I recently had the opportunity to talk to a national champion. In his 22 years at Duke University, he's brought his team three national titles and 12 ACC championships. He's visited the White twice and won Coach of the Year accolades four times. A number of his players have made it to professional ranks.
"We have a really neat team this year - I'm so excited about this group," Brooks says. "Very talented, they work hard, they give it their all."
Former Blue Devil and all-American Virada Nirapathpongporn, now an LPGA rookie, continues to work with Brooks. "He's a great coach," she says. "I spent four full years there, so he knows me inside-out - my game, my personality. Coaching has a lot to do with knowing the player. That's why I'm sticking with him. I love working with him, we have a good time."
Fellow LPGA rookie and former teammate Brittany Lang would agree: "He's a great coach and his record proves it. He's one of the reasons why I went to Duke. He helps his players but he knows when to stay out of the way."
Because Lang left school early to turn pro, Duke's team is now down to just five players. "My ideal number is seven, but six is OK," Brooks says. "Five leaves you no room for error." Of course, having only five players didn't seem to hurt last year's squad, which only copped the school's third national championship.
Perhaps you saw Brittany Lang's performance at last year's U.S. Women's Open. Come Sunday afternoon she was the clubhouse leader, waiting for future teammate Morgan Pressel and South Korean Birdie Kim to finish. Kim hit a stunning miracle birdie out of a bunker to take the title, and Lang and Pressel had to settle for second.
As an amateur, Lang missed out on more than a quarter of a million dollars. She wasn't going to make that mistake twice, and announced she would turn pro just two weeks later. Pressel, the teenage phenom who had committed to Duke and was due to enroll this year, did the same.
Brooks cheered for Lang's performance, knowing she had already decided to turn pro. But his heart sank with Pressel's success.
"I was not happy at all as I watched the Open. Because I knew how talented Morgan was. I knew she wouldn't be able to stay [at Duke] after having this experience - almost winning the U.S. Open. I had a gut feeling I was going to hear from her. And after about five days, I did.
"I would've loved to have had her on my team," Brooks adds. "She has a lot of spirit, let's say. She's very feisty. In fact, she can be downright unpleasant at times on the golf course. She and I had already had a little bit of coach-player stuff and worked through some things. In one letter she wrote that she felt like she was going to be walking on eggshells. As far as I'm concerned that's a good thing.
"Even though I would've had to make sure she toed the line, I would've loved that project. But that whole experience at the Open was just more than she could say no to."
Losing your players to the professional ranks is something relatively new to Brooks. It's only happened three times so far, with all-American Beth Bauer preceding Lang and Pressel in 2002. But the tour's siren song has never called as loudly as it does now.
Long relegated to "minor league" status, the LPGA is coming into its own, with a genuine superstar in 67-time winner Annika Sorenstam (that's 19 more wins than Tiger Woods has on the PGA Tour, by the way) and the Pressel/Lang/Michelle Wie/Paula Creamer "youth movement" bringing in new fans by the day. Incentives to turn pro - i.e. purses - have never been so compelling.
Meanwhile, Brooks (and his new assistant coach, former player Kalen Anderson) will continue to mold Duke's five-player team - senior all-American Liz Janangelo, junior all-American Anna Grzebien, sophomore Jennifer Pandolfi and freshmen Amanda Blumenherst and Jennie Lee - into a competitive force.
So what's it like, coaching women? The answer may surprise you. According to Brooks, women are less emotional than men - at least on the golf course.
"Women are much more stable out there," he explains. "They recover from errors better; they're kinder to themselves if they mess up. Guys come unglued - they're just destroyed by bad shots. Women are more even-keel. The guy wants to be able to hit an 8-iron instead of a 7-iron on a par 3. Women don't even think that way. They hit what they need to hit. When your emotions aren't involved that way, it allows you to be more logical."
Keep your eye on Duke's team. With Brooks at the helm, it's looking to be another good year.
March 27, 2006