Trees stood in a line down the left side, while a large bunker protected the right front of the green on the Par 3 No. 8 at Uchee Trail Golf Club.
Abigail Duke had played well throughout the day’s round, and now one final challenge was laid out in front of the Carrollton High School senior girls’ golf standout after four and a half hours and six miles of hiking from tee to green.
It was one of those shots that had to be struck true, as only a narrow strip of green on the left side offered a pathway toward the hole.
“It was an 8 iron from 128 yards. I knew I just had to hit it, and (when I did), I knew it was good,” recalled Duke.
Lady Trojan head coach Jarrod Hogan took in the whole scene. He started yelling as the ball approached. It sank out of sight into the cup, and then the emotions crept in for everyone.
“It’s very rare to witness that type of shot first-hand as a coach, and she’s stepped up so much for us this year,” Hogan said.
Duke also fondly remembers how the remainder of the scene unfolded.
“When I finished my round, I didn’t really know how (the scores) would turn out, but I knew I played really well. I teared up a little when I hit the hole-in-one, but I was overjoyed when I realized how well we had (all) done that day. To win as a team put us all on top of the world. It was a highlight of my senior season to that point,” Duke said.
And Duke’s senior year has had plenty of highlights so far. The Carrollton girls finished third (along with the boys’ team) at the President’s Day Shootout to open the 2020 campaign. Since that solid start, the Lady Trojans have been on an unprecedented winning streak, taking first place at The Heart of Georgia Invitational (Uchee Trail), North Gwinnett Invitational (Bear’s Best) and the Lady Warrior (Bridgemill Athletic Club).
Carrollton assistant coach Joel Gray has been sentimental about 2020 thus far.
“It has been a reminder of all the work that’s been put into this program for five years. It is the greatest start to a season the Lady Trojans have ever had, and it’s just awesome that the girls get to enjoy this success finally,” he said.
At the beginning of that five-year odyssey, Duke walked into the halls of Carrollton Junior High School as an eighth-grader for the first time. It was a whole new world for her, as she had been home-schooled up to that point. Her parents parents, Jamie and Sherrie Duke, remarked that moving toward the City of Carrollton and enrolling their daughter at CJHS was an important choice that the family made together.
“We both saw that she had abilities and talents. We just wanted her to have more chances to shine, to make friends and have success, and ultimately to broaden her opportunities,” Jamie Duke said.
Furthermore, the chance to play golf for the school provided some common ground for Jamie and his daughter to connect over a game he passionately loves.
And so playing golf that first fall was a logical first step toward branching out in some familiar territory. For the younger Duke, the hard transition was “a new experience,” but one that was eased by her involvement in sport.
“It opened me up to meeting new people like Morgan (Gray) and Caroline (Fjeran). And (all) my teammates have become my best friends,” Duke said. “I wanted to help my team from the very beginning. Golf provided me with goals so that I would have a drive to get better at something. Every year has been a new experience and a new challenge. Stepping into the high school was a big adjustment (as well), but I kept practicing and trying to get better.”
Reflecting back on that transition, the hard parts, as well as the triumphs, Duke sees golf as having been a vital escape from the normal pressures of teenage life.
“Getting to go play at the golf course each day is such a stress-reliever ... and it’s with your friends,” she said.
It’s also proven to be just one of quite a few feathers in the senior’s cap. Duke is a projected Honor Graduate with Distinction this spring, and she served as the Group Commander for the Air Force JROTC at CHS (overseeing 115 cadets). She was nominated for the High School Heisman by CHS Athletic Director Paul Fitz-Simons, and she recently received a Congressional Nomination to the United States Air Force Academy from Drew Ferguson.
Commenting on a potential appointment to Colorado Springs, Colorado, or an ROTC scholarship elsewhere, Duke has said, “I want to help and serve others in my life, like those who have helped and served me. My experience in golf has built my confidence to the point that I feel comfortable knowing I can lead others by serving them first.”
Her desire to take that experience and success into the military as a commissioned officer is further evidence of the consistent vision she and her parents have shared since making the fateful decision to come to Carrollton years ago.
“We have always wanted her to put others first and to care about others,” remarked Sherrie.
But Duke still has some unfinished business this spring as a Lady Trojan.
“It’s such a sad question,” answering on the close to this chapter of her story. “I want to play for my teammates, and I want to have one more chance to win a state championship.”
Due to the current suspension of spring sports due to the COVID-19 outbreak, only time will tell if the Lady Trojans ultimately receive that opportunity, but there is no doubt that they are an early favorite to win the title in May at the Georgia Southern University Course in Statesboro.
One might consider Duke’s fondest memory of her time as a Lady Trojan to perhaps be her hole-in-one earlier this spring, or maybe it was one of the three area championships she has been a part of ... but those guesses are likely wrong, though.
Duke has the following advice for all the young girl golfers in the west Georgia area today.
“Golf can be discouraging, but stick with it. Keep your belief that you’ll be better because of it, and you will be,” she said. “My favorite memory of being a Lady Trojan has always been having my teammates surround the 18th green when I’ve finished with them at the state championships. My experience in golf has been empowering to me, and the love from my teammates has been the reason.”