Ole Miss' Braden Thornberry proves himself again with Jones Cup victory

Ole Miss' Braden Thornberry proves himself again with Jones Cup victory

College

Ole Miss' Braden Thornberry proves himself again with Jones Cup victory

SEA ISLAND, Ga. – Ole Miss head coach Chris Malloy calls Braden Thornberry one of the nicest and most humble players he’s ever coached.

A true ambassador of this gentleman’s game, Thornberry may have in the past been a little too nice, guilty on occasion of thinking a little too highly of his peers. In fact, Thornberry admired players like Sam Burns and Sam Horsfield more than himself at times.

“I don’t think he thought he was as good as they were,” Malloy said. “He almost put them up on a pedestal.”

So Malloy challenged Thornberry last spring at the SEC Championship.

“I said, ‘Hey, why don’t we just get this out of the way and go get (Horsfield’s) autograph since you think he’s great?’ ” Malloy said. “And I think that’s when it hit him, and he said, ‘Yeah, you’re probably right.’ I said, ‘Do you want to get his autograph or do you want to beat him?’

“And it started to click from there because I kept telling him, ‘You’re as good as that guy. You’re better than that guy. You’re as good as anyone out there. And you have to have that mentality.’ ”

Less than a year later, Thornberry has that killer instinct. He believes he’s as good as anyone – and he proved it this week at Ocean Forest Golf Club.

Thornberry captured the Jones Cup Invitational, one of the country’s top amateur events, in impressive fashion, leading wire-to-wire and finishing as the only player under par – his 4-under 212 the product of rounds of 67-72-73.

“I put my game right up there at the top with anyone,” said Thornberry, who started the day with a six-shot lead over Vanderbilt’s Matthias Schwab, the world’s fifth-ranked amateur, before outplaying the skilled Austrian and everyone else near the top of the leaderboard.

In truth, everyone else was essentially playing for second place on Sunday.

“The thing that I really love about him is if the guy has an eight-stroke lead he’s trying to make it 14,” Malloy said.

Despite playing the most confident golf of his career these last five months or so, Thornberry admitted he had trouble sleeping Saturday night.

“I’m not going to lie, that was the most nervous I’ve been going into a (final round),” he said. “I’ve been leading going into a lot of tournaments but it was almost more nerve-racking having a six-shot lead than it would be like a one or two.”

Thornberry said he knew he couldn’t be too conservative during the final 18 holes. He struggled with that for brief moments on Sunday – playing away from the water at the par-3 ninth and making bogey, or trying to avoid the waste area right at the par-3 17th and instead finding the left hazard, making double.

But for the majority of his final round, Thornberry stayed aggressive. He birdied two of his first three holes, hit a lot of drivers, including on the dangerous par-4 opening hole, and when he did miss on shots, his stellar short game bailed him out – his up-and-down par on the par-3 fifth hole after blocking his tee shot way right was a highlight.

“Anyone’s game revolves around confidence,” Malloy said, “but man, that guy gets a couple of putts to fall and he really knows how to capitalize and keep it going.”

As a junior, there were some critics who questioned Thornberry’s swing. Malloy always answered those critics with this: “You can question his swing but you’re not going to question him signing a scorecard. He always seems to get it done.”

And boy did he get the job done at Ocean Forest. The victory puts Thornberry right in the middle of the Walker Cup discussion. U.S. captain John “Spider” Miller said he liked what he saw from the Ole Miss sophomore, who won three times during the fall, led all NCAA Division I golfers in scoring average (68.87) and is ranked 13th by Golfweek.

“It’d be an honor to play on that team for sure,” Thornberry said.

A year ago, the Walker Cup may have seemed like a distant goal. At last year’s Jones Cup, Thornberry got in as an alternate, didn’t get to play a practice round because of rain and tied for 77th, 24 shots back of winner Beau Hossler.

“I was more prepared this year,” Thornberry said.

More prepared and more confident. What a difference a year makes. He’s still the fun-loving kid from Olive Branch, Miss., but long gone are the days of Thornberry being star-struck by other talented players.

Maybe now some of his peers will want his autograph.

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