By Kurt Dusterberg
It has been quite a summer for Emily Brooks.
A rising junior at Elon, Brooks first qualified for the U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links Championship, then turned around and earned a spot in the U.S. Women’s Amateur.
Not so long ago Brooks didn’t have the confidence to find her way into elite tournament fields. That’s when her coach, Robert Linville, stepped in with a little advice.
“He sat me down at the end of last year and said, ‘Look Emily, you can’t go out and play like you’re scared,”’ Brooks said. “That’s helped me this summer. I haven’t played with so much fear. I try to take it one shot at a time.”
Linville ended up refocusing her thought process.
“Emily struggled with her confidence in tournaments, so the fear that she may make a mistake would override her talent and ability,” said Linville, who operates Precision Golf School in Greensboro. “We worked hard on her mental routine and focusing on letting go and accepting the outcome. It becomes a matter of trusting your ability and your mechanics.”
In the past, Brooks dealt with a hook that would creep into her game. Sometimes it would mess with her head and interfere with her best intentions on the course.
“I would go to a course and play a practice round, and I would see the holes and think ‘Don’t hook it here,”’ she says. “I wasn’t showing up at the tournaments believing I could win. I had put in all the work; I just had to trust myself.”
It didn’t take long for her newly discovered confidence to pay dividends.
“I showed up at the Public Links for the qualifier, and I said, ‘I can qualify for this? These guys are good, but they’re no better than I am.”’
By the time Brooks traveled to the tournament, she was on a roll. She had already qualified for the Women’s Amateur too, shooting a 72 at Sapona Ridge Country Club in Lexington, N.C.
Brooks missed the cut at the Public Links, shooting 78-73 in Dupont, Wash., in July. But her second round was a reflection of what she had discussed with Linville. After starting out 3-over after two holes, she settled in and played with confidence.
“The second day I played pretty well and made some birdies down the stretch,” she said, noting that Mount Rainier served as a backdrop to the course. “I felt pretty good about it. The course was pretty tricky. The greens were really firm, so it was hard to hold them. But overall it was a really fun experience.”
There was a time when golf was anything but fun for Brooks. Her sport was soccer.
“I always hated golf,” she said. “I couldn’t stand it. I thought it was boring.”
Then she attended a Wake Forest women’s golf camp in 7th grade. Slowly, her icy view of the game began to thaw — at least a little bit.
“I was still on the fence,” she said, before breaking into a laugh. “I really liked the outfits that the girls wore at the Wake camp. I told my dad, ‘If you get me some outfits I’ll play.’ He always wanted me to play golf.”0
Brooks played her first tournament in the spring of 8th grade, but even then, she continued with soccer, playing on the Pittsboro Northwood High School varsity team as a freshman and sophomore before turning to golf full time.
“I always figured I wanted to play soccer in college,” said Brooks, who lives in Chapel Hill. “But I knew there was so much more opportunity in women’s golf.”
She’s been right so far, having played in every tournament her first two years at Elon. Her best finish as a sophomore was a tie for eighth in a field of 93 players at the JMU/Eagle Landing Invitational in March. In the first round, she carded a 69, her best round of the season.
“I don’t love to practice. I love competing,” she admitted. “But this year I started practicing with the men’s team at Elon. They’re up at 6 a.m. and they play all morning. They have shown me what it takes to get better. You can’t go out and practice for two hours and expect to get better.”
Brooks carries a 3.70 GPA in her major — media arts and entertainment. She was recently named to the All-American Scholar Team, presented by the Women’s Golf Coaches Association. Along with the increased commitment to practicing, she doesn’t have time for much else.
“The hardest part is travelling,” she said. “You miss three days at a time in college. I don’t do a lot of social stuff at school. I’m pretty much practicing or studying. The hardest part is making up so much class time and work.”
At 20 years old, Brooks is determined to explore her future in golf. She plans to go to Q-school after she graduates.
“Since I started so late, I don’t think I’ve peaked at all,” she said. “There’s so much in my game I can improve. I’m learning new things every day. There are so many shots when I look back at a round, and I think, ‘those are easy shots.’ I have no doubt in my mind I can play professionally; it’s just whether I’m willing to put in that work. I’m thinking I am.”
So does her coach.
“She has a lot of talent and has acquired a great deal of top-level skill through hard work,” Linville said. “I’ve seen her improve her technique tremendously in the past two years, and I believe she will have a great year at Elon this year. Nobody is going to outwork her. Combine that with great passion for learning and tremendous desire to improve, and you’ve a got a recipe for a top player.”