Andrea Gaston move from USC to Texas A&M steeped in opportunity

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Andrea Gaston move from USC to Texas A&M steeped in opportunity

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Andrea Gaston move from USC to Texas A&M steeped in opportunity

Cowboy boots were never part of Andrea Gaston’s long-term vision. SoCal roots run deep with her. Dreamy weather, traffic congestion and contending for national titles were part of the routine at Southern Cal, where Gaston has 13 consecutive top-5 finishes at the NCAA finals, the longest active streak in the country by nine years.

Coming off a year in which Gaston was named Golfweek’s Women’s Coach of the Year for scrambling together a group of underclassmen midseason and guiding them to the semifinals at NCAAs, the veteran coach shocked the country by doing something almost unheard of for successful coaches at elite programs – she left.

What in the world sent Gaston from the bright lights of the big city to Aggieland?

Personal growth.

“There’s no comfort in growth and there’s no growth in comfort,” Gaston said. “I think that’s what kept coming to me.”

‘They rolled out the red carpet for me’

Gaston was at the U.S. Women’s Open in Shoal Creek, Ala., when Texas A&M first called. Athletic director Scott Woodward had already reeled in Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher to College Station, but a top football coach wasn’t enough to satisfy. He wanted a top-of-the-line coach for women’s golf, too.

“They rolled out the red carpet for me,” Gaston said.

Texas A&M failed to advance to the NCAA Championship as a team for a third straight season in 2018 and ended the year ranked 39th. Gaston replaced Trelle McCombs, who had been at the helm in College Station since 2007.

A former San Jose State player, Gaston spent 14 years in the business world before coming back to golf. She was competing on what’s now known as the Symetra Tour in 1996 when she switched gears once more to the coaching ranks, taking over a Trojan program that wasn’t far from where A&M is now.

“You can turn a team around with even one player,” noted Gaston, who remembers her first recruiting trip to the Junior World Championships in San Diego like it was yesterday. Her first big recruit was Nicole Castrale (then Dalkas), followed by Jennifer Rosales, who won the NCAA individual title in 1998.

In 22 years at USC, Gaston led the Trojans to three team NCAA Championship titles (2003, 2008 and 2013) and five individual crowns. If Gaston’s teams weren’t winning, they came painfully close. The Trojans finished second by a shot in 2010 and 2012 and two strokes in 2014. Since the NCAAs switched formats to match play in 2015, USC is one of the only two teams to advance to the semifinals each year.

Move was a time-saver

Gaston lost her father in 2016 after his long bout with dementia. Caring for him was a top priority but exhausting. The next year she was diagnosed with uterine cancer, which she beat. Those battles changed Gaston, and while saying goodbye to a young and talented USC team has been the most difficult part of this process, the faithful Gaston felt like change was in order. Her prayers confirmed it.

The move to Texas cut 10 to 15 hours of drive time from Gaston’s weekly commute. Life is slower in College Station.

“The people are so friendly,” she said. “You’ve got time.”

Getting the A&M name back out there, particularly internationally, is a top priority for Gaston, who recently returned from recruiting at the Girls British Amateur in Ireland. A coach’s reputation for winning translates universally.

“There are experiences in winning you don’t get unless you’re there,” Arkansas coach Shauna Estes-Taylor said.

And Gaston has been there time and time again. What does she have left to prove?

That she could do it someplace else. Gwk

(Note: This story appears in the September 2018 issue of Golfweek.)

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