SUGAR GROVE, Ill. – Alabama coach Jay Seawell was recruiting at the Future Masters in Dothan, Ala., when someone suggested he go watch this kid from Mississippi. Seawell took a look at 11-year-old Braden Thornberry, noted the uniqueness of his golf swing and thought “that probably won’t last.”
“Boy were a lot of people wrong,” said Seawell. “He’s the real deal.”
Thornberry became the first Ole Miss player in program history to win the NCAA Championship on May 29, topping the field by four strokes at Rich Harvest Farms. He took a look at the windy forecast and smiled: his kind of fight.
Thornberry’s deft touch around the greens helped him record one of only four rounds under par. He closed with a 1-under 71 and 11-under 277 total. Arkansas freshman Mason Overstreet (71) finished solo second at 7 under while Vanderbilt’s Matthias Schwab (75) and Theo Humphrey (70), along with Texas’ Scottie Scheffler (78), tied for third.
Thornberry’s road to the NCAA title actually started on a dirt bike. He raced them as a kid until he broke a leg and an arm in the span of one year. Mom said no more after that, and in 2008, Thornberry turned his focus to golf.
It was Les Thornberry who got his son started around age 10. Les said his son has had maybe one golf lesson his entire life. That beautiful short game – all natural.
“Don’t know where he got it,” said Les, wiping a tear from his eye.
Braden noted that dad gave him the “little loop move” in his swing to keep him from coming over the top. He liked the feel of it.
Over the years people have tried to change Thornberry’s swing; told him he’d never be good enough if he didn’t have “the perfect swing.”
Thornberry stuck to his guns, and learned to own it.
“My good days I hit it so good,” he said, “I really just don’t want to mess around with it. If I can just get it more consistent, just on a day-to-day basis, that’s really what I want to stick with.”
The consistency showed up in a big way this season with Thornberry winning five times and carrying a national-best 69.57 scoring average.
Ole Miss assistant coach Kyle Ellis said they’ve preached patience to the sometimes overly-aggressive Thornberry. Patience – and confidence – took him to the next level.
Ellis calls Thornberry the best putter in the country. Anything inside 10 feet, if it matters, is likely going in.
Teammates marvel at the fact that he doesn’t rely on training aids or drills. Thornberry, a quick player, likes to keep the game fun, turning most of his short-game practice into a contest.
“He just goes around and hits a bunch of crazy shots,” said redshirt sophomore Josh Seiple, who said they sometimes play a game of “21” hitting shots from the trees. By all accounts, the hard-working Thornberry brings his best to every practice, but keeps it loose.
“You get a blueprint every single day of what an All-American is,” said Seiple, “and what the best player in the country looks like.”
Added freshman Brody Blackmon: “He’s just the chillest dude ever.”
When Chris Malloy took the job at his alma mater three years ago, he heard plenty of folks say they had to go somewhere else to win a national championship or get on the PGA Tour.
Once again, Thornberry proved critics wrong. He helped Ole Miss advance to the NCAA Championship as a team for the first time since 2001, and then solidified his place among the game’s elite.
“I think the only thing he’s ever struggled with since he’s been here is realizing that he belongs,” said Malloy, “and he’s proven that.”