May 14, 2007
Members of the Purdue women's golf team have come from the Netherlands, Austria, Spain, France, and Fort Wayne, Ind., for one common goal: a national title.
Purdue coach Devon Brouse has been around the college golf scene for longer than all of his current players have been alive, but if his team's recent success is any indication of what lies ahead, the Boilermaker mentor will be strolling the fairways - and airports around the world - for many more rounds to come.
In 2006, the Purdue women's golf team completed one of the best seasons in school history with an eclectic mix of talent, but it was no surprise to Brouse. He sensed a very special year right from the beginning.
"When we won our first four tournaments in the fall, you could just see their confidence rising," Brouse said. "Our young players really began to believe they could play at a high level early."
That year the team captured the program's first Big Ten title since 2000. To make the season more special the Boilermakers had three individuals finish in the top 10 and swept all postseason honors, including Player, Freshman and Coach of the Year. The Big Ten title was their fifth tournament win of the season, which tied a school record set in 1988.
To lead the pack, superstar freshmen Maria Hernandez and Christel Boeljon played phenomenal down the stretch. Hernandez tied for second overall with a 4-over-par 292 while Boeljon tied for sixth at 7-over. Both concluded the season as All-America honorable mention selections and first-team All-Big Ten honorees.
Brouse has been able to get his players to raise their games to such high standards ever since he arrived in West Lafayette nine years ago. In 1998, Purdue athletics director Morgan Burke sought an individual who could not only manage the newly built Kampen Golf Course and Birck Boilermaker Golf Complex, but one who could also lead the Boilermakers back to national prominence.
"I sensed a real commitment from the administration and a great eagerness to compete at the high level," Brouse said. "I have always been a builder. Purdue appealed to that part of me, and that definitely made me interested in coming back to my alma mater."
Prior to his homecoming, Brouse, who earned his degree in agronomy from Purdue in 1971, was the head men's golf coach at the University of North Carolina. He led the Tar Heels to 19 NCAA Championships appearances in his 21 years at the helm. Upon being hired at Purdue, he not only agreed to lead the men's program but the women's as well.
"I have learned to be more patient, understanding, and encouraging with the ladies over the years," Brouse said. "Coaching female athletes was different for me because up until this point I have only had experience coaching men. It has been a great opportunity for me to grow as a coach."
With any new coach there are always obstacles to over come and transitions to make. For Brouse those challenges centered around recruiting.
"We first had to figure out a way to compete nationally and globally in recruiting with the Sunbelt schools," Brouse said. "Our university is a very global university. We have one of the largest international student populations of any public university in the United States. Golf within the last 10-15 years has become an extremely international sport. It only makes sense to use our global reach to go after the best players in the world."
This global reach has paid dividends considering five of the seven players currently on the Purdue roster are international student-athletes. Among those seven are Hernandez and Boeljon, who - now as sophomores - have continued to elevate their games even more.
"Maria and Christel are the heart and soul of our program," Brouse said. "They are both very special players and to have them around for the next two years is huge."
For Hernandez golf was just a way of life. She grew up living next to a golf course at her home in Pamplona, Spain, where she learned to play the sport with her brother around age 11. Along with her countless amateur accomplishments and All-Big Ten honors, which include being named the 2007 Big Ten Player of the Year, Hernandez counts the educational experience at Purdue as equally important.
"I chose to come to the United States and attend Purdue because I thought it would be a great place to study and play golf," Hernandez said. "In my country that is rarely heard of, but Purdue has given me the opportunity to do both, and I have really enjoyed my time here thus far."
Upon arriving to the United States, Hernandez openly admits that there were many challenges to overcome. Her teammates were instrumental in helping her not only adjust to the Trans-Atlantic change in location but also to collegiate golf.
"I really enjoyed the girls and the camaraderie of the team last year," Hernandez said. "They really helped me get acquainted with Purdue life and the college game."
For Boeljon, who came to Purdue from the Netherlands, golf has not always been in the forefront of her athletic career. For almost seven years, golf shared the spotlight with the sport of field hockey. But in the end, Boeljon chose golf because it gave her the best chance to possibly succeed in the sport professionally.
"(I enjoy) the fact that golf is an individual game and there is no one to blame except yourself. When bad things happen, it lights a fire under me," Boeljon said. "I simply got addicted to this game and have the willingness to get better every single day."
Much like her teammate's move from Spain, coming to the U.S. held its challenges for Boeljon as well. But amazing as it is, adjusting to the United States and Purdue life went fairly smooth for the Netherlands native; dealing with not having her family nearby was not at easy.
"Not being able to go home and have my family take care of me was tremendously hard," Boeljon said. "But I have become mentally stronger and can make my own decisions now. I am use to not having them around, though sometimes it is still tough."
Coming off a 2006 season in which she garnered Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors, Boeljon is ready to see where her potential can take her in her young career.
"I just want to play well for myself and my teammates," she said. "All the awards, honors and recognition will take of itself."
Despite falling short of defending their Big Ten Championship in 2007, finishing runner-up to host Michigan State, the Boilermakers' season-long accomplishments were again well-celebrated by the conference. The group dominated the postseason honors, securing four spots on the All-Big Ten first team. Hernandez also added the first-annual Mary Fossum Award - which is given to the player in the conference with the lowest stroke-average to par for the season - to her Player of the Year accolade. In addition to her first-team All-Conference selection, Stefanie Endstrasser was tabbed the Big Ten Freshman of the Year, marking the third straight season a Boilermaker won the honor.
Purdue's regular season efforts helped secure the Boilermakers a No. 4 seed in this year's NCAA East Regional in Baton Rouge, La., where they recently finished fifth and secured a berth to the NCAA Championships.
"Sweeping postseason honors last year was a great reflection of our players," Brouse said. "Going into the East Regional this season, we had to play with more consistency - something that we did not show in the first two rounds at this year's Big Ten Championships. We have already showed we can play with the elite teams in the country, but we need to show up and compete everyday."
The team will again have its shot, May 22-25, in Daytona Beach, Fla., at the NCAA Championships. National title implications, as well as global visibility for recruits, hinge on each stroke and every putt.
Both Brouse and the Boilermakers will be ready, however. Ready to unite for that common goal that has brought young golfers from across the world to West Lafayette.