Evelyn Orley and Anna Morales (Photo submitted)
For proof of how wide the age and experience spectrum spans at the U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball, just look for the players wearing the Duke logo. Their graduation years span 35 years, and that’s still a little hard for Anna Morales to believe.
Incoming freshmen Megan Furtney and Erica Shepherd are the rookies in the field, but Morales and partner Evelyn Orley, Blue Devil teammates from the late 80s, are reuniting as partners for the first time since those college days. Orley was a freshman in 1985, and jokes that she and current head coach Dan Brooks shared a rookie season.
In honor of this week’s USGA championship start at Timuquana Golf Club in Jacksonville, Fla., a care package from Duke assures that Morales and Orley will be representing in blue again, just like old times.
Both women left a mark as a Blue Devil. Morales was a three-time letterwinner from 1988-91 before stepping away in her senior season with burnout. Still, she helped lead Duke to six tournament victories in those three seasons. Orley, meanwhile, was a four-year letterwinner at Duke from 1985-88. She had seven top-5 and nine top-10 finishes in 11 starts as a senior.
This week, Morales, at 49, and Orley, at 52, are the second-oldest side in the championship. They define exactly what this sport means: That players can compete generations apart.
“It feels like centuries, eons,” Morales joked of the gap in age between herself and several players in the field.
To get here, the pair had to advance through their Mesa, Ariz., qualifier, which included going toe-to-toe with a pair of teenagers in a playoff for the final spot. Experience came out ahead.
It was an odd feeling for Morales, who has children of her own but is hardly used to competing against that age group. Before this week, Morales has played mostly mid-amateur events in Texas, but also qualified for the U.S. Women’s Mid-Am five times.
“With the mid-am, it didn’t even really occur to me but with this being a younger skew, it makes us feel ancient,” she said.
After falling out of touch in the years after college, Morales and Orley reunited at a Duke golf team reunion in 2002. Facebook helped them stay connected from there.
“I felt like not that much time had passed, but in reality, 17 years has passed,” Orley said of that Durham reunion.
Originally, Orley and Morales had planned to be here last year. Morales, however, needed to get well first.
Morales, a Peruvian who now resides in Austin, Texas, had really worked on her game in 2017 and competed in several local events, even qualifying for the U.S. Women’s Mid-Am that year. Her four-ball qualifier with Orley was up next, but before they could play it, she was diagnosed with two forms of breast cancer.
“That changed my whole world,” she said.
Morales went ahead with the Women’s Mid-Am that year, which had been moved from Naples, Fla., to Houston in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma. After her morning round, she had doctor’s appointments in the afternoon.
Telling Orley she was out for the four-ball began as a difficult conversation, but Orley held firm that she wouldn’t compete until she could do it with Morales.
“I said, ‘Go find another partner, I don’t know when I can play again,’” Morales remembers. “’This could take a long time.’ She said, ‘You’re my partner, I’m going to wait for you.’”
Golf drove Morales' recovery. The ladies association at Austin Country Club regularly checked on her, and a regular Wednesday men’s group she plays in assured her that they would save her spot. Morales finished her treatment in October, and will visit the doctor for a final all-clear in two weeks.
“I feel not 100 percent, but I feel like it’s amazing I’m on a golf course,” she said. “I had three surgeries, two pretty major, and I couldn’t lift my arm up to eat, and then all of a sudden I’m able to hit golf balls. It’s amazing what a body can do.”
No matter how much time has passed, Morales and Orley will pick up right where they left off in 1988, when Orley was a Duke senior and Morales an incoming freshman. Orley was there for reassurance, which was a saving grace for Morales as she struggled to adjust to life in Durham, N.C., after growing up in Peru.
“I was really kind of overwhelmed. I had been wooed by several schools and I chose Duke and I was so excited,” Morales remembers. “You get there and there were all these superstars. I came from a third-world country with only four or five courses. I was unsure of myself, and she just took me under her wing.”
Orley’s family had lived in South America and Argentina during part of her childhood, and felt a connection with Morales that way.
Both women gushed about the prospect of meeting the next generation of Blue Devils this week. Then Orley did the math between her graduation year (1988) and that of Shepherd and Furtney (2023).
“I don’t even know if they’re going to believe us,” she said laughing.
Something says the newbies know the history.