Duke coach Dan Brooks wants team focused on process, not repeating as NCAA champions

Duke coach Dan Brooks wants team focused on process, not repeating as NCAA champions

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Duke coach Dan Brooks wants team focused on process, not repeating as NCAA champions

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What does it take to win a national championship?

There’s no better person to ask in the women’s college game than Duke coach Dan Brooks, who has led the program since 1984 and amassed seven national titles over the past 20 years. No coach in NCAA Division I women’s golf history has won more – 136 team victories to be exact.

But just as a professional’s career is judged by the majors, a coach’s success is defined by national titles. And in that arena, no one coaching today comes close to Brooks.

“I just think it takes a lot of toughness,” he said.

Earlier in his career Brooks focused more on being positive. That’s still the case at Duke. The 60-year-old wants negative comments to stick out funny, like they’re out of place.

But being positive isn’t enough. Especially now in this marathon of an NCAA final that includes four rounds of stroke play and three rounds of match play over six days. Last season in Arkansas the course was a brute, the weather a nuisance and the competition unusually fierce.

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“It’s so easy to let down,” said Brooks. “And as soon as you do that, you’re dead. I was most excited about my team because they all had a chance to give up. They all got down (in their matches).”

And they all dug deep. They proved themselves tough enough.

With four of the five starters returning and a couple of blue-chip freshmen who already have won a USGA title together on the roster, Duke is a heavy favorite to become the first to repeat since the format changed to match play in 2015.

“The team is going to be even more talented than our last team,” said Virginia Elena Carta, the lone graduate from the 2018-19 squad. “The numbers are there. It’s just a matter of them being able to work together.”

But don’t expect Brooks to write the word “repeat” on the chalkboard anytime soon.

“It’s very possible that I will never talk about that,” he said. “It’s useless. It doesn’t serve any purpose at all. I can’t think of a conversation that would be any less process-oriented, and we’re all about process.”

Freshmen Erica Shepherd and Megan Furtney own three USGA titles between them. Together the Midwestern friends won the 2019 U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball, and before that Shepherd claimed the 2017 U.S. Girls’ Junior in dramatic fashion, overcoming a controversial semifinal round that went viral for all the wrong reasons. After that, no one will ever question Shepherd’s toughness.

That being said, she was in tears when Duke won the title last May, sending along an emotional video to the team’s Snapchat group when it was over.

Shepherd’s inspiration for coming to Duke and winning the Girls’ Junior came from longtime family friend Leigh Anne Creavy (formerly Hardin), who won the 1998 Girls’ Junior before becoming a standout on a Duke squad that won the 2002 NCAA Championship. Shepherd’s middle name is even Leigh.

For the dream to officially become reality, however, Shepherd first has to make the lineup. Four starters returning plus two outstanding freshmen equals tough sledding.

“I’ve been thinking about that a lot actually,” Shepherd said. “I think I might throw up during qualifying.”

Brooks plans to field his starting lineup for their first tournament of the year – the ANNIKA Intercollegiate presented by 3M on Sept. 16-18 – the way he always does the first time out: 72-hole qualifier for five spots.

After that, Brooks said, don’t look for patterns. Trying to figure out what he’s going to do for each tournament is as useful as trying to predict the weather.

Besides, all competition helps.

“We score, sign and date every single card for the time you’re at Duke, because it all counts,” said Brooks. “It all counts all the time.”

When Gina Kim looks back on last year’s NCAA Championship, the first memory that springs to mind is the quarterfinal match that Carta conquered in 24 holes. Kim was so nervous she couldn’t even watch.

The sophomore from Chapel Hill, N.C., also thinks about her sensational shot from the fairway bunker that propelled Duke to the final.

“Sometimes I just wonder if I could ever do that again in that moment,” she said.

Brooks gives his players plenty of freedom in tournaments. Kim said the trust he has in the team goes a long way in boosting confidence.

What observers don’t see, of course, is the work done away from the cameras.

“If you saw me at the beginning of freshman year,” said Kim, “I literally lived and died by each round.”

Brooks taught her to “chill.”

“After coming to college,” Kim said, “I realize there’s a lot more things you can do in life.”

Junior Miranda Wang looked so calm and collected in the deciding match that went into overtime against Wake Forest that one would never guess that earlier in the season she struggled with finding a way to keep herself at peace on the golf course.

Brooks taught Wang to play percentage golf, to step off the roller coaster of emotions and enjoy the ride.

“I didn’t have any work to do there,” Brooks said of the 20th hole. “I had no work to do. She was doing all the talking. She was the one in the great place mentally. … I could’ve walked away.

That’s exactly how Brooks and assistant coach Jon Whithaus want their players to be: at ease on their own and in control.

After Jaravee Boonchant lost to both Stanford’s Andrea Lee and Haley Moore of Arizona, Brooks put her right back out against Wake Forest’s juggernaut, Jennifer Kupcho, in the final match. He believed she was tough enough to put those losses behind her. Boonchant beat the Augusta National star on the 19th hole.

“You just have to believe and believe and believe,” said Brooks. “That’s part of being tough. I just tell them it’s your job.”

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