Robert Duck: A Players Coach

By Chuck Walsh, Deputy Director of Sports Information

Ask current or former players and coaches to describe Florida State golf assistant coach Robert Duck, and a common theme quickly develops.  The memories range from his preparation as a coach, to his incredible ability to relate to players, to how he helped shape their golf game, to the impact he continues to have on their lives long after they have graduated from FSU.

And then there’s the trophy incident that followed a team championship won by the Florida State women at the Jacksonville Classic in the fall of 2015.

To listen to head coach Amy Bond and her version of the story, one can only envision the scene in the parking lot of the Marsh Landing Country Club.

“When we won our first tournament in Jacksonville in our tenure, I gave ‘Ducky’ the trophy as I said goodbye to the JU staff,” Bond said.  “He barely made it to the parking lot and dropped the trophy, which of course shattered as it was glass. He was so panicked and apologetic that he had dropped it. His face was priceless when he told me as he was trying to clean up the shattered glass on the concrete.”

Duck’s version of the story is a little different.

“I have no idea what you are talking about,” said the affable Duck who is set to enter his 10th season at Florida State.

Duck, a finalist for the 2019 Jan Strickland Award as the nation’s most outstanding assistant coach in collegiate golf, knows exactly what you are talking about when it comes to coaching golf.

In his first nine seasons as an assistant and the director of player development for the Florida State men’s and women’s programs, Duck has worked with the two greatest golfers in school history, helped both the Seminoles’ men’s and women’s golf teams reach the nation’s No. 1 ranking, and has helped elevate each program to rank among the nation’s best.

Duck has also been recognized internationally, as he coached FSU phenom Frida Kinhult in the 2019 Arnold Palmer Cup. Duck and Kinhult helped the International Team to a 32.5-26.5 win over the United States.

In doing so, Duck capped off year that was both personally satisfying and professionally outstanding.  Duck had the privilege of coaching Kinhult, who vaulted to the top of the female WAGR rankings, was named the WGCA National Freshman of the Year, earned first-team All-America honors and held the nation’s lowest stroke average at 70.66.

Duck also coached John Pak of the Seminoles men’s team to an extraordinary year in which he won an ACC title and set the program record for lowest stroke average at 69.56.

“It was great fun to have ‘Ducky’ as an assistant coach at the Arnold Palmer Cup,” Kinhult said.  “All the players were a bit jealous because I had him as a coach day in and day out.”

Duck certainly recognizes the Seminoles’ accomplishments and sees both the professional and personal growth with each of the many milestones he reaches.

“To see the individual success that we had last season, on top of being selected to represent the international team as a coach, just validates for me that I am moving in the right direction professionally and growing as a person,” Duck said.  “To feel harmony and a sense of making a difference is important to daily life.  I am so lucky to have this purpose in life, both professionally and personally.”

As lucky as he feels, it’s the coaches and players that he is surrounded by who are the lucky beneficiaries of Duck’s extraordinary coaching and relationship skills.

“‘Ducky’ knows more about the golf swing than anyone I know,” FSU golf alum Lydia Gumm said.  “He was my go-to guy when it came to my swing or putting. He kept traveling on the road, which was so much fun, yet serious because of how bad he wanted to win, and that made us all better.”

It’s because of Duck that Gumm, now an assistant coach at the University of Houston, chose coaching as a career.

“I know the impact he made on me,” Gumm said. “And my goal in coaching is to make that same impact on my own players. ‘Ducky’ would always tell us before we would hit the shot, ‘trust it,’ and now I find myself saying that to my players all the time.

“He’s not only a coach to me but a mentor and friend. I’m very blessed I had four years to learn under him.”

Gumm’s sentiments are echoed by FSU senior Kathleen Sumner.

“What I’m most appreciative of is all the time he spent helping me develop my short game, especially putting,” Sumner said.  “He has helped me build and gain confidence in my putting over these past three years, and I am very grateful.”

Duck, who as a player led Augusta State (now Georgia Regents University) to three NCAA Championship tournament appearances and helped the Jaguars to a seventh-place finish in the NCAA Championship Finals as a senior, maintains his competitive edge and often challenges the current Seminoles on the course.

“I remember when we were playing at the Texas State Tournament in 2015. On the par 5 18th hole in the last round he comes to me after my drive and tells me to go for the green and miss it left in the water on purpose. He would later tell me it was because the greenkeepers had put the pin in a bad spot with a lot of slope and the shot after the drop was easier than the putt from 6 feet.”

Two-Time All-ACC Selection Kim Metraux

“I’ve got quite a few stories on Coach Duck, but I will save him the embarrassment,” said Jamie Li, a fifth-year senior on the Seminole men’s team.  “But I can tell you the this: the first time he and I played together, he ended up beating me. And to this day he never lets me hear the end of it.”

Because of the uniqueness of Florida State’s coaching staff, Duck works with members of the men’s and women’s teams and staffs as a highly respected member of a combined coaching staff.  Duck is an assistant coach for both programs and is integrally involved with the Seminole men’s and women’s program on a daily basis.  He recruits, coaches, travels and is involved in all matters of both programs – which in the case of the Florida State is considered to be one program as a whole.

Duck has worked alongside Bond for nine of her 11 years as Florida State’s head coach.  During that time, the staff has helped the Seminole women win 11 team championships and produce seven All-Americans, including Kinhult, the National Freshman of the Year in 2019.

“Coach Duck has been a vital part of our program since he joined the staff in 2012,” Bond said.  “He jumped right in and helped our players achieve greatness on and off the course. His knowledge of the game and experience has helped our program be a conference and national contender. He has helped me become a better coach and he has developed relationships with each of our players that will last a lifetime.”

With Duck on the coaching staff, the Florida State men have won 19 tournament championships, including the Mobile Sports Authority Intercollegiate in 2020.  During his time in Tallahassee, nine different Seminoles have won a total of 21 individual tournament championships.  Duck has coached eight of the Seminoles’ top-10 all-time leaders for career stroke average.

Duck is credited with helping recruit John Pak, a senior who is considered one of the top golfers in the history of the men’s program.

“When I first worked with Coach Duck as a freshman, he really was an asset to my game,” said Pak.  “He works with us on the par-3s, and my first year when he was with me at tournaments, I hit my first 24 greens in regulation on par-3s with him.”

Pak’s success has led him to the No. 1 overall seed in the inaugural PGA Tour University ranking.  The new ranking will reward elite collegiate seniors by allowing access to the different professional tours under the PGA Tour umbrella.  Beginning with the inaugural class of 2021 (Pak’s graduating class), the Top 15 finishers from the newly-created list will be awarded exempt status to those professional tours.

Exemplified by Pak’s pinpoint perfection on the course, Duck’s rapport with all of Florida State’s golfers is simply incredible.

Duck’s ability to communicate with the players he coaches is illustrated by the success those players have earned on the golf course. In his first eight seasons at Florida State, he has worked with 30 All-Americans, 34 All-ACC honorees, three ACC Golfers of the Year and four ACC Freshmen of the Year. Each of the 18 teams (nine men’s and nine women’s) he has helped coach at Florida State has played in the NCAA Tournament and both teams have been ranked in the nation’s top-20 during the first nine years of his tenure in Tallahassee.

One of those All-Americans is current PGA Tour star Brooks Koepka, who was a four-time All-American and a two-time ACC Player of the Year. He was named the PGA Player of the Year in 2018 and 2019.

“I was fortunate to have Robert as my assistant coach during my final semester at Florida State,” Koepka said.  “In that short time, he left a lasting impression on me, and he taught me a number of important lessons that I still utilize today both on and off the course.  FSU is extremely lucky to have ‘Ducky’ on their staff.”

For those Seminoles who have gone onto play professional golf, Duck’s presence is felt long after they have left the comforts of the Seminole Golf Complex.

“Ducky has always wanted to help,” said Kinhult, who is currently playing on the Symetra Tour.  “The good thing is that he’s still helps me improve my game that even though I’m not on the team anymore. To me, that really shows how wonderful he is both as a person and a coach.”

The aspect of his personality that makes him such a great coach is his simple approach to the art of coaching the game of golf and relating to people.

“You need to have an open mindedness and a positive attitude,” Duck said.  “Knowing that each player is different and responds differently in a coaching setting and in everyday life is vitally important.  You have to recognize that you’re dealing with human beings who are all unique in every way and understand there is no guarantee of the response you are expecting from a player.

“When you come to understand that, it means that there is nothing wrong with being afraid to change the solution to the problem. There are multiple solutions in developing a skill in golf, it’s a matter of trying to give yourself time to allow the process to work.”

Duck also understands that his wife, Michelle, and his two daughters, Annabel and Hannah, are his biggest supporters.

“To spend nearly twenty years in the golf business you can only apply a certain level of commitment unless you have a very understanding family. I am indebted to my wife and kids who allow me the opportunity to put my heart and soul in the profession I love.”

As for the trophy the Seminoles won in Jacksonville, it’s been replaced and sits proudly among so many others in the trophy case that is filled to capacity in Florida State’s golf team house.

A note to the wise, the next time the Seminoles add another team championship, you might let someone else be responsible for getting the trophy back to Tallahassee.

“Ducky would always tell us before we would hit the shot “trust it” and now I find myself saying that to my players all the time. He’s not only a coach to me but a mentor and friend. I’m very blessed I had four years to learn under him."

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