Sandy Choi went to high school in San Diego, which is exactly the kind of place you might expect a top young American golfer to grow up. That’s only partially correct.
“Oh, I’m not American,” Choi objects, which means the freshman fits right in on Duke’s women’s golf team.
Born in South Korea, Choi lived in Canada until she was 14, when her family moved to California. That still makes her the closest thing to an American on the Duke roster, with teammates from France, Israel, Colombia, Canada and China.
The Blue Devils’ international squad sets off in pursuit of Duke’s sixth national title beginning Tuesday in Tulsa, Okla., where N.C. State and Campbell will be competing as well, also with rosters heavily loaded with foreign players. Duke, though, has taken it to an extreme, without a single player born in the United States.
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“It’s a lot of fun,” Duke coach Dan Brooks said. “Over the years, we’ve had different foods and all sorts of humor that comes from trying to communicate with each other and getting the languages wrong. It’s hilarious when they try to speak with the various accents and languages, trying to get the words right. There’s common ground: The game is the same for everyone.”
Conveniently enough, assistant coach Jeanne Cho speaks Spanish, French and Korean, but very few college teams can visit ethnic restaurants on the road and order with the help of a built-in translator.
“Last tournament, we learned how to say ‘good shot’ in all different languages,” Choi said. “Whenever someone hits a good shot, like Laetitia (Beck), we’ll say ‘good shot’ in Hebrew. I’ve learned a lot. I’ve never been someplace where there’s so many different cultures on one team.”
Duke isn’t alone. N.C. State has three golfers from Canada, one from Germany and one from Mexico, while Campbell has two from Australia and one each from Austria, Canada, Mexico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. All three teams advanced out of the East Regional in Tallahassee, Fla., where the Wolfpack finished tied for third with the Blue Devils and the Camels finished eighth.
“It’s always been an international game, but the world has gotten so much smaller,” N.C. State coach Page Marsh said. “With technology and travel, and so many players within our borders playing junior golf, the world is just that much smaller.”
The makeup of these rosters is an extreme representation of the globalization of women’s golf over the past two decades. A recent resurgence of talented young Americans has revitalized the LPGA Tour, but the professional game remains very international, with the top 20 players in the Rolex World Rankings coming from nine different countries: South Korea, the United States, New Zealand, Norway, Australia, China, Sweden, Scotland, Spain.
Brooks said he has only left the United States twice in 30 years, but Marsh said she typically takes one recruiting trip to Canada and one to Europe, usually for the European Girls Team Championship, held this year in Slovakia in July.
“I’ve recruited more and explored more internationally,” Marsh said. “I get tremendous support from N.C. State to do that.”
The international influence on the game will continue to play out at Pinehurst in June, when the U.S. Women’s Open is held immediately after the men’s tournament. Duke’s Celine Boutier already has qualified, posting the low score at a sectional qualifier in Colorado last week. Many of the other local players will attempt to qualify May 30 at Carolina Trace Country Club in Sanford.
Boutier, who is from France, has the NCAA tournament to worry about first, the conclusion to a long season of multicultural learning at Duke – although she said she hasn’t learned any new languages from her teammates.
“Not really,” she said. “Just English.”