Blue Devil coach has come a long way, baby
Dan Brooks watches his Duke players at U.S. Women's Open
NORTH PLAINS ÑÊWith hard, fast greens and club-stopping rough, Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club is looking a little devilish for the U.S. Women's Open.
The same might be said for the playing field.
Three Duke University golfers ÑÊVirada Nirapathpongporn, Leigh Anne Hardin and Liz Janangelo Ñ qualified to play in the country's top tournament, an unusual feat for a college team.
Toss in three former Duke stars ÑÊfirst-year pro Candy Hannemann, 2002 LPGA Rookie of the Year Beth Bauer and tour veteran Jean Bartholomew ÑÊand you have a powerful Blue Devils contingent in North Plains.
The only thing more surprising is where their Hall of Fame coach is from ÑÊthe golf 'Mecca' of Baker City.
Dan Brooks, 44, found a new life on the fairways of Tobacco Road, but he's still Eastern Oregon through and through. He's back in his home state to watch his Duke players compete at the Open.
Brooks knows something about having successful college players at the U.S. Open. In the first go-round at Pumpkin Ridge in 1997, Duke's Jenny Chuasiriporn walked away with low amateur honors.
The following summer, before her senior season, Chuasiriporn stunned the golf world, finishing second after losing to Se Ri Pak in a 20-hole playoff for the national championship.
'The Open means more to me since we had some amateur success,' Brooks says. 'I look forward to our players playing against the best. And I'm back in my home state, which I love.'
Still, the odds of a Duke player taking home the ultimate prize in women's golf can't compare to the ones that Brooks has beaten in going from dusty Baker City to the pinnacle of his profession.
Brooks grew up a 9-iron away from nine-hole Baker Golf Club ('it's 18 holes now,' he says proudly). He used to stroll the fairways and bake in the hot Eastern Oregon summer sun.
'I grew up playing in gym shorts and no shirt. But just being out there got me excited about golf,' Brooks says. 'Being from a small town, you can get grandiose ideas about what you can do.'
After high school, Brooks' ideas led him to Oregon State. Those were pre-Title IX days, and Brooks was a member of a nonfunded, nonscholarship golf program.
Even though he admittedly was never a solid college player, he wasn't dissuaded from newfound passions Ñ the mental approach to golf and learning about the swing.
'I loved the game,' he says. 'I never limited my view of what could be accomplished. I thought, 'Why not me?' '
After leaving OSU with a degree in history, Brooks took a job as an assistant club pro at Crane Creek Country Club in Boise.
'I really didn't have any idea what I wanted to do after college,' he says. 'I went into golf to have a job and pay off student loans. But I found I really like teaching, and I learned more about the golf swing the more I taught.'
Teaching soon became an obsession, and Brooks yearned to work with better players. As luck would have it, the Boise State golf coach walked into the pro shop one day with a flier advertising for a women's golf coach at Duke.
Brooks' first response?
'I don't want to live in Texas!'
But after a private lesson from Rand-McNally, Brooks traveled to North Carolina and met with legendary Duke Athletic Director Tom Butters, who recently had hired a young basketball coach named Mike Krzyzewski.
Butters told Brooks, 'You're everything we don't want Ñ you're young, you're single and you live on the other side of the country. But I like you.'
With those words ringing in his 25-year-old head, the Brooks era at Duke began.
In only his first tournament, he may have wondered what he got himself into.
Brooks and his five-person team were scheduled to drive to Columbus, Ohio, a 10-hour trip. The van's engine blew up in rural North Carolina, and Brooks had to hitchhike to the nearest town to find alternate transportation. He may have set a collegiate first with what he came up with.
'The only thing I could get was a flower delivery van, the kind with just two seats in the front, and with no heater. And the six of us rode in that thing all the way to Columbus.'
Things have been rosier ever since.
The accolades pile up
In 19 years at Duke, Brooks has won 10 Atlantic Coast Conference titles (including the last eight in a row) and two national championships. He's been ACC Coach of the Year eight times and National Coach of the Year twice.
He's coached 14 All-American players, and his teams have won an unheard-of 64 tournament titles. The 2002 Blue Devils were honored for their national championship by accepting an invitation to the White House.
And, in 2001, at age 42, Brooks was inducted into the College Golf Coaches Hall of Fame.
'That meant a lot to me,' he says. 'I know what went into it. I've taken this job seriously since Day One.'
'I'm impressed how he handles us,' says Nirapathpongporn, who won the 2002 NCAA individual title. 'We're really a piece of work, us crazy women.'
Says All-American Hardin: 'He's a person I can talk to. He listens well, whether it's about golf or life.'
Unfortunately for Brooks, he won't be listening to his players this week at Pumpkin Ridge Ñ or talking to them. NCAA rules prohibit him from coaching his players in a noncollegiate-sanctioned tournament. Staying behind gallery ropes is not his idea of fun.
'It's my least favorite rule,' Brooks says. 'It's senseless.'
Brooks plans to stay at Duke for the remainder of his coaching career. But thoughts of Baker City, where his parents still live, are never far away.
'The hardest thing about coming here was leaving there,' he says. 'I'll always be an Oregonian.'