KORN FERRY TOUR INSIDER
Thornberry aims to convert rookie-year lessons into TOUR card
January 09, 2020
By Adam Stanley, PGATOUR.COM
- Ole Miss alum Braden Thornberry shared medalist honors at Final Stage of Q-School. (Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
There’s something about Braden Thornberry that makes him inherently likable. Not that his golf game isn’t enough to make eyes and ears perk up, but there’s a genuine southern charm that makes him easy to root for, and easy to think, ‘Man, that guy is going places.’
By now, a core golf fan has likely heard the laundry list of accomplishments for the young Mississippian. A college star, Thornberry won the Fred Haskins Award in 2017 after capturing the individual NCAA championship that same year. He blitzed through the competition at Ole Miss, winning a school-record 11 times. Then he turned professional.
A quick smile, a fun accent that rips through conversation – he talks quick, and a lot – and an everyman physique (Brooks Koepka, Thornberry is not) makes Thornberry a golfer that people can remember.
Although he’s a guy that’s hard to forget, 2019 was a year he’d like to.
Thornberry, 22, says he was “bummed out” by the conclusion of 2019. The results were just OK, and he never had a real chance to get into a groove with uncertain status for most of the first half of the year. He admits he was disappointed in how things turned out.
He played just 14 events on the Korn Ferry Tour in 2019 with two top-10 finishes. He missed eight cuts.
As he looks back, though, he was grateful for the learning process.
“I was able to get more tournament experience,” he explained, “and I had more confidence coming into this season.”
Thornberry said he played well in college (understatement alert), but since he turned professional he was just “playing fine.” The scores, he said, weren’t there. He’d cobble together a 71 instead of a 68, or instead of an easy 71 he would grind out a 73.
But Thornberry cruised through the Korn Ferry Tour Qualifying Tournament in late 2019 and shared medalist honors with Curtis Thompson at Final Stage. He’ll have fully exempt status in 2020.
This comes the season after Thornberry, by his own admission, had to make a lot of adjustments and learn more about being a professional golfer – not just a golfer.
“The tournaments are there, lined up in front of me, and I know exactly what I need to do,” Thornberry said. “It’s a lot simpler mindset right now, for sure.”
Thornberry was under par for every round of Q-School and said it was a confidence-booster to have gone through the multi-month grind relatively unscathed.
“To breeze through each stage and win Final Stage … that gives me a lot of confidence to know I’m doing the right stuff and my game is in a good spot,” he said.
Thornberry knew the journey through Q-School wasn’t going to be easy. Luckily he could lean on his experience from doing it the year prior – although it wasn’t something he wanted to have to lean on.
For the past two years, he has seen the vibe at First Stage firsthand – although the pressure of the cut-and-dry situation permeates, there are some players who don’t necessarily expect to advance. The ethos at Second Stage, he said, is different. It’s where people tense up.
“Even for me this year, I was just three or four shots inside the number and you’re still thinking about it inside your head,” Thornberry said. “If anything happened there, that could cost me my whole year.”
Braden Thornberry interview after Round 4 at Final Stage of Q-School
At Final Stage in 2018, Thornberry felt the pressure was off, figuring he’d probably get into some tournaments regardless of where he finished.
“That was a terrible mindset to take into it,” he said, looking back. “And I think that’s what a lot of people do instead of treating Final Stage like First or Second Stage.
“You have to be in that number (top-40 and ties), or you’re not (certain to) get into any events or play on that Tour.”
This year, Thornberry didn’t necessarily enter the week at Orange County National looking to win, but he did have a better idea of how to treat the week.
“Whether you want to pay attention or not, the ultimate goal is to get guaranteed starts,” he said.
Thornberry was steady and solid for the first three rounds and then broke out on the front nine Sunday. He shot 29 (the second year in a row he had a nine-hole score of 29 at Q-School), crediting a hot putter and deft iron play – on Nos. 5-9, he didn’t have a birdie putt outside 15 feet, and he made them all – for his quick start.
Thornberry and Thompson, eventual co-medalists, shared a shuttle ride from the ninth green to the tenth tee on Sunday. Thompson had a one-shot lead after 54 holes and was 4-under through nine in the final round.
“He said, ‘If you shoot 59 and I lose, I’ll be fine with it,’” Thornberry recalled with a laugh.
Thornberry can even dust a playing competitor, and said playing competitor can shrug his shoulders and be OK with it – that’s the Thornberry likeability again.
He didn’t shoot 59 (he finished with a 65, his third such score of the week) and after Thompson rolled in a lengthy birdie try on the 72nd hole, the pair tied at 21-under and will both be fully exempt for 2020.
Thornberry removed the thought of earning guaranteed starts from his mind after that shuttle-ride conversation (“He’s a talkative dude and so am I, so we were talking a good bit,” Thornberry said), and instead refocused on winning the tournament.
“It was less stressful,” Thornberry said. “I wanted to try to win the thing. When I went to the 10th tee, all I was focused on was beating Curtis.”
Now that Thornberry has successfully navigated Final Stage, he’ll shift gears to thinking about the season ahead, with the first event in the Bahamas on the horizon.
The youngster knows the golf courses now, and the whole environment that goes into the Korn Ferry Tour. Last year he was worried about the reshuffles and where and when they happen – but no longer.
“This year, I just have a clean slate,” Thornberry said. “All I’m worrying about is playing good golf. I have a very clear mind and a goal to finish in The 25. I’m doing everything correctly to get there, and hopefully it’ll go well.”