Penn State will announce Denise St. Pierre’s retirement today after 31 years at the helm of the women’s golf team. St. Pierre added a final and monumental accomplishment to her resume on Sunday. She was named the national champion.
Penn State was able to hold off a charging charge on the 14th of May and win the first National Golf Invitational. Iowa The closing stretch of the Ak-Chin Southern Dunes golf course in Maricopa Arizona was a rousing success. St. Pierre, 61, gave a masterclass in knowing your players – one that arguably began in August.
St. Pierre didn’t want her team to hear from outside voices that this would be her final year coaching, so she decided to tell them herself. She ended the announcement by requesting that her team not dwell on this final season. There would be no celebrating coach’s last this and final that.
It’s possible, St. Pierre said, that her retirement motivated her team at the NGI, but more probable, in her mind, is that they had their own goals to accomplish. Penn State came in 12th place at the Big 10 Conference Championships and just missed regionals.
St. Pierre kept the NGI secret until after the season was over, because she wanted her players to strive for what they have always sought since the beginning: a NCAA berth.
The NGI would extend their season. “I can’t tell you what it means,” St. Pierre said, “especially to my players who are leaving.”
St. Pierre is an early riser and a morning planner on tournament days, and she did it one last time before Sunday’s final round. Penn State was five shots ahead of Santa Clara after 18 holes.
“I always reflect on, what do they need at this point in time?” St. Pierre said. “Something that just kept repeating over and over in my head was, ‘Nothing different, Denise.’”
St. Pierre made a conscious decision to remain the same person she was with her team all season and not change tactics when the stakes increased. St. Pierre says she has felt her inner rumblings at times.
When Drew Nienhaus drove it in the bunker on the par-5 16th then successfully got out and hit her approach to 6 feet for birdie, the gap widened a little more in Penn State’s favor. Isha dhruva made birdie on the par-3 17th. Michelle Cox, in the anchor position, drilled her 2nd shot to 8-feet on the par-5 16. She made a birdie.
St. Pierre, who has been in the game for nearly 40 years, knows how to communicate with each player.
“I think each one of them handles things a little differently,” she said. “You have to know your players to know when to say something to them and let them be who they are.”
Penn State’s 5-over final round was the best team score on Sunday. The Nittany Lions ended the week with a score of 15 over, while Iowa finished at 25 over. Mercer finished third, another shot behind.
Dhruva notes that many coaches are serious about golf. They give yardages then retreat.
“Coach does that, but she also makes sure we’re smiling and we’re laughing,” she said. “I know if I see her on a tee box, I’m able to make a joke or two, even if I had a bad hole before or a really good hole before, and that’s something I very much appreciate in a coach.”
St. Pierre, despite her jokes, admitted that she had not experienced much similar to this in her career. St. Pierre felt at times that she needed to control her nerves as much as the players.
For Megan Menzel, Iowa’s head women’s coach, a final-round pairing beside St. Pierre and Penn State was big. Through the years, St. Pierre’s teams, she said, have shown up with sharp short games and a loads of heart.
“She brings so much to our coaching group,” Menzel said. “We talk a lot about empowering young women and I’ve just always seen that from her teams. . . . She walks on the golf course and expects everyone to be competitive and she really brings that out. I’ve just admired that.”
Menzel gave credit to her team for keeping the pressure on the Nittany Lions at the end, and said this experience would go a very long way for the young team. The Hawkeyes have only ever been to the postseason one time before this week – in the 1990s when they won their conference championship and an automatic qualifying spot.
“I think there’s a lot of really good teams that get left out of regionals, so I think that for us to be able to highlight these really strong teams and good players, I think it’s just an invaluable opportunity,” Menzel said.
Iowa freshman Shannyn Vogler.
Shannyn Vogler of Iowa will be the winner of the inaugural NGI Individual Title after a 54-hole total at 5-under. Vogler went 3 under on the front nine and leapfrogged Penn State’s Cox when Cox took a triple bogey on the final hole.
Dhruva can’t remember a time when she has laughed harder with a group of people than this week at Ak-Chin Southern Dunes. She’s one of three seniors leaving Penn State alongside St. Pierre, and won’t ever forget standing in the 18th fairway on Sunday, watching fellow senior Sarah Willis putt out ahead of her.
Dhruva and her teammates like to joke with St. Pierre that they’re “her last and favorite team.” It’s special, she said, to have the kind of bond that she and her teammates had with St. Pierre.
“She’s definitely nurtured us in more ways than just being a golfer – in being better students and better people, and I couldn’t ask for a better person to guide me throughout my college career.”