Nix Duncan likes the pressure that goes with trying to be successful at his new sport. In fact, it’s the main reason the 20-year-old switched from soccer to golf.
After his junior year at Aquinas, where the three-year starter was already being contacted by colleges, he walked away from potential scholarship offers to start over in golf.
Duncan then played on the Irish golf team as a senior, spent a year at the Hank Haney International Junior Golf Academy in Hilton Head Island, S.C., and is now under the guidance of Bobby Hicks.
Hicks, based in Macon, Ga., is the golf instructor to former Georgia All-American and PGA Tour winner Russell Henley.
Duncan will be a freshman at Georgia Regents University in the fall, where he has already talked to coach Kevin McPherson about trying to walk on the team.
But first he’ll see how he stacks up against some of the top amateurs in the area when he tees it up in the Augusta City Amateur, which begins a three-day run today at Forest Hills Golf Club.
Duncan, who finished second (71-75) in last week’s Perry Watson Memorial at Pine Ridge Club in Edgefield, S.C., was drawn to golf because it is an individual sport as opposed to soccer.
“A lot of it was being on a team, you don’t have all this pressure,” he said. “Like in soccer, you step on the field and you don’t feel pressure or nerves. If you do, it will be gone the second you get the ball. In golf, you have time to think about it. The pressure builds on you. I just always felt pressure was awesome. Coming down the last hole and you have the lead, I think that would be amazing.
“In soccer, I never said, ‘hey, you’re the reason we lost,’ ” Duncan said. “I hated that. If we lost, I always blamed myself in soccer. I always felt I could do something better.”
In that respect, there was a lot of room for improvement when Duncan took up competitive golf just more than two years ago. Before that, he had played occasionally, but not competitively.
When he decided to switch to golf, he was all-in.
“If I pick something out, I’m going 120 percent. I don’t ever stop,” Duncan said.
“When you get started late in competitive golf, you’re behind the 8-ball the whole way,” Duncan said. “I don’t have a lot of experience tournament-wise, but it’s never been a problem for me to deal with a lot of pressure because I’ve never felt extremely nervous, I’ve never gotten nervous.
“In soccer, probably the most nerve-wracking thing is penalty kicks at the end of the game. I always loved taking them because I thought the pressure was just awesome. So it wasn’t a big deal for me.”
Duncan, who mainly plays at Champions Retreat, said he normally shoots between 70 and 76. Last year, in the Augusta City Amateur, he shot 74-78-77. In the first round, he shot 4-over-par 40 on the front nine and came home in 2-under 34.
“I feel like the game I’m playing right now is a totally different game that it was a year ago or even a couple of months ago,” he said. “It’s totally changed. I play smarter. I’m more in control of what I’m doing. I’ve been working hard and it’s paid off.”
Part of that was attending the academy run by Haney, who was Tiger Woods’ former teacher.
“It was a great year for me because it gave me to time to see if I really wanted to do this. It made me every more focused,” Duncan said.
Working with Hicks has led to more improvement.
“It’s just really the understanding of the game between me and him,” Duncan said. “We think a lot alike.”
On a recent visit to Macon to work with Hicks, the instructor showed Duncan the flag from the 18th hole at the Sony Open, the PGA Tour event which Henley won in January. Henley had given Hicks the flag.
“He said Russell hadn’t signed it yet but he would soon,” Duncan said. “He told me he expected me to have one to sign in about four years.”