Columbus North boys golf coach Doug Bieker was watching The Golf Channel last weekend when one of his former pupils popped up on the screen.
Tyler Duncan, the 2007 state medalist from North, was featured in the highlights from the PGA Tour Latinoamerica spring finale in Panama. Duncan tied for sixth at 10-under-par 278, his best outing since joining the Tour at the beginning of the year.
“It doesn’t surprise me,” Bieker said. “I think Tyler certainly has the mental game, as well as the physical game to play at the highest level. He’s playing well, and I think he’s close to breaking through. Hopefully, he’ll earn some Web.com Tour status next year here in the states, and I’d be surprised if that didn’t happen.”
After playing on the National Golf Association Tour last year, Duncan, 25, has spent the first part of 2014 on the PGA Tour Latinoamerica in South and Central America. He made it by going through a qualifying school in January in Lima, Peru.
The tour has had two tournaments in Mexico and one each in Columbia, Guatemala, Peru, Argentina, Uruguay, Dominican Republic and Panama. The tour is on break for the summer and will resume in September with nine events in the fall.
“It was very different,” Duncan said. “I had never been out of the country until I went to Peru to the Q-school. I really enjoyed that.”
A different culture
Although language has been a little bit of a barrier, Duncan recalls a little Spanish from his three years of taking the subject in high school.
“It’s coming back,” Duncan said. “I’m starting to be able to communicate a little bit. I know a few of the key words, so I can communicate with the Spanish-speaking caddies. A lot of the players down there speak some English, so most of the time, you can communicate a little bit. As far as carrying on a conversation, I’m still not great at it.”
Fortunately for Duncan, he is surrounded by about 40 other Americans on the Tour. Tour events have 144 players, and most of the others are from South or Central America.
“It’s mostly golf,” Duncan said. “We don’t have a lot of time to tour around. It’s pretty much the golf and the hotel. There’s a pretty big group of Americans down there, so we always stick together.”
The American players live out of hotels and fly commercially from country to country each week. That air travel, as well as transportation from airports to hotels, is provided by the Tour.
“Most of the places we’ve been have been fairly safe,” Duncan said. “I haven’t been scared or afraid, as far as safety is concerned. The tour is very good with transportation and getting us where we need to be.”
With no rental cars available, Duncan and the rest of the players take taxis from the hotels to the golf courses.
“The driving down there is pretty interesting,” Duncan said. “Lima is by far the worst as far as traffic and driving.”
Duncan said he saw a couple of motorcycle accidents in Columbia. In Argentina, cops were stationed on the side of a road, and they pulled over all the the taxis and checked everybody out.
Although he hasn’t had any issues, Duncan said one of the players he was traveling with lost his form to get back into the United States while in Mexico. Border officials weren’t going to let him back in, but while the player was digging around in his pocket for identification, he found $10, which he gave to the official. The official let him in.
Duncan’s parents, Brian and Angie, are concerned for Tyler’s safety.
“It was never a thought prior to him going,” Brian Duncan said. “It was more after him getting passports. You think ‘Wow,’ with all the stuff that’s going on down there. But he’s in nice neighborhoods, they’re nice courses and there’s all these pros around, and he’s running with those folks. We always worry about him no matter where he travels, but we trust in him and what he wants to do.”
Angie Duncan purchased an iPhone three weeks ago so she could send and receive messages at any time. Before she had the iPhone , she had to wait until she got home from work in the evening.
“I was really worried about him being down there because if he got sick or anything, I have no way to get to him because I don’t have a passport,” Angie Duncan said. “Even when he plays, he still calls home because I’m always worried.”
The last two weeks of the spring season, Tyler Duncan has had some friends and family at his side. His girlfriend, Maria Krempp, caddied for him in the Dominican Republic, and a friend, Bryan Lynch, caddied for him in Panama. Tyler’s uncle, Andy Johnson, has played three PGA Tour Latinoamerica events, and a few family members came to the tourney in the Dominican Republic.
This spring, Duncan made seven of eight cuts and had three top-20 finishes. Besides the sixth in Panama, he tied for 14th in Guatemala, when he was 13-under, and tied for 17th at one of the events in Mexico.
“It was good,” Duncan said. “I felt like I was kind of progressing and getting better all season. I was learning all season.”
The course in Guatemala was built on the site of a volcano, and the players would hear loud booms during their rounds. In the Dominican Republic, they played at Casa de Campo, which has seven holes next to the ocean and has been ranked among the top 40 courses in the world.
“All the courses have been great,” Duncan said. “The hotels we’ve stayed at have been great.”
Duncan returned to Indiana in early May to play in a U.S. Open Qualifier. He fired a 69 on May 7 at Hawthorns Golf and Country Club in Fishers to advance to a final U.S. Open qualifier, which will be Monday in Memphis.
“It was good to have some good rounds leading up to that,” Duncan said. “(The U.S. Open) is something I’d really like to qualify for.”
This summer, Duncan plans on playing in several Web.com Tour Monday qualifiers in the Midwest, as well as the Indiana Open July 7 to 10 at Otter Creek. He plans to go to the Web.com Tour Q-school again this fall to try to gain status on that circuit.
Last year, Duncan made it through the pre-qualifying stage, but missed at the first stage last year. Anyone who advances to third stage gets some Web.com Tour status.
The Top 10 on the PGA Tour Latinoamerica money list also earn some form of Web.com status, while places 11 through 20 are exempt to second stage of Q-school. Duncan currently ranks 29th with earnings of $12,588 from the eight spring tournaments.
“If I play well down there, I’ll have a chance, and if I play well up here, I’ll have a chance,” Duncan said.
Duncan’s ultimate goal remains to make it to the PGA Tour.
“He’s getting experience, and he’s playing with people of similar status,” Brian Duncan said. “They’re all good. They could step into the PGA Tour at anytime. He’s getting good experience, and it’s paying off.”