from Muirfield. 

Scotland isn’t a big country, despite its significant market share of the best golf courses on the planet. The total population hovers around 5.5 million people, about the same as the state of Minnesota, and if Minnesota was home to 12 of the 100 best courses in the world, you might expect it to raise some of golf’s greatest champions. But it’s been 13 years since Matthew’s Open victory in 2009, the only Women’s Open Scotland can claim. And it’s been 23 years since Paul Lawrie triumphed on the men’s side at Carnoustie. The highest-ranked female from Scotland is Gemma Dryburgh, at 183rd, who skirted inside the cutline at two over. They’ll follow her this weekend, too. On the men’s side, it’s Robert McIntyre, No. 101. 

Nary a Scot in either top 100. Hence the focus on finding this land’s next great champion. It’s a lovable chase when you see it in person.

It began Monday with a qualifier at North Berwick Golf Club, where local Clara Young was trying to make her first Open. Dad was on the bag, brother Scott had escaped his duties in the pro shop, even Grandma came out to walk some holes. The Youngs and about more than 40 other locals filled the fairways, anxious to witness a triumph from the homegrown talent. 

North Berwick locals came out to follow Clara Young Monday morning. Sean Zak

Among the gallery was Jane Nelson, former secretary of the East Lothian Ladies County Golf Association. She plays out of nearby Dunbar Golf Club, and she’s seen all these girls come up through the ranks. She’s worked to schedule events for them. She’s seen what Young can do at North Berwick (read: kick your butt). Nelson is as good a guide as any to Scotland’s up-and-coming talent. 

“Hannah Darling is teeing off soon,” Nelson said as Young’s chase lost its course. “I think she’s the one to watch.” 

Darling hails from Midlothian, just west of Muirfield, and played on the last GB&I Curtis Cup team. She’s a rising sophomore at South Carolina and the No. 15 amateur in the world. Also playing in front of plenty of spectators, Darling’s qualifying bid fell one stroke shy of a playoff. Young’s chances died in one of the many burns that snake across golf courses in this country. Now, back to this week’s Open

Scotland’s best hope at Muirfield, four days later, is Ms. Duncan, soon to be Mrs. Hughes if she takes her fiancé’s name after their upcoming wedding. She was asked about that wedding following Friday’s round because, well, let’s say she continues to contend this week. Now that she’s made the cut, in this the second event since turning professional, it’ll be the biggest check of her life. That wedding might just get a little more extravagant with a top-10 finish.

Louise Duncan shouts “Fore” during her second round at Muirfield Friday. Getty Images

It was Duncan who drew just about all of Scotland out to Carnoustie a year ago when, as an amateur, she flew up the leaderboard in the third round. “It was absolute scenes,” one Scottish spectator recalled fondly on Friday. Duncan’s first-round this week was a 67, prompting the headline writer at The Times to remind readers the “Carnoustie hero” had returned. Reporters asked her simply, Back again?

“Déjà vu,” she said with a smile. 

When she visited the press after grinding out her second round, then just three back, she was asked, “Are you a different golfer than you were a year ago?”

“I’m a different person I think, maybe not a different golfer,” Duncan said. “Definitely developed some skills. I stayed really calm out there, even when it was tough. I think Dean, my caddie, influenced that quite a bit. He could tell I was getting a bit hot-headed.”

Perhaps she was a bit hot-headed, middle of the round, when her driver started to get loose. Five bogeys kept the crowd quiet but three birdies gave the local press something cheery to write about. That, and potential wedding locales.

Sean Zak

Golf.com Editor

Zak is a writer and host for various GOLF.com video properties and podcasts. Check out his travels on Destination Golf and his latest thoughts on the Drop Zone Podcast:

Apple | Spotify | Stitcher | iHeart | PodBean