Oct. 16, 2009
by Austin Baird
When Ginny Brown came to Tennessee from Westlake High School in Austin, Texas, the adjustment to NCAA golf took a while.
"She didn't quite get it right away," Head Coach Judi Pavon said. Now a senior, Brown has finished in the top 21 at both tournaments this season and has progressed to the point that Pavon describes her as one of the team's best leaders.
According to Pavon, Brown has a strong work ethic and has always driven the ball well, but it was after her sophomore year when she changed her putting grip that "everything turned around for her."
"I started working with another trainer and switched [to what's called] a claw grip," Brown said. "It changed my game completely. Instead of being unsure of myself when I would line up to putt, I feel like I can make almost anything now."
Though she shot a 74 at the SEC Championships as a sophomore, which was a career best before changing grips, it didn't take long for her to improve her scores the following season.
At last year's Mercedes-Benz Women's Collegiate Championships, she shot a 69 and her overall score of 220 placed her 19th. Her scores are now consistently in the low 70s and she is one of the players Pavon believes has a strong chance at being named an All-American.
"The Mercedes-Benz and postseason last year were the highlights of my career by far," Brown said. "That showed me I can really play at a high level and compete with some of the best."
At last year's NCAA Championships, she finished 16th, which placed her just a few shots away from being named an honorable mention All-American.
"I feel like that's when [the hard work] started to really pay off for me," Brown said.
"She has really grown up, it's been a neat turnaround," Pavon added. "She's been the ideal athlete in her time at Tennessee. When we recruited her out of high school, we could tell she was a nice girl and a hard worker--she's lived up to that and done well on the golf course."
When she graduates this spring, Brown hopes to enter the LPGA's qualification school and join the four other former Lady Vols who have a tour card.
"After the way I played as a freshman and sophomore, it looked like I wouldn't have a strong shot at playing pro," Brown said. "But with the way I'm playing now, I feel like I can work hard and have a real chance."
Though Brown is excited at the prospect of a professional career, with the 2009 Mercedes-Benz Tournament this weekend at Fox Den Country Club in Knoxville, her focus is on the immediate future.
Because the tournament is the only home competition the Lady Vols will play in Knoxville this year, performing well is especially important to Brown and the rest of the team.
"We always want to win but [the Mercedes-Benz] means a lot to everyone," Brown said. "We take pride in being able to host a tournament this nice and we expect to put ourselves in a situation where we could win it."
Aided by the home-field advantage and strong play from senior Diana Cantú, sophomore Nathalie Mansson and freshman Erica Popson, who have also finished in the top 21 at the first two tournaments this season, Brown and the Lady Vols have reason for high expectations.
"We're relaxed, confident and excited for the tournament," Pavon said. "We have a good shot at getting the overall victory and I think a couple of our girls could contend for the individual victory if they play to their ability."
Lady Vols Proof of Golf's International Influence
While all thoughts are on the golf course this weekend, Pavon says she's constantly engaged with one of the more challenging parts of collegiate golf: recruiting.
Because golf is an international sport, the recruiting process is more fragmented than that of football and basketball.
Instead of turning to recruiting services that report every detail of an athlete's ability, many of UT's golfers were found initially because they had a friend on the team, because they posted impressive scores at amateur tournaments or because they happened to play at a local tournament and ran into Pavon.
"There are always at least one or two good players in Tennessee that we go after on a yearly basis, but we find them wherever we have to," Pavon said. "We have to be really quick about evaluating [recruits] while they're here because we might not get to see them very often. We've gotten to a point where we can evaluate what kind of kid is going to be successful at golf in college without the same level of information some other sports have about their recruits."
Among Pavon's former international recruits is Young-A Yang, who went on to have one of the most storied careers in the history of the Lady Vols' golf program.
"[Young-A] is a good example of how recruiting around the world can pay off," Pavon said. "She is still probably the one who had the most amazing career at UT. To be a four-time All-American is difficult to do and she's still out there consistently in the LPGA, which is equally tough."
In addition, UT's current roster includes players from five different countries-- Cantú from Mexico, Mansson from Sweden, freshman Sara Monberg from Denmark, junior Rebecca Watson from Scotland and four from the United States.
"We're always looking for the best players and that's taken us all over the place," Pavon said. "This year's team shows how committed we are to finding the best talent anywhere we can."