Golf is a numbers-heavy game, and for Brent Bryant, the numbers aren't adding up to 12.
Bryant, the new girls golf coach at Tumwater High School, needs an even dozen golfers to be able to field a full varsity and junior varsity in a dual match.
Ten players are on the T-Birds roster. You need six for the varsity match and another six for the junior varsity. On match days, the JV girls don’t get to play and don’t get to experience golf as a competitive sport.
“We can practice all we want, but to play and get competitive and to feel what that’s like you have to be in that situation,” Bryant said. “You can’t mimic it – you need to be in those situations to get that feeling.”
Reasons for the low turnout are several, Bryant said: Competition from other springs sports for girls (fastpitch, track and field, tennis); lack of parental encouragement for golf; and virtually no exposure to local junior golf programs for most girl athletes.
Bryant’s program isn’t the only one in his school district with a low turnout: Black Hills High, under veteran coach Dale Reeves, has eight girls playing golf.
Cajoling more girls to turn out is only part of Bryant’s work to change the culture of girls golf at Tumwater, his alma mater.
He’s tried to implement daily practices – as in, practice every school day, which seems like a basic minimum for any high school sport. In other years, under other coaches, Friday practice, for instance, wasn’t mandatory, so most girls skipped it.
This week is spring break in Tumwater schools, and Bryant has made practice voluntary. He wonders who’ll show up at the golf course.
During practice, Bryant tries to make it fun. In one short game drill, the players chip toward a range ball basket.
“Hit it in the basket, get a basket of fries,” Bryant said. “I’ll buy.”
At the end of every practice, every player hits five to 10 shots in front of everyone else, “so they get that feeling of having eyes watching them all the time.”
“You can’t hide,” the coach tells his team. “In golf, you can’t pass anything off. I can’t say, ‘Can you hit this shot for me?’ No. It’s me, it’s all on me.”
Bryant’s early childhood was spent in Seattle, and his family moved to Tumwater when he was 12. He went to state as a member of the golf team, and graduated from Tumwater in 1992.
He learned to teach the game through Joe Thiel’s six-month certification program. He worked as an assistant pro at Riverbend Golf Complex and Teaching Center in Kent. He’s working now on a degree in PR and marketing from Ashford University.
If enthusiasm by the coach counts for anything, Tumwater girls golf is destined to thrive. Bryant is evangelical in his approach, not only to transmit his core belief that golf is a great game but that opportunities for girls to play golf in college are more plentiful than people know.
Bryant has already seen progress in his team, most of whose members are in their first or second year of golf. The T-Birds lost a dual match to Timberline, but defeated North Thurston, and players’ scores are dropping.
He has a clear team leader in freshman Kayla Monroe, who shot 46 and 45 for nine holes in the first dual matches. He’s got praise for Morgan Schimelfenig, a sophomore, who shot her two best scores with 57 and 53 against the Lacey schools.
Bryant asks “how many,” and comes up short. He wonders “why,” and comes up empty. He’d rather move on to the “who” and “what” in the here and now and look ahead to better answers – and better numbers – in the years to come.
Whether practices are voluntary or mandatory, Bryant knows Monroe will show up.
Monroe came to golf at an early age, introduced to the game by her father, Scott. Her grandfather, Raymond Monroe, worked at the pro shop at Three Rivers Golf Course in Kelso. Her mother and brothers have gotten involved with golf, too.
Monroe suspects most of her teammates didn’t get that encouragement.
“Their parents just never really introduced them to golf,” she said. “And so if they want to get better, they have to stick with it and practice every day.”
Kayla said she talks up golf to her friends to encourage them to turn out and to care more when they do.
“I tell them about it,” she said. “They just think it’s boring and not that fun.”
Bryant counsels his team members to look at the big picture: put in the time to get better, to get good, and college golf scholarships are there. His best example is his best player.
“I know for a fact Kayla will get a scholarship in golf,” he said. “How she plays right now, how good she is, by the time she’s a senior, she’s gonna have people look at her. I’ll do everything in my power to get her there.”