Ole Miss’ Braden Thornberry takes momentum of NCAA title, improved game into summer events

Published 6:00 am Friday, June 2, 2017

 To put Braden Thornberry’s latest accomplishment into perspective, Ole Miss men’s golf coach Chris Malloy starts from the beginning, recalling Thornberry shooting in the mid-80s the first time he ever played a round of collegiate golf.

Now Thornberry is carding lower scores than anybody in the country.

“That’s coaching,” Thornberry says through a laugh.

The playful moment between a player and his coach doubled as a serious indication of how far Thornberry’s game has come to reach the top of the sport at his level.

Thornberry is fresh off winning the NCAA individual championship, the first national title of any kind for Ole Miss in program history. It was a single-season record fifth tournament win for Thornberry, who, as just a sophomore, has already tied David Peege’s school record for career wins with seven.

This one is different.

“I think it still hasn’t sunk in completely, but I’m trying to enjoy it as much as I can,” Thornberry says. “My friends are still texting me and stuff saying, ‘Congrats.’ It’s a really cool feeling.”

Malloy said Thornberry’s short game is something that stood out going back to his high school days at Southaven’s DeSoto Central, where Thornberry won a pair of MHSAA Class 6A individual titles. The jump from high school to college came with more resources, and Thornberry has added more distance and improved accuracy off the tee to round out his game.

“He had never had a driving range at his disposal every single day to develop his ball striking,” Malloy says. “To his credit, he’s taken advantage of that. It’s one thing to have that at your disposal. It’s another to actually take advantage of it and be mature about your practice, and he’s done a great job with that.”

That improved ball striking came in handy Monday when Thornberry rallied from a two-shot deficit at the start of the day to win the title by four strokes. Thornberry fired a 6-under-par 66 in the first round followed by a 71 and 69 the next two days to stay in contention before shooting another 71 in the final round, which included Thornberry driving the green on the par-4 sixth to set up an eagle.

“Going into the tournament, I tried to treat it like every other week,” says Thornberry, who didn’t card anything worse than a bogey in his final round. “It wasn’t really anything different, but ultimately it is different when it’s an NCAA championship. It’s pretty cool to put myself in contention, being lucky, playing well that week and being the winner.”

With the school season over, Thornberry will play 36 holes of U.S. Open sectional qualifying Monday. He’ll then put his game up against some of golf’s biggest names in the FedEx St. Jude Classic at TPC Southwind in Memphis starting Thursday.

The Classic field includes Phil Mickelson, Rickie Fowler, Adam Scott, Brooks Koepka and former Ole Miss golfer Jonathan Randolph among others, but Thornberry said playing in a PGA Tour event he grew up attending should help ease his nerves.

“With my history on the golf course, I wouldn’t be surprised at all if I played well and put myself in contention,” says Thornberry, who’s playing in the event as a sponsor exemption. “Overall I’m just trying to kind of stay patient and see what happens. You could miss the cut by 10 or you could win by five. You don’t really know going into the week, so just go into it, kind of just play my best and see where that puts me.”

Thornberry said he’ll also play in some amateur tournaments this summer, including the U.S. Amateur in California in August.