Sierra Brooks (FSGA photo)
ORLANDO, Fla. – The last time – the only time – Sierra Brooks played Augusta National, she was recovering from a career-threatening wrist injury. Augusta was her first round back from surgery in December 2016, and she played remarkably well, considering.
“It was incredible. It exceeded all my expectations,” said Brooks, who came by the opportunity during her freshman season on the Wake Forest women’s golf team. “Every golfer’s heaven, and even more so when you’re there.”
When Brooks makes her way back to Augusta, Ga., this spring for the inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur, she’ll be in a much different place, particularly in terms of injury. She hasn’t felt pain in her wrist for over a year, since before she got a fresh start in college golf by transferring from Wake Forest to the University of Florida, a school much closer to her Lake Mary, Fla., home.
“I went through a time when I never thought I was going to play without pain again,” Brooks said.
Now 20, Brooks is far past that point, and back on the right trajectory. College commitments are skewing ever younger, and Brooks made hers to Florida as an eighth grader. As she grew up – and found huge success in 2015 with a win at the Sally Amateur and a runner-up at the U.S. Women’s Amateur – she changed course. Brooks withdrew her Florida commitment to attend Wake Forest, completing the 2016-17 season there before finding her way back to her original path.
Between schools, Brooks gave LPGA Q-School a shot, but that’s tough competition when you’re not 100 percent physically. She didn’t make it through the first stage of qualifying.
Brooks is on board with the idea that everything happens for a reason. Much of the past three years have been a process, but that revealed a different kind of way to play the game. A year ago, after the surgery, she described the change in herself this way:
When I was young, I was aggressive. I only had one game, just hit it 100 percent and go from there. I’m seeing that the game can be played many ways. My whole life I’ve grown up and thought, ‘The more I practice the better I get.’ It’s definitely about the quality you put in versus the quantity. That quality is what got me to here.
will mean a public stage that Brooks and her women’s amateur cohorts have never felt before. The announcement of the ANWA was the biggest revelation in golf in 2018. To play it will be something totally different.
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Brooks remembers the disbelief she felt when, huddled with her Florida teammates that Wednesday of Masters week, she heard the announcement. She was “like in the 30s or 40s” in the World Amateur Golf Ranking that week (she's now No. 18), but suddenly every tournament became an opportunity to secure something bigger.
When the invitations were mailed earlier this month, Brooks watched teammate (and roommate) Marta Perez open hers and panicked when hers didn’t arrive soon after. Alas, it was mailed to her home address, so Brooks sent her parents to the mailbox.
“I had my dad video opening it and everything,” she said.
During the PGA Merchandise Show, Brooks made an appearance on Golf Channel’s Morning Drive to talk about being in the field. Being a face for the event – and for this sector of the sport – suits her. While she was injured, Brooks also created a personal blog to track her progress. As coursework picked up at Florida, her posts became less frequent, even though she says there are several incomplete drafts saved on her computer. Brooks is majoring in communication.
“I really do want to get back to it,” she said. “It was pretty neat having kids reach out. To inspire others is really what I want to do.”
With the Augusta event on the calendar, Brooks’ spring season is packed. Florida plays four times before the ANWA, and in the in-between times, expect Brooks to be sharpening all the pieces of her game at Mark Bostick Golf Course. It’s the Gators’ home facility, and one that features tiny, turtle-backed greens and frequent demands in shot-making.
“I think it’s one of the best courses to prepare for other tournaments,” Brooks said. “… Being able to shape shots and be an artist out there, I think is good for any course you go to.”
Even the one everyone dreams of going to.
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ANA AMATEUR FIELD COMING SOON:
The ANA Inspiration, the first major on the LPGA schedule, has shown a real commitment to growing the amateur game through the years. A handful of spots are traditionally reserved for the top female amateurs in the game.
Expect several of the names not on the Augusta National Women’s Amateur confirmed entry list to be on the ANA list of amateur invites when it is revealed later this week. ANA Inspiration tournament director Chris Garrett said ANA organizers will still focus on their commitment to growing the amateur game by reserving spots in their field.
“We’ve got a pretty strong field of players as it relates to the World Amateur Golf Ranking,” Garrett said by phone last week.
It’s a tough choice that amateurs face, but sometimes a good choice to have.
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TOURNAMENTS TO WATCH:
Jones Cup, Feb. 1-3, Ocean Forest Golf Club, St. Simons Island, Ga.
Easily the strongest men’s amateur field of the winter season. On a Walker Cup year, this would be an especially good time to make an impression. Garrett Barber is back to defend his 2018 title, and other notables include U.S. Mid-Amateur champion Kevin O’Connell, Wake Forest standout John Augenstein, Latin America Amateur runner-up Luis Gagne and top-ranked junior Akshay Bhatia.
Arizona Intercollegiate, Jan. 28-29, Sewailo Golf Club, Tucson, Ariz.
Seems hard to believe that the spring college season is already here, but with the Arizona Intercollegiate, it begins. There are four programs inside the top-50 in the Golfweek
/Sagarin College Rankings in the field.
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QUOTE OF THE WEEK
: SIBLING RIVALRY AT THE HIGHEST LEVEL
Latin America Amateur winner Alvaro Ortiz
on trying to earn a Masters invitation before his brother Carlos, a PGA Tour player: “He knows he’s like my role model. If I can make it to the Masters before him, that would be huge.”
Alas, Alvaro accomplished that with his LAAC win – his first in five tries at the event.
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STAT OF THE WEEK
: Hard to believe that when Ingrid Lindblad won the Annika Invitational
on Jan. 21, she became the first Swedish-born player to do it in the 10-year history of the event. Tournament namesake Annika Sorenstam, of course, hails from Sweden, too.
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TWEET OF THE WEEK:
TO BE A FLY ON THE WALL IN THE TEAM VAN