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April 3, 2013

Inside the Monarchy

The wind was howling and the temperature was plunging two weeks ago as Old Dominion's women's golf team teed off in the John Kirk/Panther Intercollegiate in Stockbridge, Ga.

"Oh my gosh, the conditions were just awful," ODU coach Carol Robertson said. "The high the first two days of the tournament was 36 degrees and the wind chill was 25. It was just raw and cold."

One player, however, thought the conditions were just fine. Kimberley Bradbury, a junior who had been on the cusp of having a break-though tournament, had very positive thoughts while others around her whined and complained.

"It was kind of like playing at home where I grew up," said Bradbury. "Just another typical English golf day. I have to tell you, when I first got to ODU and was playing every round in the sun, I thought I'd died and gone to heaven."

Bradbury, you see, grew up in the community of Buxton in Derbyshire, England, playing Cavendish Golf Club, a course designed by legendary golf architect Alister MacKenzie, the same guy who designed Augusta National. Howling wind and blowing rain were typical conditions for her. "Where I grew up," she said, "we knew it was raining before the weather forecaster knew it."

So when Bradbury threw rounds of 73-73 onto the board the first two days to grab an eight-shot lead going into the final round, her coach wasn't surprised. "And in those conditions it was the equivalent of 67-67," Robertson said.

Robertson thought all along that Bradbury would turn into a championship golfer for the Monarchs. And for three days the golf gods made Bradbury feel right as home in Georgia where the lights didn't go out for Bradbury, they came on.

Nearly three years ago, Robertson and Bradbury walked into the front door of ODU's women's golf program on virtually the same day. Bradbury arrived as a recruit of former head coach Pat Kotten. Robertson was arriving at the same time as a first-year assistant coach. The two were going to do some growing up together.

"Kim arrived with a lot of raw ability," remembers Robertson. "But she needed to bring it all together. She needed to become mentally tough and not let things get to her."

Bradbury birdied the final hole of that second round at Eagle's Landing Country Club in Georgia and Robertson saw a unique coaching moment: How do you prepare a player for the final round when they have such a large lead?

"I would have loved to have opted for a media shutout that night," Robertson said. "But that doesn't happen today. I knew her parents back home would know she had a lead and would call her. So I started telling her to embrace the moment. I told her to go to sleep happy and think happy thoughts."

Golf is a crazy game, unlike any other. While a basketball game can be finished in two hours, golf offers a player a night to think about their lead, not 15 seconds to think about a free throw.

"I don't have all the answers and I certainly screwed up enough leads myself in my playing career," Robertson said. "But you like to think you earned the lead you have, And you have to think that pressure is a privilege, even if it makes you feel like you think you're going to throw up."

Bradbury posted a final-round of 77, won by three, and Robertson had a tournament champion on her hands. It was sweet reward for a player who Robertson says works as hard as any player she has. Coach respects player; likewise, player respects coach.

"This didn't happen by accident," Robertson said of Bradbury's victory.

Bradbury, meanwhile, knew when Kotten left the program that Robertson was the right coach for the Monarchs.

"She already knew all of our games and I think she's a great teacher," Bradbury said. "I was very happy when she got the head job."

Bradbury, who plans on giving the European Tour a shot when her college career ends, has become longer and stronger as she's gotten older. She drives the ball an average of 220 yards now and dropped a native phrase as part of her explanation for her increased strength and length.

"Coming over here, you have to carry your bag in collegiate tournaments," Bradbury said. "I grew up using a trolley. So when I started carrying my bag, my cardio naturally improved."

A trolley?

"You know," she said, "a push cart."

The physical strength is one thing. The mental strength quite another.

Coach Robertson "is really good at coaching both the physical and the mental parts of the game," Bradbury said. "We'll have mental sessions where we will watch a Bob Rotella instructional video and then she'll ask us questions like how we feel when we're tense."

Bradbury's career has been a work in progress, mostly forward-moving progress. She averaged 77.9 strokes a round as a freshman, then rounded into form as a sophomore when she averaged 74.7 strokes a round.

With a recent win under her belt, Bradbury's hoping to make some more noise on the leaderboard this weekend when the Monarchs play a two-day event at UNC Wilmington. April 21-24 will see Bradbury and the Monarchs get their first real taste of Conference USA golf when they participate in the conference championships in Gulf Shores, Ala.

In a perfect world, the Monarchs would advance to the NCAA Regionals and then to the NCAA Championships near the end of May. They might have to travel without Robertson, however, and get their coaching by cell phone. You see, Robertson is seven months pregnant with a June 4 due date.

As Bradbury said, "Coach can't hide the bump anymore."

Likewise, Bradbury can't hide her talent anymore. She has the hardware to prove that potential has become results.

And Robertson has the perfect example for players present and future.

"You want to know what hard work will get you, I'll just point to Kimberley," Robertson said. "You put in the extra effort, this is what can happen."


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