College Notebook: How Brooks' infusion of energy sparked a Florida win despite a USC reload

Florida collects its trophy at the Allstate Sugar Bowl for the second time in three years. Photo courtesy Tulane Athletics.

Florida collects its trophy at the Allstate Sugar Bowl for the second time in three years. Photo courtesy Tulane Athletics.

When you have a team heavy in underclassmen, sometimes coaching means a little more than swing technique and strategy. On the other side of that coin, freshmen and sophomores can surprise you by how quickly they can adapt, get over a hump and win a major tournament.

Emily Glaser can speak to both of these things. The Florida head coach, now in her sixth season leading the Gators, only has one senior on her roster this season. The rest are sophomores and freshmen. Despite that, Florida won its first event of the season Feb. 20 at the Allstate Sugar Bowl. It’s the second time in three years the Gators have won the event in New Orleans, but only senior Taylor Tomlinson was on both those teams.

“We lost three seniors from our team last year, so we knew things were going to be a little different and that there were going to be some bumps in the road because you’ve got new players and you’re navigating new experiences with them,” Glaser said. “…We’re a young team, but I kind of tell the joke that at the end of the day, no one cares.”

On Glaser’s squad, players know they’re still expected to show up and play their best golf. Her strongest message to the team this season has been attention to detail. Glaser, who played for Michigan State from 1999-2002, knows that’s the difference between just being a good team, and being an elite team.

In New Orleans, the Gators looked elite. They led after each of the first two rounds, by one shot, before growing that margin to nine shots in Round 3.

A team victory is the work of every player, but Florida’s infusion of energy from Wake Forest transfer Sierra Brooks, the 2015 U.S. Women’s Amateur runner-up and a member of the 2016 U.S. Curtis Cup squad, went a long way in helping the Gators over that hump. Brooks joined the team in January and this week’s individual title is her second in two starts.

Brooks’ biggest impact? Work ethic. Glaser has watched the rest of the team take notice of how Brooks practices and plays and up their effort in response.

“Of course, at one time she was going to play here and things changed,” Glaser said, referencing the natural twists and turns of recruiting (Brooks did commit to Florida when she was 13 before rerouting to Wake Forest). “We say we have her home.”

In a climate where the mental game and the character-development aspect of coaching can set a team apart from its competition, many teams have turned to Vision54 or motivational speaker and author Jon Gordon for guidance. Glaser has taken to having one-on-one conferences with players after each tournament. She can’t remember when she began doing it, only that players have come to count on it (after senior Maria Torres graduated last spring and played her first professional event, Glaser received a call from Torres out of habit, asking for her individual meeting).

“It’s the luxury of having a small team where we can sit down with each of them, get a game plan for moving forward, make sure everyone feels settled and organized with what they’re going to do,” she said.

Those conferences are not all golf, either. Glaser says it’s a chance to get to know her players on another level.

Last fall, Golfweek magazine ranked the 2016-17 tournament schedule, which gave a window into college golf’s toughest tournaments. Florida is scheduled to play five of the top 15 events on that list this season. Before traveling to New Orleans, the Gators finished seventh at the Northrup Grumman Regional Challenge in Palos Verdes, Calif. That event ranked No. 2 on the list.

Florida players certainly aren’t wanting for a challenge. They’ve risen to the ones placed before them, and that was Glaser’s final word on this week’s Allstate title.

“For us, we just look at (this victory) as the evolution of our team.”

The reload looks promising

Sometimes you have to roll with the punches in college golf. Well, USC head coach Andrea Gaston got two of those this winter, when Trojan standouts Robynn Ree and Muni He left after the first semester to begin a professional golf career. USC only had five players in the fall (though they still managed to win two events), but Gaston brought in the back-ups. She added U.S. Girls’ Junior runner-up Jennifer Chang, Australian Gabriela Ruffels and New Zealander Amelia Garvey for the spring semester.

It was a slow start earlier this month at the Northrup Grumman Regional Challenge, relatively in USC’s backyard, as the Trojans finished 10th out of 18 teams, but this week looked considerably more promising. USC shaved 30 shots from its team score, counted career-best finishes from freshmen Jennifer Change (T-2) and Alyaa Abdulghany (T-6) and sophomore Allisen Corpuz (T-4) and wound up right behind Florida.

I’ll be watching closely when USC returns to action next week in the Bruin Wave Invitational.

There's value in women's #collegegolf

A local golf shop called Moon Golf in my part of the world sponsored a Division I women's college golf tournament this week together with the University of Louisville. The Moon Golf Invitational was significant because it speaks to the larger trend of tournament sponsorship, whether it's by a major corporation or a small business.

I wrote about it for Morning Read, and you can find the story here:

Moonshot: Retailer gears up as college host

#collegegolf Tweet of the week

If you've ever wondered what a college golf coach sounds like mic'd up (which I can't say that I had before coming across this Twitter post), then listen to Ole Miss assistant coach Drew Belt:

Tournament I'm watching

What: Bruin Wave Invitational

Where: San Luis Obispo (Calif.) CC

When: Feb. 26-27

Teams: UCLA, Pepperdine, USC, Washington, Cal Poly, California, New Mexico State, Fresno State, Hawaii, San Jose State, Stanford, Sacramento State, Colorado, San Jose State, San Francisco

Storyline: In this East Coast showdown, I'm obviously watching to see how USC performs, but also how UCLA and Stanford stack up.