Brooke Pancake, a graduate of the Univ of Alabama, will play in the 2012 Jamie Farr Classic golf tournament at Highland Meadows.
Jeri A. Gulsby
Each year the Jamie Farr Toledo Classic looks to bring some up-and-coming young players to Highland Meadows via tournament sponsor exemptions.
This August, two of the most talented college players from recent years will join the Farr Classic field.
Brooke Pancake -- an All-America player at Alabama whose five-foot putt clinched the NCAA women's team championship for the Crimson Tide back on May 25 -- recently turned professional and is now competing in LPGA events.
She concluded her sterling collegiate career and graduated with a perfect 4.0 grade-point average, receiving a bachelor's degree in marketing.
Lindy Duncan -- a three-time first-team All-America from Duke University, and the 2012 Golfweek women's collegiate player of the year -- has her senior year remaining with the Atlantic Coast Conference champion Blue Devils. She is a psychology major at Duke.
"We receive letters from players who are interested in acquiring a sponsor's exemption," said Farr Classic tournament director Judd Silverman. "We review the letters and it's always a very difficult decision.
"We get 30 or 40 letters from both college players and non-exempt LPGA pros. The tournament staff makes the decision."
This year the staff settled on Pancake and Duncan.
"We liked their amateur record and their ranking," Silverman said. "Lindy was player of the year, and Brooke obviously helped her team win the NCAA championship. She finished second individually that week, and she had a great senior year as well.
"In our eyes those were the top two collegiate players in the country. We also liked their academic achievements and their community involvement. They're two very well-rounded young ladies, and those were the key ingredients as to why they got to the top of the list."
Pancake closed her collegiate career in storybook fashion, playing at a course adjacent to where she played her first tournament at age 10.
Introduced to the game at age 8 by her grandfather, Jimbo Eakin, Pancake traveled from her home in Chattanooga to Franklin, Tenn., just south of Nashville.
"He put me in a golf camp [at the Golf House in Franklin] for a week and that's when I basically fell in love with it," Pancake said.
Jimbo was entered in a tournament at the Vanderbilt Legends Club that week, so he entered Brooke in a girls tournament at The Little Course, a nine-hole, par-3 layout next door.
Jimbo and Brooke would form a special bond over the years. He became a father figure to his granddaughter after her father died during her senior year in high school.
Pancake won her first tournament at age 11 and later became Tennessee's top female prep player. She won four high school state titles and, at age 17, became the youngest ever inductee to the Tennessee women's golf hall of fame.
"I was definitely the black sheep of the family," Pancake said of hailing from Tennessee and enrolling at Alabama. "But I fell in love with it and our coach [Mic Potter] is great. Everyone that has gone there and played under him has become a better player."
As fate would have it, flashing forward 12 years, Pancake was back in Franklin, this time on the big course. The Vanderbilt Legends Club played host to the 2012 NCAA Division I women's team and individual championship tournament May 22-25.
"My family is all big [Tennessee] fans," Pancake said. "But I got them to wear Alabama clothes during the [NCAA] tournament."
With Pancake sinking her final putt on the tournament's 72nd hole, Alabama clinched its first NCAA women's golf team title, and Pancake was the individual runner-up with a 2-under 286 on the par-72 course.
Pancake's last collegiate putt on the final hole gave the Crimson Tide a 19-over-par team total of 1,171, one shot better than Southern Cal and two better than third-place LSU.
"We were definitely a team that had a lot of talent and potential and there were a lot of [high] expectations on us," Pancake said. "Being able to finish the way that we did was great.
"I'd take a team championship over an individual one any day. It was definitely the best way I could have finished off my college career. It was an incredible dream come true."
Before turning professional in mid-June, Pancake concluded her amateur career by playing on the United States team in the Curtis Cup, a biennial match in Scotland against the combined Great Britain/Ireland team. The U.S. lost 10.5 points to 9.5.
Joining Pancake on the U.S. Curtis Cup team was Duncan, who had tied for sixth (290) in the NCAA D-I individual standings at Vanderbilt Legends, helping Duke to a 15th-place team finish.
"I've had a really great three years and just learned so much," said Duncan, who has earned All-ACC and All-America honors after all three of her college years. "I've had the opportunity to play at a place like Duke where there have been so many chances to improve my game, and also go to school and get an education. I couldn't ask for more than that.
"Coach [Dan] Brooks has been great working with me, and each year I've tried to get a little better. I work with my dad [David Duncan] in the summers. He's my coach. We've been working together since I started playing golf when I was 9."
Duncan plans to follow in Pancake's footsteps next year.
"I plan to join the LPGA Tour when I graduate," she said. "It's been my dream for some time. After graduation I'll probably do Q [qualifying] school and all of that, and try to get into as many tournaments as I can, and then go from there. That's my goal.
"Right now I'm focused on the Jamie Farr [Classic] pretty hard. It's actually going to be the only tournament I'm playing in the whole summer. I played in the Curtis Cup, then I took a little bit of time off. I'm going to play the Jamie Farr, and then I'm just going to go back to school.
"Having the opportunity to play in this LPGA event is going to be very special. I learned so much last year at the U.S. Open, and anytime you get to go compete against the best players it's just awesome. You just soak it up and try to learn as much as you can."
Learning is also something Pancake takes very seriously.
"I want to be the best in every area of my life and I'm a bit of a nerd," said Pancake of her perfect academic record at Alabama. "I guess I just embraced the whole student-athlete aspect and everything the university had to offer.
"I hope to use marketing in my career. I couldn't think of a better thing to have, because as a professional you're kind of marketing yourself. Hopefully I can take this knowledge and use my name and become a role model for other female athletes. Do the best I can to help others."
How do the two young players assess their games?
"My strength as a player is probably my distance control with my irons," Pancake said. "I really put a lot of emphasis on my short game. If you can get up and down you can shave off a lot of strokes, and that's what wins tournaments."
"Luckily I can say with quite a bit of confidence that I have a pretty well-rounded game," Duncan said. "I wouldn't say one thing in particular is my strength because I'm pretty consistent.
"Most of the time I stay pretty true to my scoring average. The goal every year is to try to lower that [average] a little bit, and try to get every part of my game a little better. I believe, along with my dad, that the putting and short game cannot improve enough.."