The Return of Braden Thornberry
Feb. 9, 2018
The Ole Miss men’s golf team will begin spring play next weekend in Houston, Texas and here, fans will find the most decorated golfer in school history, Braden Thornberry, back on the course in Red and Blue.
After claiming the NCAA national title at the end of last spring, there has been extreme speculation about whether or not the junior would return to Oxford or begin a childhood dream of turning professional. While the opportunity dangled in front of Thornberry, he handled the decision the same way he executes a chance to sink a six-foot putt to claim an individual title, with a quiet confidence and composure. He may be unsure of the outcome, but in the moment, he has a calm demeanor that allows him to know he’s making the right decision.
“It honestly never crossed my mind, until people started talking about it. I’m not ready in many different facets of my life. My golf game might have been somewhat where it needed to be for me to leave, but my mental game wasn’t ready to go. I still have things I want to accomplish here,” Thornberry said. “I am not ready to leave Ole Miss just yet.”
If you tuned in last May to see Thornberry attack the flagstick on each hole at Rich Harvest Farms, site of the NCAA Championships, you would be in awe of the pace at which he plays. What can go unseen is the speed of his progression to get to that point.
“Braden has always had the talent and the potential, but he wasn’t necessarily ready for college golf when he arrived at Ole Miss,” head coach Chris Malloy said. “If you look at his first semester, you have to look at it as an adjustment to life. Even though we think he has improved dramatically on the golf course, he just wasn’t ready for all the things that came with college golf."
In the fall of 2015, Thornberry arrived at Ole Miss to begin his golf career as a Rebel. While the Olive Branch, Mississippi, native was not far from home, his golf game was far from where it needed to be to compete on the collegiate level. In his first tournament, he shot 13-over in the opening round, landing in a tie for 67th place at the Carpet Capital Collegiate.
But one knockdown was enough to make Thornberry get up and fight. Two weeks later, he found a top-20 finish and in the next tournament carded 1-under for a spot in the top 10. By April he had recorded two wins, with his first as a Rebel checking in at 11-under at the FAU Slomin Autism Invite.
His sophomore campaign opened with a fourth-place finish but ultimately brought five more victories, including an NCAA title. This then led to being named a PING First Team All-American, the Haskins Award Winner, as well as a member of both the All-Nicklaus Team and the Walker Cup. Though Thornberry was the leading ranked amateur of the USA Walker Cup team in September, since then three of the fellow Americans have made the change from college to pro.
“As a sophomore and having that much success so early, I hadn’t had time to really think about what the next phase of my life could look like,” Thornberry said. “It was comforting to know I had Ole Miss to come back to and a place I could continue to get better under a closed roof.”
While leaving college golf behind may feel premature for Thornberry, it is a commonplace among young golfers today. Joaquin Niemann, No. 1 in the World Amateur Rankings, recently gave up collegiate golf to pursue his shot on Tour. Thornberry beat Niemann in match play at the U.S. Amateur in August, closing the match with a 25-foot putt for birdie on the 18th hole. Similarly, Sam Burns, a fellow SEC golfer of just two years and John Oda of UNLV, are others who have surrendered their collegiate campaigns to turn professional. Both finished behind Thornberry at the NCAA Championships.
Opposed to looking outward at his successes over the past two years, Thornberry has turned to his gut feeling and belief of what returning as a Rebel means to him.
“You can’t get your college experience back,” Thornberry said. “This environment is really cool to me because you are surrounded with people who want you to get better and want to help you succeed. You can always get a degree, but staying for the environment is the special part and made the decision an easy one.”
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