Brown, the two-time Big Break contestant who played on the Futures Tour for three years, has finally broken through to the LPGA Tour. The 25-year-old is one of a few young golfers to graduate college, and the fully-exempt rookie spoke with us about climbing out of a slump, playing without swing thoughts and living with a man who is her boyfriend, instructor and caddie, all in one.
Golf Digest Woman: You decided to play four seasons of college golf, which is something most young female golfers opt out of. How will that experience help you this year?
Sara Brown: There's a huge misconception that college doesn't prepare golfers for being out on the road. But time management is key in college--I had to balance school with having friends and traveling to golf tournaments--and it'll be key out on tour. In that sense, college helped a lot.
GDW: And three years on the Futures Tour must have been a grind. How did you stick with it?
SB: Believe it or not, I put my clubs away after the summer of 2009. I just wanted to quit. I wasn't having fun. And I totally want to be that person who plays golf everyday, even when I'm 80. I want to be out on the course with my husband. And I just didn't see myself doing that with all the pressure of competitive golf. I called it the "sophomore slump."
GDW: So how did you climb out of the slump?
SB: I had a great support system with my family and my boyfriend, Derek Radley. They really helped me realize why I love golf so much. Especially Derek, a Class A PGA Professional who came along and helped me with my swing and helped me balance my personal life. Before meeting him, I had put a lot of pressure on myself to play good. And when I didn't win and transition to the LPGA Tour after my first year on the Futures Tour, I got down and depressed. But now, with Derek's help, I've been happy. Whether I shoot 76 or 66, I'm still happy. People can't tell the difference, because I've found the love of golf again and it makes me play better.
GDW: Tell us a little bit more about that support system. Who will be your caddie this year?
SB: Actually, Derek (27 years old) is going to be my full-time caddie. And he's also my coach. So Derek is my golf instructor, caddie and boyfriend all rolled into one.
GDW: Will it be difficult to separate your boyfriend from your caddie/instructor?
SB: We don't mix business with pleasure. He's my boyfriend first, until we step on the golf course, then he's business. We're good at separating the two. And Derek knows golf. He won three times in college, but never wanted to play on tour. Instead, he wanted to help people get on the tour. His dream was always to be inside the ropes and coach people. So now he'll get to caddie and coach at the same time.
GDW: How did you guys meet?
SB: We first met six years ago at a golf course in Michigan, but we saw each other again two winters ago in Florida. He remembered meeting me in Michigan more than I remembered meeting him. And I talked with a mutual friend of ours, who had mentioned that he had gone through a lot of drama in the past year--he had been married and divorced. So I was on the driving range when he drove up in a golf cart. I immediately said, "Hey, were you married?" He almost had a heart attack. Then I said, "Did she play golf?" He said no. I pulled a tee out of my hair, stuck it in the ground, blasted a drive down the range and said, "Maybe your next one should." So if anyone says he picked me up, they're wrong. I totally picked him up!
SB: My brother, Josh, is 27 years old, and he started playing golf when he was just 3 years old. He's a huge influence in my golf game. Being the baby sister, I had to go to all his golf tournaments. I hated golf initially, but Josh and his friends urged me to play. But I was 8 years old when I won my first tournament, and they gave me a pink golf ball and a pink hat. I've been hooked ever since.
GDW: And do your parents play?
SB: Golf is something my family does together, but my parents don't play golf at all. Since my brother and I are pretty good, my parents love to watch. My dad would take us out of school to play golf, and whenever he did, he'd have to tell the school why he was taking us out early. So he'd write "9 holes," or "chipping practice."
GDW: Besides clinching your 2011 LPGA Tour card, what do you consider your biggest breakthrough?
SB: Being on two Big Break shows (Big Break Sandals Resort and Big Break Dominican Republic) had a huge impact on helping me have fun playing golf. The Big Break was a huge eye-opener, and the experience helped me feel like I could still do it. I hit some golf shots I didn't think I could ever hit, and I hit other golf shots that were horrible. But it convinced me that I could still do it. That was my big breakthrough.
GDW: What's your typical practice schedule?
SB: I'm not a technical golfer, and I'm not a range rat. My practice involves playing and couple hours on driving range. I'd rather play 36 holes than practice for six hours, so I spent a ton more time on the course.
GDW: What do you consider is your biggest accomplishment?
SB: Graduating college was huge. My parents didn't graduate college and their families didn't graduate college. My oldest brother was the first in entire family on both sides to graduate, then Josh, then me. I graduated after four and a half semesters, so I couldn't do the cap-and-gown thing. So when I was at the final stage of LPGA Q School, my family sang the graduation song to me, and my mom brought me the cap and gown and did the whole thing. Also, I was the Michigan State Female Athlete of the Year for two years in a row--my junior and senior years. To classify me as the top athlete of any sport was quite an honor.
GDW: What will be your first event of the season?
SB: The Founders Cup in Phoenix will be my first event this season. I'll play in every single event that I can get into. As rookie, I can play in all the full-field events. Then I'll play another eight or nine European Tour events, since I also have status on that tour. I'll play more LPGA Tour events if I get sponsor's invites. But I'm hoping to play 20 or 22 tournaments this year, combining both tours.
GDW: What is your ultimate goal for 2011?
SB: I want to finish in the top 20 in my first event. Do I want to win? Of course. But if I finish in top 20, I'll be ecstatic. It's my first LPGA Tour event, so I'm going to be nervous. And if someone tells you they're not, they're lying. And my goal this season is to play good enough so that I don't ever to go back to Q School.
GDW: What's your swing thought during competitive rounds?
SB: I hit it, I find it, then I hit it again. Derek always jokes as says I'm like Tiger Woods on his EA Sports game--he just lines me up and I swing. He says it's like playing a video game when he caddies for me. My theory is, swing thoughts should be left on driving range.
GDW: Okay, a few more personal questions. Do you have any superstitions on the course?
SB: The color of the Sharpie I use has to match my outfit, and the same goes with the ball marker on my hat--it has to match the Sharpie and my outfit. So as you can imagine, I have a ton of Sharpies. My mom buys me a 34-pack every Christmas.
GDW: What's your most prized non-golf possession in your golf bag?
SB: The pictures of Derek and me are precious. One was taken at a tournament on the Futures Tour in Mexico--we're on a beach and he's making a goofy face and it makes me laugh. He's 6-feet-6 and I'm 5-feet-3 and a half, so we look awesome together. (Laughs.) Another one was taken when we were both dressed up--I'm in a dress and he's in a button-down. Love it. The photos have gotten wet from the rain last summer, but I carry them in my golf bag at all times.
GDW: What's the most expensive thing you've ever bought?
SB: My car. It's a 2009 Jeep Patriot, and it was the very first thing I bought after my first year on the Futures Tour. Derek and I call him scooter because he scoots us around the country. Next up: a coach purse.
GDW: What's your life motto?
SB: My college coach says this religiously, and Derek and I live by it: Everything happens for a reason. End of story. Point blank. You meet people you need to meet, and you get put into situations because you need to be.
(Photos by Scott Halleran, Getty Images)