By DAVID DROSCHAK
Dan Brooks chuckles some when asked about his early days as Duke’s women’s golf coach.
“I actually came into this not wanting to be a coach, I wanted to be a teacher, and my ego was huge and I wanted to be THE teacher,” said Brooks, who has now coached the ultra successful Blue Devils for more than three decades. “I started to really love teaching in the private club business and I thought this would be a great opportunity to step that up a little bit. And if it didn’t work out as a teacher then I would be at a university and go back to school.”
It’s safe to say it worked out – and then some.
The 57-year-old Brooks recently won his 125th college tournament – extending his NCAA coaching record – and will once again head into the upcoming ACC Women’s Golf Championship at Sedgefield Country Club in Greensboro with the nation’s top-ranked team.
“Yeah, 126 will even be neater,” Brooks said when asked about his recent milestone victory at the LSU Tiger Golf Classic.
In 31 years as the coach of the Duke Blue Devils, Brooks, a former star golfer at Oregon State, has helped guide his squads to six NCAA National Championships and 18 ACC Championships.
“It has been great,” Brooks said of all the championships and tournament wins. “My favorite things about it all are the special people that I’ve had on my teams. It has been great to be around people who know how to achieve and get things done in their lives, and not just in golf. They seem to get it right in life.”
Brooks didn’t necessarily start his career at Duke with over-riding enthusiasm for the intercollegiate coaching process.
“For me, it was an opportunity to be at a university setting and explore this whole teaching thing a little bit,” he said. “Then, I sort of fell in love with the coaching aspect of it, but not at first. I loved learning about teaching but then I had 10 women on this team and I don’t know what I’m doing. It was frustrating and difficult.”
Brooks quickly figured out that 10 on a golf team were too many for his liking, so as players graduated he gradually trimmed down his roster to six or seven – sometimes even five — players. It is a formula that has served him well since winning the program’s first national crown in 1999.
“It was more manageable for me, and I was able to actually affect some things and develop myself as a teacher,” he said. “Coaching college is a lot of ups and downs, ups and downs. It’s not like you teach somebody and they leave and come back a month later. You work with somebody on the team and if they go play bad then it’s your fault. What I discovered was it was a great way to develop yourself as a teacher because your feet are held to the fire, you have a team, and they are either qualifying or not, playing well in a tournament or not. That makes you better. You either get better or you fry.”
Brooks has also learned through three decades when to coach … and when to step aside.
“You learn to fight the battles that are worthy of your energy and to stay out of some battles and let the team self correct,” he said. “You develop a feel for what literally needs to self correct.
“And then you have to recognize that each team is different, that you don’t coach one team the same as another,” he said. “Coach K said it in his book, that every season is a lifetime. Every season, every group is completely different, the dynamic is completely different.”
Brooks has coached 31 All-ACC selections and 12 Academic All-America choices. Brooks has also groomed 24 All-America players, including Virada Nirapathpongporn, Sarah LeBrun, Stephanie Sparks, Kathi Poppmeier, Jenny Chuasiriporn, Beth Bauer, Candy Hannemann, Brittany Lang, Anna Grzebien, Liz Janangelo, Jennie Lee, Amanda Blumenherst, Lindy Duncan, Celine Boutier and Leona Maguire – the latter two on this year’s squad.
There are seven golfers on this year’s Duke team – none from the United States. Brooks has a roster that includes players from China, France, India, Ireland, Italy and South Korea.
“We have a very hard working team but then again we’ve had hard working teams before,” he said when asked to describe this year’s squad. “But the thing that stands out the most is the diversity of this team, the diverse personalities on this team, which is a very positive thing. And it’s not just because we have foreign players because we’ve had foreign players a lot before. It is just that their personalities are very diverse. That is their uniqueness.”
Brooks is far from finished coaching, saying he has “a great boss, a great facility and a great university to work for.” So, his win total could likely approach 150 before he retires.
“The wins are still a lot of fun,” Brooks said. “The first few wins were fun because we said, ‘Hey, we’re a team that is finally winning.’ And now it feels really good because we’re a team that is still winning – that has its own unique, good feeling.
“I really admire the coaches who have consistently been great sports with us. Those people are very important my life,” he said. “And I love golf and I still love coaching.”
Something Brooks likely couldn’t have admitted 30 years ago.