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The Quiet, Unwavering Confidence Of Braden Thornberry

Editors Note: Hottytoddy.com originally posted this story attributed to Ole Miss Sports Information without giving the writer, Brian Scott Rippee credit. HottyToddy.com apologizes for this error.

Ole Miss Men’s Golf at the 2016 SEC Tournament at the Seaside Course, Sea Island Golf Club in St. Simons Island, Ga.
Photo by Joshua McCoy/Ole Miss Athletics

He pulls his hat off his head and then situates it back on, tugs at his glove, pictures the shot as he walks up to the ball and almost immediately gives it a rip.
Aside from an occasional practice swing and a couple of breaths in between, that’s been Braden Thornberry’s pre-shot routine for as long as he can remember. In a day and age where pace of play is a problem that finds its way up to golf’s highest levels, the junior from Olive Branch, Mississippi finds himself on the opposite end of the spectrum.
He always knew he played quick, but it hadn’t really been discussed until he played on TV more and the announcers brought it up as a topic of conversation to fill up air time.
“I knew I played quick, but I think it was one of those things where the media and guys on TV tend to hop on and give you a trait they can talk about,” Thornberry said. “I just really think about the shot and just go hit it. I have never thought about my routine and that kind of stuff.”
The routine became something he’s now known for in a summer in which he ascended into stardom. Thornberry won the first NCAA individual golf championship in school history in May. He followed that up with a top-four finish at the PGA Tour’s FedEx St. Jude Classic, a tournament played essentially in his backyard and one he’d been trying to get a sponsorship exemption to since he shot 61 on the course as a 15-year old. It was his first of two PGA Tour events he played throughout the summer.
He capped off the summer by helping the United States throttle Great Britain & Ireland in the Walker Cup earlier this month. It was a summer filled with low scores, a lot of travel and national exposure.
“The entire summer was a whirlwind for us,” his mother, Veronica Thornberry, said a week or so after watching her son in the Walker Cup.
“There was just something really amazing about hearing the National Anthem and your son standing up there with the American flag. He’s got the suit with the USA logo on all of his clothes. It was really something.”
The rapid routine is also an almost subconscious symptom of a quiet, unwavering confidence Thornberry exudes on the golf course. He knows what he wants to do with the golf ball. And once he sees the shot in his head, like any good marksman, he doesn’t hesitate to pull the trigger.
Thornberry’s demeanor is calm and collected, immune to being broken by a wayward shot or a double bogey on the scorecard. Just how rare and invaluable is that sort of mental toughness? Just ask his coach.
“It is unbelievably rare,” Ole Miss Head Golf Coach Chris Malloy said. “I have never seen someone at his age have that kind of confidence in our sport. It is very unique. It is what separates him from other golfers and is the reason he’s about to be the number one amateur in the world.”
It wasn’t always this way, though. Thornberry arrived at Ole Miss in the fall of 2016 with a ton of untapped potential. He struggled in his first couple of tournaments as his confidence teetered back-and-forth with the results.
“When he started off with a bogey or a double bogey or something, he used to not be able to get back into it mentally,” Veronica said. “It would just get worse and worse.”
Malloy, who Thornberry calls his greatest influence in the game of golf, helped build his golf course demeanor into a strength. He helped him understand that staying in a round mentally can save you two or three shots per round and six to nine shots per tournament. A huge difference.
“You’ve got to realize there are days when 73 is the best you have,” Malloy said. “You have to take pride in that and say ‘you know what, I shot 74 but that was the best I had. I turned a 76 into a 74. That is when you start feeling you good.’ You find out those are the rounds that win you tournaments.”
“Now I understand how the game works a little more,” Thornberry said. “I have realized that a bad shot is not necessarily what you’re going to make on the hole. Now I know the score on the scorecard is the only score that matters.”
As Malloy often preaches, anyone can have confidence coming off three straight birdies. What’s rare is that confidence being unfazed when your game goes away.
Malloy thinks his pupil finally grasped it in the Rebels’ third win of the fall season in Hawaii last October. Thornberry didn’t have his best stuff in the opening round, but pieced together a 71. He blistered the field the final two days with a 65 and 67 en route to his third individual title of the fall season. He’d put himself on the map as one of the top up-and-coming amateur golfers in the world.
A couple more wins and a national title followed in the spring. The signs of his improvement were everywhere. At the U.S. Amateur at Riviera in Los Angeles this summer, Thornberry was struggling with his game.
“That’s as bad as I’ve seen him play in over a year, that week at the U.S. Am,” Malloy said. “A majority of that field, if they had their C or D game ball striking-wise, they wouldn’t have sniffed the match play.”
He took one of the final spots in the match play in a playoff. It set up a first round match between he and Joaquin Neimann, the number one ranked amateur in the world.
Thornberry was leaking shots sporadically, but scrapped for a one-up lead with four holes to go. On 15, he blocked his second shot right and short-sided himself behind a bunker with virtually no green to work with and an impossible up-and-down. Neimann hit it to 20 feet and looked poised to win the hole and even the match.
“I just tried to stay in it, and know if I get it up-and-down I am probably still one up in the match,” he said.
Thornberry never flinched. He flopped it onto the green and sank a long putt to halve the hole after Neimann missed his attempt. The hole swung the momentum of the match, and Thornberry went on to beat the number one amateur in the world.
“He’s like a boxer,” Malloy said. “He takes body blows, hangs around and stays in the fight, then he issues that knockout blow.”
In a way, Thornberry’s ultra-rare confidence and demeanor are a by-product of all the factors that make his game unique. He doesn’t have the prototypical swing like most junior golfers, built at a young age by swing coaches and computer technology. He’s never had a swing coach. Thornberry’s swing is his own and has been since he’d get dropped off at Wedgewood Golf Club or Memphis National as a child. It’s a lightning quick, unique motion that’s certainly been effective at impact.
“It’s really always been my own thing,” Thornberry said. “If you hit enough shots, you can figure out what does this and what does that. That is one of those things that as I got to college and started working with Coach Malloy I have gotten to understand what causes things.”
He says he admires the on-course demeanor of Rickie Fowler and Brooks Koepka. But when asked who he compares his game or swing to, he doesn’t have an answer and doesn’t want to search for one.
“I just kind of do my own thing,” he repeats.
It doesn’t bother him that his swing is a little different or he goes about things differently. The results speak for him.
“I think as his golf game has gotten better he has gotten more confident in himself,” Veronica said. “I think he’s always had self-confidence though. He has good self-esteem and confidence in himself in pretty much whatever he does.”
“He’s such a genuine young man, it is not hard to be himself. Whether it fits in or it doesn’t, he stays true to who he is,” Malloy said.
Thornberry comfortable with every aspect of his game and who he is, all the way down to his physique. He and Malloy often joke that he doesn’t look like a Division I national championship-type athlete. He doesn’t care, because he is one.
“He is confident in who he is,” Malloy said. “He doesn’t need to be built like Dustin Johnson or swing like Adam Scott. He is confident in his skin. I think his swing has helped play a role in that.”
Veronica knows he’s come a long way. She remembers him stumbling through a public speaking class in high school. Malloy says Thornberry is as poised in media interviews as anyone he’s ever seen at that age.
“He’s just been out there doing his thing,” Veronica said. “I think he’s represented the school really well and I am very proud of that.”
The swing itself holds up in the most pressure-packed moments. When he played the PGA Tour event in Memphis, a course marshal told Veronica he had to pull some of his staff away from other groups because Braden’s gallery had gotten so large. He shot 67-65 on the weekend after making the cut on the number on Friday. He even held a share of the lead on the back nine on Sunday at one point. It caught the eyes of some of the world’s top professionals.
“Once you get out there, there is a level of respect,” Thornberry said. “They might not know exactly what you’ve done, but they know you’ve done something good to get there. There were all really nice.”
It held up as he was trying to hold onto a three-shot lead on the back nine of the final round of the NCAA Championships in May. Thornberry may have been calmer than his mother was.
“That back nine I thought I was going to be sick I was so nervous,” Veronica said. “He just kept hitting good shots, and I was absolutely a nervous wreck.” The tension eased a little when she saw her son’s face on the 17th green.
“He’s smiling and has a relaxed kind of confidence,” she said. “I could just see it in him. That’s when I started feeling a little bit better.”
Thornberry is now back on campus for his fall junior season. It’s easy to be confident now. He’s the most decorated golfer in school history.
Veronica subscribes to a newsletter called College Golf Connection. It lists an update on the top 10 amateurs in the world. She used to hope Braden would practice hard and she’d see her son’s name in her inbox one day. Now, he’s about to be at the top of it and is poised to become the number one ranked amateur in the world.
The golf course is where Thornberry thrives the most. That quiet, unwavering confidence he emits is proof of that.
“That’s his happy place,” Veronica said. “That is where he wants to be. He wants to be on the golf course. Even when he tries to take a day off, he will end up there putting.”
Thornberry’s college career is now less about the accolades and about more about rounding out his game in preparation towards being a professional. He’s not in a rush to turn pro and is confident enough to realize the money will still be there when it is time.
He wants to continue to work with the coach he credits for his rise.
“The trust and the faith that Braden has in him is huge,” Veronica said. “Coach Malloy has helped him to the next level. Braden had a good golf game and a good foundation, but I think Chris has pushed him up one more notch where he can win NCAA Championships and things like that.”
Mostly, Thornberry just wants to enjoy whatever is left of his college career as he eases into a future that appears utterly limitless.
“In terms of potential, I think he’s got the ability to be the number one player in the world,” Malloy said. “I really believe that.”

By Brian Scott Rippee, OleMissSports.com

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