Dan Brooks reflects on 30 years at Duke
The name Dan Brooks and Duke women's golf have become nearly synonymous over the past 30 years.
During that stretch, all of which he has spent at Duke, Brooks has amassed 116 team victories, 17 ACC championships and five NCAA national championships.
He deflects the importance of his 30th anniversary at the Durham, N.C., school, but one thing he cannot deny is the success of the Blue Devils this season. This spring, Duke, No. 3 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings, has notched a runner-up finish at the Northrop Grumman Regional Challenge and a victory at the Darius Rucker Intercollegiate, two of the nation's top tournaments.
Brooks spoke with Golfweek about what he has seen over the years and what his team has in store this season.
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30 years. What does this anniversary mean to you?
"It blows my mind when I think about the fact that I've done this for 30 years. It just means I'm old. That's part of it, but it's been quite an adventure doing this. I've made a lifetime career out of it, and every year has been different. The personalities change, and that changes the entire year. No two years have even been similar to each other. That keeps it exciting."
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How have you grown as a coach?
"I was 25 when I started and had a 10-person team. When I first started, I was always wanting to be the nice guy, a bit of a friend. I guess, as I've evolved, it's making sure they get the structure they need. ... Where I've made my greatest gains over time is that I've become a better and better teacher of technique and of the game. That's just something that you need to spend time doing. You learn to communicate better, and you learn a better and better understanding of the golf swing. The important thing about that for a golf coach is that our feet are held to the fire. If I give someone instruction and they're heading to a tournament or qualifier, I'd better have given them the correct information, and I'm going to be held accountable to that. That's the part that drives me more than anything: the teaching aspect and becoming more and more useful to my players."
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What's been the difference between a really good team and a national-championship team?
"There's definitely an intangible there. There's a will to win and there's a desire really down deep in the players. It's no surprise that the hardest workers on my teams have been my best players. That is absolutely the truth. So it's just burning desire. It hasn't always been an incredible will to win but an incredible will to be better and better and better. There's got to be something inside that's burning."
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How does this year's team look on that scale?
"We have a really united team. We have a team that really cares about each other. They're having a lot of fun, they really enjoy this process of being on a team and they're talented. It's hard to compare with so many years we've gone through, but this team is a lot like we had in 2002 when everyone was very united and excited to be a part of this."
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How was the team's play in its first two tournaments this spring?
"What's been great is we came out of such a tough winter. That's the desire part of it. You can get a lot of good, solid practice out of bad winter days if you want it bad enough. You can figure out a way to get some quality time out there. You're going to be cold, but you're trying to get your mind ready to play, and what better way to get your mind ready to play than in adverse conditions? So, in an ironic sense, if the conditions are bad, you may be preparing yourself better than if it was perfect, as long as you made a decision to make yourself better."
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What are the things you remember most looking at the past 30 years?
"It's definitely the great people I've been able to be around. Team members, people around my department. There's a lot of people at Duke that have been there as long as I have. We've been this big, happy family for a long time. We've seen them continue to bring in great people."
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How has the college golf landscape changed over the course of your career?
"The number of players that have a really good short game has increased dramatically since I've started. That, to me, is the greatest change. Even on top of that, the overall technique. There used to be some wildly different swings out there. Now, you're seeing more and more swings that are conventional, powerful, simple and just better."
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What does Duke mean to you and your family?
"Duke is just a wonderful school. We have a great facility. I always told myself that if I was going to stay in this business, it will continue to be at Duke. Because why would I leave? I'm not going to find anything better than this."
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How do you treat the coming weeks with the team coming off of spring break and a tournament coming up on March 28?
"I've always tried really hard to make sure they're able to step away from the game and each other, actually, at intervals throughout the season, because I think it's important that you keep the excitement about the game there and you keep them excited about each other. So I'm always cognizant of that and making sure we get as much other life in their life as possible. You can't eat, sleep and drink golf. It gets stale. And you don't want to get stale, especially toward the end of the season."