When head coach Michele Drinkard took over the Ole Miss program in the summer of 2007, she was charged with the task of rebuilding a program that had not seen much success since its last NCAA appearance in 2004. The Rebels had been a program with tournament titles and four previous NCAA Regional appearances. But the four seasons prior to Drinkard's arrival saw the team struggle to last place finishes in the SEC and no NCAA appearances. It didn't take her long to ignite a fire under the program.
ON THE RISE In seven years, Drinkard has guided the Rebels to five straight postseason appearances, as the Rebels participated in the NCAA East Regional in 2009, the Central Regional in 2010, the East Regional in 2011, the Central Regional in 2012 and the East Regional in 2013.
In Drinkard's sixth season as head coach of the Rebels, she helped lead them to their eighth postseason appearence at the East Regional in Auburn, Ala. This was the Rebels fifth straight postseason appearence.
In the 2011-12 season, the Rebels boasted an individual winner, as Natalie Gleadall captured the Cougar Classic, and qualified for the NCAA East Regional. Four members of the team were named NGCA All-American Scholar-Athletes, and the Rebels tied with South Carolina for the most selections in the SEC.
The Rise of the program continued in 2010, with the team's second straight NCAA appearance. The Rebels went into the final day of play at the regional with a chance to advance to the NCAA Finals for the first time ever.
Individually, Sara Grantham earned All-SEC second team honors, becoming the second player under Drinkard to earn All-conference honors. Ole Miss continued its academic prowess under Drinkard, as four players earned NGCA All-American Scholar accolades. The Rebels tied with South Carolina for the most selections in the SEC.
In 2009, Drinkard led the Rebels to their best finish in the SEC (7th) since 1999 and the program's first tournament title (Johnie Imes) since 2004.
The Rebels earned additional top-five finishes at the Mercedes Benz, The Derby, the Kiawah Island Intercollegiate and the Rebel Intercollegiate. The team's 881 total at the Mercedes Benz is the lowest three-round total in school history.
Dori Carter became the first player in the history of the program to earn All-SEC first team honors multiple times and also earned All-America honors for the second year in a row. Carter became the first individual winner since 1999, when she captured the Rebel Intercollegiate.
REBUILDING A PROGRAM Rome wasn't built in a day, and Drinkard knew that changing the culture in a program that had not experienced much success in recent years wouldn't happen overnight.
Drinkard has worked tirelessly to put the Rebels back in contention in the SEC and for postseason play, and in her first season the team took small steps in that direction.
Dori Carter became the first All-American in the history of the program, as well as the first All-SEC first team honoree since 1999. Carter participated in the NCAA East Regional and ended the year ranked No. 24 in the nation.
The Rebels lowered their stroke average from the 2007 season by more than two strokes , and earned top-five finishes at the Suntrust Lady Gator Invitational and the Crimson Tide Classic. In fact, the team's total of 892 at the Lady Gator equaled the program's second lowest 54-hole total in school history.
SUCCESS OFF THE COURSE Not only do Drinkard's teams succeed on the course, but they excel in the classroom. In 2009, the Rebels received the Chancellor's Cup for the highest grade point average among all women's varsity sports at Ole Miss. Drinkard has coached seven players to NGCA All-American Scholar honors.
While at Birmingham Southern, Drinkard coached the Big South Scholar-Athlete of the Year in 2006 and three of her players earned NGCA All-American Scholar honors.
PLAYERS ACHIEVE SUCCESS AFTER OLE MISS Drinkard's players not only succeed in college, but after they leave. After a stellar collegiate career, Dori Carter participated on the LPGA Futures Tour in 2010 and won her first professional tournament at the Pennsylvania Classic. Carter qualified for the LPGA Tour in her first attempt in December of 2010 and recently earned her card again, tying for fourth at LPGA Q-School this past December.
In 2013 ex Rebel Haley Millsap became just the third woman's golfer from Ole Miss to earn her LPGA tour card, the second under coach Drinkard. Millsap, who was a member of the woman's golf team from 2009 to 2012, recorded eight top-20, and two top-10 finishes while at Ole Miss.
Natalie Gleadall, the last Rebel to receive an individual tournament title, joined fellow Ole Miss alumni Nikki Hadd-Gray on the Symetra Tour in 2013. Gleadall, who played for the Rebels from 2010 to 2012, posted five top 5 finishes in her career in Oxford, including the individual title at the Cougar Classic during the 2010-2011 season.
COACHING CAREER TAKES OFF Drinkard came to Ole Miss from Birmingham Southern College, where she spent six seasons with the women's golf program, four as head coach. During the 2006-07 season, BSC advanced to the NCAA East Regional, hosted by LSU in Baton Rouge, La. It marked the team's second consecutive NCAA appearance in just their fourth season of Division I eligibility. BSC earned the automatic bid to the postseason by winning their second-straight Big South Conference women's golf crown.
"I am extremely excited to be a part of the Ole Miss family," said Drinkard, upon her hiring. "It's a school with a great academic and athletics tradition. I am looking forward to bringing the women's golf program to national prominence."
The two-time Big South Coach of the Year directed the Panthers to their most successful season ever in 2006 as the team claimed the Big South Conference Championship and a trip to the NCAA Central Regional, both firsts for the program. Drinkard coached the Big South Player of the Year and four members were named to the All-Big South team.
Drinkard's efforts saw the Birmingham Southern women's golf program vault into national prominence, as Golf Digest tabbed BSC as the No. 42 program in the nation in its September 2006 Golf First list, which recognizes programs for facilities and competition for those junior golfers wishing to play professionally.
A TOP INSTRUCTOR For three consecutive years (2005-07), Drinkard was named a "Top 50 Instructor" by Golf for Women magazine and served as the teaching professional at Bent Brook Golf Course. She has also been listed in the "Best Teachers in Alabama" by Golf Digest magazine and a "Top 50 Kids Teacher" by U.S. Kids Golf. In addition, Drinkard was named the Dixie Section PGA Teacher of the Year. This year she was selected to the inaugural class for the 2008 U.S. Kids Golf Top 50 MASTER Kids Teacher.
The Cullman, Ala., native has also served as the Director of the USGA-LPGA Girl's Golf Club in Birmingham which is one of the largest programs in the country with 100 girls ranging from 8 to 17 years of age.
PLAYING CAREER Drinkard played on the Futures Golf Tour, the European and Australian Tours from 1988-1990, and attended the LPGA Tour School from 1988-1990. She became a PGA member in 1994.
A golf standout for the University of Alabama, Drinkard was the Girl's Alabama State High School Champion in 1980 and 1981 representing Cullman High School. She earned her bachelor's degree from the University of Alabama in 1986.
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