U.S. WOMEN'S AMATEUR
2015 Runner-Up Brooks Getting a Fresh Start at Florida, Golf & Life
August 6, 2018 | Kingston Springs, Tenn.
By Bill Fields
As Sierra Brooks embarks on her junior year at the University of Florida later this month, the journalism major is excited to have a backup career plan if her childhood dream of playing professional golf doesn’t pan out.
In addition to the course work on campus in Gainesville, Fla., a two-hour drive north on I-75 from her hometown of Lake Mary, the 20-year-old has been studying something else: herself.
Runner-up to Hannah O’Sullivan in the 2015 U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship at Portland (Ore.) Golf Club, Brooks comes into this week’s championship at The Golf Club of Tennessee with the knowledge that an unanticipated detour isn’t the worst thing in the world.
Coming out of high school, Brooks was one of those highly decorated junior golfers who seem to typify the 21st-century trend of immersing themselves in the game and imagining a road toward their goals as straight as the shots they can hit.
Journeys, like golf courses, often turn out to include doglegs that have to be negotiated.
Looking back on the championship she nearly won as a teenager, Brooks is Exhibit A of someone who has had negotiate a few unexpected hazards.
“A whole lot has happened in those three years,” Brooks said. “More than anything, I’ve learned a lot about myself and my golf game and what’s best for me. In terms of practicing, balancing life and working out, I’ve become a lot smarter in those areas and figured out what works for me.”
Brooks’ fast track – when she was only 13 she verbally committed to attend Florida – didn’t go as planned. A member of the 2016 USA Curtis Cup Team, Brooks changed her mind and decided to enroll at Wake Forest University. But her freshman year in Winston-Salem, N.C., was plagued by problems with her left wrist, which required arthroscopic surgery to “clean up” the joint in December 2016. The physical woes only added to the pressure Brooks, who was inside the top 15 of the World Amateur Golf Ranking™ at the time, felt to succeed.
An operation didn’t eliminate the pain, which worsened and eventually kept Brooks away from competition for 15 months.
“The surgery didn’t fix it,” Brooks said. “The doctor said I could play spring season. I tried to get ready for tournaments and it kept flaring up. It was the same pain. And he had no idea why. It turned out I was weak in certain areas of my body. I was relentless, and I would pound ball after ball working on the wrong things. My wrist took the toll. I always thought that staying out practicing as long as I could would make me a better golfer. But it’s not about that – it’s about putting the quality work in.”
Brooks got smarter and stronger through workouts with trainer Randall Hunt.
“I was going to the gym sometimes twice a day, every day, working to strengthen the weak areas of my body so my wrists weren’t compensating, and it worked great,” Brooks said. “It was a lot of work on my shoulders, trunk, legs, glutes, core.”
She has been pain free since last fall.
“It’s amazing,” Brooks said, “because there was a time when I thought I was never going to be able to play again without all that pain.”
When a scholarship opened up at Florida, women’s golf coach Emily Glaser – a former USA Curtis Cup competitor herself (2002) – offered it to Brooks, who arrived in January of this year after deciding to put her pro plans on hold. She won two of her first three starts (Florida Challenge, Allstate Sugar Bowl) while feeling like she was where she was meant to be.
“I love my team; we’re like one big family,” said Brooks, whose teammates Addison Baggarly and Lauren Waidner are also in the field this week. “I really feel like I’m home and can keep growing my game there. The girls on the team are really competitive, but we’re really close as well. It’s a great fit.”
Once as high as fifth in the WAGR, Brooks is currently No. 53 after plunging out of the top 100.
A good week in Tennessee would improve her ranking, but Brooks is not as single-minded as she used to be. The physical setbacks provided perspective that life, like golf, can change quickly.
“Working toward a degree and having a focus, not just on golf but on school and social life, has been good,” she said. “And it’s also been good for my game. There aren’t any guarantees in this sport. You’ve got to figure out what makes you happy, and you have to have other things in your life besides golf.”
Bill Fields is a Connecticut-based freelance writer who frequently contributes to USGA websites.