It’s the dream of every talented amateur golfer: Break onto the pro tour.
Andrea Gaston had that dream—twice. Gaston played for San Jose State University in the 1970s, but left the game for the business world. Yet golf still called, and when she finally returned to the fairways some 14 years later, she was playing better than ever. She racked up several big tournament wins, vaulting her into amateur golf’s top 10.
But she was also a realist. By 1995, she made a plan: Turn pro within two years, or leave competitive golf for good.
Sometimes life offers another option when it’s not expected. As Gaston pursued her tour card, a friend mentioned that USC might be looking for a women’s golf coach. On a whim, Gaston applied.
Soon she was offered “a miracle”—a coaching position for the 1996 season. The door closed on her pro career, but Gaston knew that coaching could yield its own rewards. “Given the heritage and tradition of USC, it felt like the right place for me to land,” she says. “So I put my clubs away, knowing I wouldn’t be pursuing my own goals as a golfer, but I could help these young women achieve theirs.”
And achieve they have. Fast-forward 20 years, and Gaston’s coaching career is legendary. Three NCAA team championships and five NCAA individual championships. Two NCAA Players of the Year and five Pac-12 Players of the Year. Three Coach of the Year titles from the Women’s Golf Coaches Association (WGCA) and the Pac-12 Conference. Since 2006, the team has consistently placed in the nation’s top five. Sixteen of Gaston’s players have gone on to compete on the LPGA Tour. “It’s been a pretty phenomenal run, beyond my dreams,” says Gaston, who was inducted into the WGCA’s Hall of Fame in 2010.
Gaston is quick to credit the team’s success to strength, character and mutual respect from the players. Golf is an individual sport, but you don’t win championships without a team. “One trait of our national championship teams was that every player contributed at least two out of the four scores,” Gaston notes. “That means all five team members showed up, were competitive and ready to contribute, with nobody giving up or choking under pressure.” When recruiting, Gaston looks for women who have talent but also understand team dynamics. She is particularly adept at figuring out what makes each player tick. Maybe it’s from her own time in golf, but she knows that mind games can carry a great player to greater heights—or lower lows. To battle self-doubt, Gaston coaches players to use self-talk and body language. “A round of golf is like life,” she says. “You have to take the bad with the good and talk yourself into coming right back after you’ve had a bad hole.”
After Gaston’s 20 years helming USC’s women’s golf, her love of the sport still shines through. When she describes golf courses—“unbelievable playgrounds with beautiful grass, trees and lakes”— or the “privilege and pleasure” of working with talented athletes, Gaston glows. She’s as competitive as ever, she says, but collegiate golf has another important side to it. “I love to win. But for me, the bigger part of coaching is all about forging relationships—the ‘heart’ part of the game.”
To learn more about Coach Andrea Gaston’s USC women’s golf team, go to bit.ly/USCWomensGolf.