When Brooke Pancake arrived at the University of Alabama as a freshman in the fall of 2008, her highest golfing goals were quite simple, if not predictable: win a national title and play for the United States of America in the Curtis Cup Match.
In the past 15 days, Pancake has successfully crossed off both goals on her list.
"When I got the call back in December that I was on the Curtis Cup Team that was just unbelievable and it sort of freed me up to go out and conquer both," said Pancake, 22, of Chattanooga, Tenn. "I could focus on the spring and making nationals."
No Alabama individual or team had ever won an NCAA Division I Women’s Championship and only Jenny Suh (2006) had played on a Curtis Cup squad.
On May 25, Pancake rolled in a 4-foot putt on the 18th hole at Vanderbilt Legends Club’s North Course in Nashville, Tenn. (she was born there) to secure the Crimson Tide’s first national championship by a single stroke over the University of Southern California.
On Friday morning, Pancake holed a putt of similar length as she and Austin Ernst earned the first of three USA points in the sweep of the morning’s foursomes (alternate-shot) matches. In the afternoon four-balls (best-ball) at the 125-year-old Nairn Golf Club, Pancake and Erica Popson lost a 2-and-1 decision to Great Britain and Ireland’s Kelly Tidy and Holly Clyburn.
Heading into Saturday, the Americans hold a 4-2 advantage and need just six more points to retain the Curtis Cup it has won 27 times previously, including the last seven in the biennial competition.
In that same span, Pancake, who has declared she will turn professional after the Match, qualified for her first U.S. Women’s Open and received the 2012 Honda Award, given annually to the nation's top female athlete in 12 sports.
"It has been non-stop, for sure," said Pancake, who was also named a Capital One Academic All-American for the second time.
Though a four-time Tennessee state high school champion, Pancake never set the junior golf circuit ablaze. Her first two seasons at Alabama were consistent with sparks of what the future could hold. She earned Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Year honors and was Alabama’s third-lowest scorer each of the first two years.
"Brooke is a brilliant student, so she is pretty observant and knows what is going on," said Alabama coach Mic Potter, as he prepared to watch Pancake tee off in Friday’s afternoon match. "She takes things she sees and experiences, assimilates them and puts them to use."
In the fall of 2010, Pancake let leads slip away in the opening two tournaments. Sensing frustration on Pancake’s part, Potter simply told her the third time would be the charm.
He proved to be prophetic, as Pancake pulled her game together to win the Tar Heel Invitational with an 11-under 205 score that included a 65. At that moment, Potter could see a new level of maturation.
"I have never seen anyone hit the ball as well as she did that week," Potter said. "It was on a string every time and it was a turning point, because she learned how to win, got some confidence … and you could see she knew her game had arrived."
Pancake said the win, her only collegiate victory, simply proved that she is capable of playing with the game’s best. Pancake also reached the U.S. Women’s Amateur semifinals in August, losing to eventual champion Danielle Kang.
Pancake, along with junior Stephanie Meadow, who is a member of this week’s GB&I squad, also played an influential role in the rising Tide program.
"She has done so much in terms of what she has brought our program, not only on the course, but academically. We have won an SEC Championship, an NCAA regional championship and a national championship while she was at Alabama.
"For us as college coaches, you’re always looking for that player who gets it, gets why they’re there and to me she is the consummate student-athlete. I know we use that term a lot, but tell me how many people have excelled at that level like she has?" said Potter.
Following Sunday’s singles matches, Pancake moves to the next phase of her career.
"But I couldn’t think of a better way to finish up my amateur career on such a high than with the Curtis Cup in Scotland, the home of golf," said Pancake.
No doubt with the goal of winning.
Stuart Hall is a North Carolina-based freelance writer whose work has previously appeared on the USGA’s championship websites.