As Courtney Trimble drove the team van back to the hotel after a disappointing day at the Alamo Invitational last fall, she asked her Louisville players a simple question: “What’s going on, you guys?”
The conversation that followed helped the second-year Cardinals coach begin to understand that her team underestimated itself. Louisville won twice to start the fall season, but the tougher the fields – such as at the Alamo, which featured Oklahoma, LSU and Arkansas – the harder they tried.
“They thought they had to do something different,” Trimble said.
Over the winter break, Trimble and assistant coach Mary Bryan showed their players how they stacked up statistically against every other team in the country. In nearly every category, the Cardinals were ranked top 25.
“From that point on,” Trimble said, “they’ve been playing with a different mentality.”
The new mindset will be put to the test May 8-10 at the pressure-packed NCAA East Regional in Tallahassee. No. 13-seeded Louisville will try to advance to the NCAA Championship for only the second time in program history. The Cardinals finished 10th in 2007. The top eight teams from each region will advance.
The Trimble-Bryan coaching tandem arrived in Louisville two years ago, and what they discovered was a hard-working bunch that needed direction.
Enter Bryan, a 67-year-old retired LPGA player who counts this five-year coaching stint alongside Trimble as the best thing she has done in golf.
That’s saying something considering that, in addition to her playing career, Bryan was involved in more than 300 national golf broadcasts on ESPN, CBS, NBC, ABC and Golf Channel. She also worked as a teaching instructor at Grand Cypress in Orlando, Fla.
“In golf, we all get a little selfish,” Bryan said. “And this is the perfect time to give back.”
When Trimble, a former Auburn All-American and assistant coach to Kim Evans, got the job as head coach at UCF in 2009, her boss recommended that she talk with Bryan about finding a good assistant. The two enjoyed a 2 1/2-hour lunch and, when it was over, Bryan said she’d be thinking of possible good candidates.
“Why don’t you do it?” Trimble asked.
Bryan replied, “I don’t do paperwork.”
They had a deal.
Together they began revitalizing the Knights program.
“When you’re building programs, you’re not going to get the best recruits,” Trimble said. “You have to help players get better. That’s what Mary does.”
Trimble, mother of 2-year-old Owen and wife to Billy, said for her, the decision to move to Louisville, Ky., came down to two things: 1) The move brought them closer to family; and 2) She could work for an athletic director who was willing to provide the necessary resources.
To her point, Trimble notes that when the university recently purchased The Cardinal Club in nearby Simpsonville, A.D. Tom Jurich said, “I bought this golf course for the golf team.”
“We’re advancing into the AAC (American Athletic Conference), and he wants us to have the best resources,” Trimble said. “I wanted to work for someone like that.”
As for Bryan’s decision to follow, well, it wasn’t difficult. Her family already lived in Louisville.
“It was like, pinch yourself,” said Bryan, who had a nephew recently law school at Louisville and another one earn his MBA.
Trimble and Bryan found their new team to be sponge-like in a desire to learn.
“We finally had to say to them, ‘Stop saying thank you,’ ” Bryan said. “We’re here to help.”
She uses their first tournament together in Colorado in the fall of 2012 as a good example. Bryan was offering insight to then-sophomore Emily Haas on the golf course and told Emily to speak up if she was being overloading with information.
“Mary,” Emily said, “you can’t tell me enough.”
Those open minds have yielded big improvements. Take, for example, Laura Restrepo, a sophomore from Panama who dropped 4.6 strokes off her scoring average from her freshman season to the end of last fall.
“She’s probably the most natural player I’ve ever coached,” said Trimble, who counts confidence on the greens as the difference-maker.
Katie Petrino, whose father Bobby is Louisville’s head football coach, is another player who amped up her game, dropping her scoring average nearly three strokes in the past year.
“She’s got a huge upside,” Bryan said. “Probably works harder than anybody in the country.”
Petrino, a decorated softball player, enrolled in the Gary Gilchrist Golf Academy for her senior year. In pointing out Petrino’s athletic prowess, Trimble notes that during her redshirt season on the golf team, Petrino was added by the Louisville softball coach to the pitching roster midseason to help fill in for injured players. The Cardinals softball team was ranked in the top 25 when Petrino pitched against Notre Dame.
For Trimble, the strong play of Petrino and Restrepo added much-needed depth at the top. Last season, Haas carried much of the load.
It was fitting then that at the AAC Championship last month, Haas drained a 10-foot birdie putt on the final hole as Louisville edged UCF by one stroke to capture the school’s fifth conference crown.
Bryan witnessed some incredible feats from the broadcast booth – Annika Sorenstam’s 59 and Juli Inkster qualifying for the LPGA Hall of Fame, to name a couple – but there’s nothing quite like watching college players whom she has mentored achieve success.
She likens it to the baseball manager looking on from the dugout as his team celebrates at home plate.
“I just want to stand there and look at them be happy,” Bryan said. “It just fills your heart.”