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Purdue Wins National Championship!

Maude-Aimee LeBlanc, of Purdue's National Championship team in women's golf. (Brent Dinkut/Journal and Courier)

The Purdue Boilermakers won the NCAA National Championship in women’s golf today, the first Northern school in history to take the title.

They beat the Trojans of Southern California by a single stroke on the 18th hole. The finish was dramatic.

My mother would have been jumping out of her skin about now. Oh, how I wish she’d lived to see the day.

She learned the game of golf at Purdue, where she graduated with a B.S. in Pharmacy in 1961, the year the Purdue men’s team won the National Championship.

Physical education was a required course for undergraduates back then; they’d teach any student whatever sport they were interested in. She chose golf, and got pretty good at it, though nothing like these girls today.

My mother played the game for the rest of her life, which is what “lifelong learning” is all about.

In fact, the grade she got in golf class changed her life, and not in a good way; she missed graduating with honors because she got a B in that 1-credit-hour class. But still, she got the last laugh a few years later, when she won the 1st Flight tournament in the Lafayette City Championships.

I got to host her at the Memorial Championship in Dublin, Ohio, Jack Nicklaus’s ode to his golf heroes and heroines at the Muirfield Golf Club. We saw some amazing performances, including Paul Azinger’s unbelievable win when he came back from cancer. Golf was good to my Mom; she had a lot of fun playing. (And Nicklaus is the son of a pharmacist.)

This year’s Purdue team is coached by Devon Brouse; the team star is Maude-Aimee LeBlanc. The team is slightly controversial around here because none of the players are Americans. But girls come from all over the world to play college golf in the United States; the individual champion this year is a gal from Sweden who plays for Oklahoma State.

Purdue’s Maria Hernandez was the individual medalist last year. Brouse has had this program shooting for the top for some years now, and in 2010 they hit the jackpot.

College golf (high school too) is team play, not the individual sport you see on TV. It makes for an interesting dynamic. For one thing, all the players wear their school colors; Purdue wore black shorts and black golf shirts with a “P” on the chest. Black is considered an aggressive color. Maybe next year they’ll wear Old Gold.

As a team sport, the scoring is different too, and that changes the strategy. The highest score on a team is dropped, so only the five best players’ results matter. If one gal’s having a bad day, it doesn’t count. But the pressure is on for her teammates. The performance of a single star doesn’t cut it; what matters is what her teammates shoot.

Purdue finished 1 over par for the tournament, hosted by the University of North Carolina-Wilmington. USC finished 2 over par. A Purdue player tied for third as an individual, but the consistent low scores of her teammates carried the day. The last two shots of the day won it.

Then came a bit of pageantry before the awarding of the trophies. A gaggle of bagpipers marched onto the course, because golf was invented by the Scots. These weren’t college boys, but a professional bagpipe outfit in kilts. For the climax of a women’s golf tournament, let’s get guys in skirts! They had a drum major in spats, and drummers twirling their sticks ceremonially. It was a show—and no matter how much one might get sentimental over Robert Burns and Auld Lang Syne, there’s no way to make bagpipes sound like musical instruments. They make a glaring, awful noise—but Scotland gave us golf, which made my mother happy, and gave us a championship Purdue won today.

So why this post? I will never miss an opportunity to proclaim “Purdue Wins National Championship” in a sport, because great athletes provide an excuse to cheer for the whole school’s students, including those in pharmacy. This is my excuse for cheering on my Mom.

She was a far better pharmacist than she was a golfer—not that she didn’t crow about that city championship when she was in her 40s. I’ve still got her little hole-in-one trophy from later years, though it’s engraved for “Betty Arnold” as if she was married to her boyfriend, not living in sin. Oh, the scandal!

She would cheer these Purdue girls, and be the first to point out that you can’t have a world-class university unless you attract the best students from all over the world. Purdue has more foreign students than any other state university in America, and I for one am proud of them.

Go Mom! GO PURDUE! Go Mom.++

National Champions 2010, the Purdue Boilermakers. (Jason Barnette)