By HARRIET PROTHRO PENROD, Journal Sports
Just because someone is a successful athlete does not mean that person would be a successful coach. In fact, the odds are against it, according to Sian Beilock Ph.D., a professor of psychology at the University of Chicago.
For sure, there have been great players who made great coaches. But the rule of thumb, according to Beilock, is that many of the top athletes are rarely able to communicate how they are so talented.
Put Meredith Duncan in the “rare” category – the category of successful athletes who transition to successful coaches because they have the ability to communicate with their players. Even with her success, however, coaching wasn’t always on her radar. She kind of happened, or “backed,” into it.
Following her career at LSU – where she was one of the most successful golfers in school history (more on that later) – Duncan played on the LPGA Tour from 2003-2012. It was in 2012 that she had to make a decision.
“My back was getting bad,” says Duncan. “Once I had played a long time, my body and the money started running out. It’s hard to keep going when that happens.”
She didn’t give up easily, however. After spending three months at the Illinois Back Institute, she knew it was time for something else. “I had to get things sorted out,” she says of that time. “I told myself that after a while, I’ve got to make money. I’ve got to figure something out. There’s a lot more to life than chasing a little white ball.”
It was about this time that Duncan started substitute teaching and helping out with the girls’ basketball team at her alma mater, Byrd High School, where she played both basketball and golf. It was there that she helped lead the Lady Jackets to runner-up finishes in state championships in both basketball and golf in 1997 and 1998.
Byrd girls’ basketball coach Toni Martinez encouraged Duncan to “come hang out with the girls.”
That’s all it took. “After being around the basketball program again, I said, ‘I miss this,’” recalls Duncan. It wasn’t long after getting her teaching certificate that Duncan became not only an assistant coach on the girls’ basketball team and pep squad sponsor but also, of course, the head coach of both the boys’ and girls’ golf teams.
If mere success as an athlete was all that was required to be a good coach, Duncan would qualify – easily. Just a few of her accomplishments include:
U.S. Women’s Amateur Champion (2001)
Western Women’s Amateur Champion three times (2000-2002)
Women’s North-South Amateur Champion (2001)
First-Team All-SEC (2000-2002)
First-Team All-American (2002)
SEC Academic Honor Roll (2000-2002)
Three collegiate wins (2001-2002)
Winner of the Nancy Lopez Award as the nation’s top junior
Winner of the Diana Shore Award from the LPGA as the nation’s top collegiate golfer
Member of the U.S. Curtis Cup Team (2002)
Duncan ended her college career with the best single-season and career stroke average in LSU women’s golf history. In 2019, she became the second women’s golfer at LSU to be inducted into the LSU Athletics Hall of Fame. There was even a proclamation of “Meredith Duncan Day” by Louisiana Gov. Mike Foster on August 25, 2001.
When asked to name her top memories from her college years, winning the U.S. Women’s Amateur is at the top of the list, along with the relationships she shared – and continues to share – with her LSU teammates.
Top on the list from junior golf? That one is easy. “Any tournament that I got to go with my granddad,” Duncan says of Oree Marsalis, her grandfather, a well-known local golfer who passed away in 2001.
In addition to her grandfather, Duncan credits LSU coach Karen Bahnsen with helping her hone her skills on the golf course. Oh yeah, and her mom, Debbie Duncan, who is a three-time state amateur golf champion.
As hard as it is to relay success as a competitor to success as a coach, Meredith Duncan seems to have defied the odds. While she will always remember the feeling she got after winning the U.S. Women’s Amateur, nothing is quite like watching her high school golfers hoist the state championship trophy. Both her boys’ and girls’ teams came from behind to win state championships in 2019.
“It was a gutsy performance from both teams,” says Duncan, who just turned 42. “Team wins definitely outweigh the individual stuff. When you can get a bunch of teenagers to work together with and for each other to accomplish the same goal, it’s just amazing to see.
“Knowing that something I said or something I might have taught them or the fact that they listened — when I thought maybe they weren’t — and used it to succeed makes me proud.”
That’s what makes a great coach.
Photo by JOHN PENROD
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