Maria Hernandez had turned down dozens of schools when Purdue coach Devon Brouse kept calling. She’d made up her mind that she was going to study architecture in Spain and likely never turn professional. Over and over, Hernandez told her mother that she was never going to sign. Brouse called so many times, Hernandez switched off all the phones in the house.
“My mother is like ‘He never called you back?’ ” Hernandez recalled, laughing.
Eventually, a stubborn Hernandez ran out of excuses and gave in. She moved to West Lafayette, Indiana, to study and pursue golf, and coach and player – who are far more alike than different – embarked on what Brouse called “baptism by fire.”
They both like to tell it straight, and there were lots of tears and plenty of opportunities to quit. But Brouse has always believed that it’s far more gratifying to fight through challenges, and he has a knack for knowing when to push and how hard.
Hernandez won 13 times at Purdue, including the Big Ten Championship and the 2009 NCAA individual title. She now competes on the Ladies European Tour and checks in with Brouse on a regular basis via WhatsApp.
“He made me tougher mentally,” said Hernandez, “and I think that was the big difference for me.”
Tough. It’s a word that comes up in every conversation about Brouse. As he sets to retire at the end of this season from one of the most successful coaching careers in college golf history, hundreds of players and coaches around the world will reflect on how Brouse’s old-school, straightforward style made them better.
“I do best when I’m challenged,” said 2016 Big Ten champion August Kim. “I don’t know if that’s very common anymore.”
Brouse, 73, was in Chapel Hill working on his M.B.A. and serving as golf director and superintendent of facilities at the University North Carolina in 1976 when the agronomy major got the call to pitch in and take the men’s golf team to Mexico after head coach Mike McLeod was hospitalized.
“Guadalajara, Mexico, sounds pretty good when you’re cold and shoveling snow in December,” Brouse said.
That first semester as assistant coach, North Carolina beat Wake Forest at the ACC Championship after the Deacons had won 13 consecutive conference titles. It was fun, but Brouse never imagined that he’d be coaching for the next 40-plus years.
While head coach at North Carolina, Brouse he led the Tar Heels to six ACC team championships (1981, 1983, 1984, 1986, 1995, 1996) and 10 top-10 NCAA finishes, including second place in 1991 and third in 1993.
“He just had a good relationship with people,” said Rice, who coached the Cincinnati Bengals after he left Chapel Hill. “I thought that was the key to much of his success.”
Purdue men’s head coach Rob Bradley played for Brouse at North Carolina and always marveled at the fact that Brouse’s teams never lost to Duke in the ACC tournament in the 20 years he was head coach.
In 1998, Brouse returned to his alma mater to coach both the men’s and women’s programs at Purdue and oversee operations for the Birck Boilermaker Golf Complex, which includes 36 holes designed by the legendary Pete Dye.
When the nation’s top recruit Leigh Anne Hardin of Indiana, whose mother is a Purdue grad, chose to go to Duke, Brouse took that as his cue to recruit internationally. Purdue was a global institution, at one point ranking No. 1 in the U.S. for international student enrollment. Brouse began traveling to Europe to recruit long before it became common.
“I wanted five players that didn’t know who the top American players were and didn’t care,” he said.
Brouse led the Purdue women to eight straight top-10 finishes (2006-2013) at the NCAA Championships. In 2010, Purdue became the first northern school to ever win a national title. The Boilermarkers finished runner-up the following year.
“I’m not sure anybody at that point really thought a team up north like that could challenge and win an NCAA Championship,” said Oklahoma State Greg Robertson, who was hired by Brouse at Purdue for his first coaching job.
Michigan coach Jan Dowling said just last month that Purdue’s success helped her to dream big for the Wolverines, who won the school’s first Big Ten title in April.
JoJo Robertson, head coach at Texas Tech, was brand new to coaching when Brouse hired her and looking back, she appreciates not only his guidance, but the amount of trust and freedom he gave her to learn.
“I don’t really think you see that everywhere,” she said.
There are seven schools in this week’s women’s NCAA regional fields with coaches who either played for Brouse or coached under him. The Boilermakers will compete at Stanford Golf Course May 9-11 as the eighth seed. The top four teams advance.
Brouse led Purdue to its first regional berth in his second season at the helm, and since then, his teams have advanced to the national championship 17 times.
Brouse is the only coach in history to earn a spot in both the men’s and women’s halls of fame. In 2019, Tyler Duncan became the fifth former player of Brouse’s to win on the PGA Tour when he captured the RSM Classic title in St. Simons Island, Georgia. Former Brouse players have won a combined 30 PGA Tour titles, including Davis Love III (21), Mark Wilson (5), John Inman (2), Tom Scherrer (1) and Duncan (1).
Both Hernandez and Christel Boeljon have won on the Ladies European Tour. Two Boilermakers, Maude-Aimee Leblanc and Paula Reto, currently have status on the LPGA.
“The Devon Brouse method doesn’t see the difference between a men’s and women’s team,” said Kim. “If someone pushes you to be better, the right people are going to respond.”
Caroline Haase-Hegg grew up in Indiana, and when someone asked where she planned to go to college, her standard answer was “I don’t know, but it isn’t going to be around here.”
Then one day she got a call from Brouse. His approach was different to the other coaches she’d talked to, and she was intrigued.
“Tell the truth and tell your mission,” said Haase-Hegg, “that’s really what attracted me to him as a recruit.”
Haase-Hegg, who worked as an assistant for Brouse for five seasons, has taken that same approach at Augusta University, where she was named head coach in 2015.
“He’s just wired differently,” she said. “He’s just as fired up about winning and making people better. It’s what he thinks about all day.”
Brouse gave Michael Jordan his first two golf lessons at Chapel Hill and took him to play in a Carolinas PGA Section pro-am. Brouse admired Jordan’s competitive spirit.
“All you had to do was play ping pong with Michael Jordan and you would understand what I was talking about it,” he said.
Brouse’s passions for the game aren’t limited to competition. He’s deeply proud of the junior golf camps he ran for 42 years, teaching the fundamentals and planting seeds. Former NFL quarterback Drew Brees used to drive the van for Brouse during summer golf campus when he was quarterback at Purdue.
Brouse is a big on relationships, and they run deep and true.
It’s why Purdue has some of the best golf facilities in the country, because as good as Brouse is coaching inside the ropes, he’s just as good raising funds. Earlier this year, Purdue announced that golf alumnus Sam Allen (’75), retired Chairman and CEO of John Deere, and his wife Marsha (’75) had made a $20 million donation to fund a new clubhouse facility, which will be named the Pete Dye Clubhouse.
“If we don’t have the best collegiate clubhouse in America,” said Brouse, “I’ll shine your shoes for you.”
This thread of excellence extends to his own house. Bradley said Brouse always had the best lawn in West Lafayette, and his passion for landscaping and propagating flowers will extend into retirement as he splits his time between homes in Florida and North Carolina.
Brouse had his wife Kathy have been married for more than 50 years, and their seven grandkids will be a focal point of this next chapter.
Brouse said he worries about what might transpire over the next decade in college athletics. The influence of the transfer portal and NIL money loom large.
“It’s hard to hold people accountable,” he said. “It’s hard to teach people the values of discipline and so forth.”
He fears that the role of the coach might be reduced to chaperone, as it was 30 or 40 years ago. Coaching, at its core, should be about teaching. Look no further, Brouse said, than legendary UCLA basketball coach and Purdue grad John Wooden and his Pyramid of Success.
Brouse aspired to work with his players on the core values of life every day over the past 45 years. Wouldn’t dream of doing it any other way.
“I don’t know how I could’ve had any kind of career that could’ve been rewarding than mine,” he said.
It’s hard to imagine anyone achieving anything like it ever again.