If Augusta State golfer Robert Duck hadn't been a star freshman last year, he could have won the team's most improved player of the year award after his dreadful start this season.
Duck, who was presented the Milledge Peterson Award on Friday for the lowest stroke average on the team this year (72.63), was an unlikely recipient, especially after his first round.
Talk about improvement -- Duck had a mind-boggling 18-over-par 90, which included a 12 on one hole -- in the Jaguars' season opener, the Palmetto Intercollegiate, in Charleston on Sept. 14.
In the 31 rounds that followed, Duck shot par of better 17 times, with his low round being a 66.
The Brit said the 90, which was 10 shots higher than his previous worst collegiate competitive round, lit a fire under him.
"It set me up for the season," Duck said. "The 90 certainly hurt my stroke average, but it gave me a new perspective on the game. You can be as confident as you possibly can be and something like that happens to knock the wind out of you. It was a new experience."
The other golf Augusta State award winners were Jamie Felder (the Mikael Peterson leadership award and the scholastic award), Jayce Stepp (most improved player), Jamie Elson (freshman of the year) and Jeff Keck (coach's award). The awards were presented at the annual award banquet at the clubhouse at Forest Hills Golf Club.
The Jaguars, who are ranked fifth in NCAA District III-North, are expected to make the East Regionals, to be held May 20-22 in Providence, R.I. The final poll will be released Tuesday. The top eight teams are invited to the regional.
In the East Regionals, Duck will be joined by Stepp, Elson, Keck and Michael Webb. The top 11 teams after that event make the NCAA Championship.
Duck was the top returner from last year's team that played in the NCAAs, but you wouldn't have known that after he shot that 90 in the first event.
"It was one of the worst experiences I've ever gone through," said Duck, who was hit with penalty shots when he played the wrong ball and a ball with the wrong compression en route to his 12 on the 14th hole that day.
Duck hardly had to time to catch his breath after the 90 before the second 18-hole round started that day.
First-year Augusta coach Jay Seawell had left Duck after 13 holes of the first round, when he was 1-over par for the day. Seawell caught up with Duck on the 10th hole of the second 18-hole round.
"When I saw him, I was in pieces," Duck said. "I'd played the first nine in 6-over par. I was pretty much as low as I've ever been in a sporting event. I was close to tears and distraught.
"Coach came up to me and said, `What are you thinking?' I said `Coach, I'm this close to giving up.' He rode off and came back about five minutes later. I realized I'd said the wrong thing. He came up to me and said `You are never, ever giving up.' He gave me some stern words and said, `Let's see some of that English courage."'
Spurred on by Seawell, Duck played the final eight holes in 3-under-par and shot 75. He came back with a 70 the next day.
"I remember, when I saw him on the 10th hole, telling him he was a good player and this would be a test of his character," Seawell said. "I said he had two choices -- he could either quit or show his character. I believed he was a man of character and if he could get over this mountain, he'd be a better player than if he won the tournament.
"It challenged and then reinforced his character as to his belief of who he was and the player he was," Seawell said. "Ever since then, he has been just fine."
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