Editor’s note: This story originally ran in the Feb. 15 issue of Golfweek.
Sorrento, Fla. – Three shelves in the playroom of Sierra Brooks’ home northwest of Orlando overflow with trophies. Brooks, 17, a high school senior who is headed to Wake Forest in the fall, has collected upward of 100, but who’s counting?
“She loves winning a trophy,” said her father, Brent. “In the beginning, it was all about the trophy.”
Brooks, No. 5 in the Golfweek Junior Rankings, almost got to hoist the coveted U.S. Women’s Amateur trophy last summer but lost to Hannah O’Sullivan in the final match. Brooks likely will represent the U.S. in the Curtis Cup in June. She has been an early bloomer since debuting in high school matches as a fifth-grader.
“I remember watching video of her at age 9 and thinking, I have the next Paula Creamer on my hands,” her father said. “I look back on it now and I laugh because I thought my kid was ‘it,’ and the video shows there was so much room for improvement.”
Instructor Kevin Smeltz, a co-captain on North Florida’s team with Brooks, deserves most of the credit for the foundation of Sierra Brooks’ golf swing. But when Smeltz relocated for work last year, Brent Brooks, a former mini-tour player, took the reins of keeping his daughter’s swing in check.
“I’m from the old school. We try not to get too technical or use video,” he said. “I keep it simple and mostly try to stay out of her way because she’s a workaholic. Getting her to take a break is the harder thing. Usually I have to pull her back from golf a bit.”
The Player: Sierra Brooks
Accomplishments: Won 2010 U.S. Kids World Championship at age 12; runner-up in 2015 U.S. Women’s Amateur; won 2014 AJGA Polo Golf Junior Classic; won 2014 Florida State High School 1A Championship (individual and team); won 2015 TaylorMade-Adidas Golf Junior at Innisbrook; won 2015 South Atlantic Women’s Amateur; won 2015 Women’s Southern Amateur; member of 2014 U.S. Junior Ryder Cup team; member of 2015 U.S. Ping Junior Solheim Cup team; first-team Rolex Junior All-American; No. 5 in Women’s Amateur Golf Rankings; Wake Forest signee.
The teacher: Brent Brooks
HIT THE MITT
Distance control with wedges
Brooks learned the drill from watching LPGA veteran Laura Diaz pitch shots to her husband, Kevin, an assistant women’s coach at Wake Forest, who caught them with a towel. Brooks’ father prefers to use a baseball glove. She works on flighting her wedges and pinpoint accuracy from 40 to 80 yards by taking aim at dad.
“This one is coming in hot,” she warned before taking a swipe.
Her dad, who says it adds a little fun to wedge work, stands on the range with his baseball glove and provides a target.
“She likes to make me dance,” he said.
On one shot headed his way, he took one step back, but it slipped through his grasp.
“C’mon, dad. You’ve got to catch it,” she said.
Keeping the swing connected
Brent Brooks figures he has bought every golf gadget imaginable for his daughter.
“I think they ended up being more fun for me than for her,” he said. “After a while, she’d be like, Get that out of there. I know what I’m doing. Most of these toys that I bought to try to make it fun just collect dust in my garage.”
But a couple of them have proved useful, including the Swingyde training aid (top, right), which attaches to the club shaft.
At the top of the swing, Brooks feels the cradle of the Swingyde on her left forearm. She has a tendency to close the face at the top, and the aid ensures the correct position to make a good downswing.
“It helps keep the angle,” she said.
Brooks also tends to let her grip become too strong. Smeltz gave her the SKLZ Smart Glove (inset) as an aid to neutralize her left hand and promote square impact and the proper feel for wrist hinge and release.
The palm of the glove on her left hand features a black outline as a grip-alignment aid, and a removable bar in the back of the glove sets the grip in the correct position through the backswing and release.
“I can’t have a strong grip when I put this on, even if I try,” Brooks said. “It takes my left hand out of the equation and is another tool to help me use the right side of my body.”
She also tucks a hybrid club cover under her right armpit to stay more connected. If it drops to the ground, she knows her swing is laid off. “It provides instant feedback,” she said, if her swing gets “too armsy.” Keeping the head cover in place throughout the shot grooves the sensation of continuing to rotate through the shot and keeps the arms passive.
Getting weight to the right side
The step drill is designed to load the right side and counter a habit of staying on her left side. Brooks will lift her left leg off the ground during transition and step to the right on her backswing (picture No. 2, right).
Sometimes she gets hung up on her left side and won’t get fully loaded, or she’ll transition too quickly to her left side,” her father said. “The result is she’ll spin out and push or sometimes pull it.”
Brooks uses this drill in her warmup but also incorporates it into her pre-shot routine from time to time, including during last summer’s U.S. Women’s Amateur.
Stick it close to learn green speed
Brooks always putts to a tee before a tournament round. “I think it sharpens my focus,” she said.
One of her go-to drills on a new course is to calibrate the green speed. To do so, she places an alignment stick about 18 inches behind a hole. Putting from 30 feet, she will focus on lagging the ball to the hole rather than making the putt (far left). Each putt must reach the front of the lip or stop short of the stick (inset, left). She earns one point for doing so and two points for making a putt. The goal is to get to 10 points, but if she hits one putt short of the mark or that jumps over or rolls past the stick (it can touch, but can’t go over it), she has to start over.