Conversations with Sierra Brooks are always pleasant. She has a smile for everyone and an honest take. Now more than ever, the honesty is what's so refreshing.
In the past year, Brooks charted the uncertain waters of a game-halting injury while in her first year of college golf at Wake Forest. In the process of rehabbing her wrist and trying to maintain her game, Brooks had to question a lot of previous givens -- that golf would always be there, that Wake Forest was the right school for her and that the LPGA was just on the other side. In the process, she blossomed into a more patient and appreciative player and added layers to her life outside of golf. She started her own blog, which she used September 12 to break the news that she'll joining the University of Florida roster in the spring, and remains determined to return to full health before charting that new course.
I caught up with Brooks following that announcement to talk blogging, patience and the world of amateur golf:
You’ve been blogging for roughly three months now. What was the inspiration for that project and how do you like it so far?
So far I love it. It’s neat to see -- I’ve had a few people reach out to me, junior golfers, and tell me how my advice has helped them. That’s kind of why I made it in the first place, just to be able to – I feel like I’ve gone through a lot of ups and downs with my golf journey and I’ve lived through a lot of golf experiences. I just felt like making it to tell other people the dos and don’ts and what I’ve gone through with amateur golf -- give them a good look at what they should or shouldn’t do. It’s geared toward a younger crowd who is maybe an aspiring golfer. Just because with my injury, and not being able to play, I just wanted to keep in touch with the golf world in some way.
The golf world is a good group, and it’s funny how you miss it if you’re not in it!
It’s such a small group and it’s crazy when you’re not in it. For me, it was kind of all I’ve known my whole life. To be out of it, it’s like, “What do I do?”
The biggest news you’ve had recently is that you’re headed back to college golf. You were on a track to play for Florida as a junior golfer, changed routes and did a year at Wake Forest, and now you’re headed back to Florida in the spring. What put you back on that original course?
I made that commitment to Florida when I had just gotten out of eighth grade. I was 13, maybe even younger, just a really young age and I was too immature to make a decision like that. A few years later, my outlook started to change a little bit and I just wanted, for my own peace of mind, to give another look at other colleges just to make sure for myself that I was going to the right place. I think everything happens for a reason and I’m really excited to be (headed back to Florida) now. It’s close to home -- that was the thing with Wake, one of the reasons why it didn’t work out for me. But Florida, from what I’ve seen, seems like a perfect fit for me.
You might have been in a very different place right now if you had gone into the first stage of LPGA Q-School healthy and had advanced. How did you make the decision to play that tournament – given that you weren’t at 100 percent – and what was your thought process after missing the cut for second stage?
I knew going into it that my wrist-- I was going to be happy with the week if I could go away pain-free. But, you know, I obviously wanted to make it and now that I didn’t, it was a little bit disappointing. It did change things a little bit for me but going into it, I had previously talked to Florida so that was kind of in the back of my mind that maybe I could have a Plan B to go play college golf if I didn’t make it there. It was nice to have that to fall back on. I just said to myself, “I really want to make it but if not, either option is a good option.” The hardest thing was being out of competition for such a long time and going back to it, you just forget those feelings and what it’s like playing under the gun. It can be fine and great at practice but those feelings of pressure (in a tournament) are a lot different.
It sounds like you are close -- after nearly a year of rehab and patience -- to overcoming this wrist injury. Can you pinpoint the origin of the injury and describe its effect on you for the past year?
It all happened at the first tournament (last season at Wake Forest). I don’t know, there wasn’t a specific event. All I remember is being in the bus heading to our first event of the fall and my wrist was throbbing. I’d never had that before. Over the summer, I was dealing with tendonitis in my elbow. I played that tournament and I made it through…I came back and they’re like, “We’re going to give you a cortisone shot to mask the pain.” They thought my wrist was taking a beating because my elbow wasn’t able to support it. That also had tendonitis. I didn’t really know what a cortisone shot was at that time, but I’d never had an injury. I was like, “Whatever makes it better.” At the end of the season, it flared back up once that cortisone shot wears down. And then I had surgery in December.
What’s the hardest part of having an injury like that when you’re at a really exciting transition point in your career?
I think the hardest part was having to take a step back and not being able to prepare and practice and kind of seeing everybody else getting better and improving and playing. I guess I took it for granted what being able to play without pain was like. I definitely took it for granted. I never wanted to take time off before and actually the most I’d ever taken off was two weeks in my whole life playing golf. All of a sudden it was months. It was hard because I’m just a competitor and seeing everybody else around me doing what they love and I had to take a back seat. Definitely the hardest part was mentally. I had to find other ways that I could get better off the golf course.
My sense from reading the blog describing your rehab is that you’ve fully committed to doing whatever it takes to get that wrist back to 100 percent. Are you normally this patient and disciplined when you’re injured?
What happened was in the spring season, I was ready to go and the doctor cleared me pretty quickly from the surgery and I was wanting to get back out and practice. It’s so hard, they say day one, putt and chip. I have a week before I can even hit the 8-iron. You’re itching to get back to playing normal, 100 percent like I had before. Doing that, I was preparing for events. According to the doctor, I could play the spring season. He told me after surgery OK, all is good, you could be able to play spring so that’s my mindset going into it, I was going to be OK for every event. I would tell the coaches that. A couple days before, I would start hitting balls, my ball count would go up and I would get hurt.
For those of us who haven’t seen much of you in the past year to 18 months, what’s the biggest change in you as a golfer and a person, having had some of these good and bad experiences post-high school?
I think a lot my perspective has changed on golf a lot. Before it’s been what I’m all about and now I’ve definitely had to figure out that I’m just not all golf, I do other things, too. Just figuring that part of it out. I feel a little bit wiser on the golf course because I’ve had to take that back seat and I’ve been watching other girls play and watching TV and the LPGA and PGA and kind of seeing how people play their games. When I was young, I was aggressive. I only had one game, just hit it 100 percent and go from there. I’m seeing the game in a way that can be played many ways. My whole life I’ve grown up and thought, “The more I practice the better I get.” It’s definitely about the quality you put in versus the quantity. That quality is what got me to here.
You’ll be arriving in Gainesville in January, but what happens until then? Do you have any tournaments lined up or even a desire to play any until then? Are you taking any classes?
I definitely want to play. It’s just kind of hard because not being a junior and not being a collegiate athlete yet, what can I play in? This is the offseason for amateur golf. There’s a tournament (Orlando International Amateur) in December. I’m taking online classes right now, keeping busy with that and just main focus is on getting my wrist 100 percent and getting to be able to practice 100 percent. I’m really close. I’m hoping by January I’ll be running on full cylinders.