How Brian May, Kendall Griffin guided Indiana women’s golf from the doldrums to a Big 10 title and NCAA postseason

Kendall Griffin had every right to be picky. But she knew right away she wanted to work for Brian May.

Griffin was finishing her college golfing career at Louisville, her fifth collegiate season playing after four years donning purple and gold for LSU. Once having aspirations to be a professional golfer, those dreams changed after she got into the day in and day out of college golf. She realized coaching could be a great avenue for her to stay connected in the sport, but she wanted to make sure the right opportunity presented itself.

Enter May, who in May of 2022 became the fifth coach in the history of the Indiana women’s golf program. The former assistant at Kentucky had gotten to know Griffin a bit from her time at LSU, but it was perhaps May’s peers who gave a more stellar impression of their coach to Griffin.

Three years ago, Indiana women’s golf beat one team all season long. Now, the Hoosiers are Big 10 champions for the first time since 1998 and are back in NCAA Regionals for just the third time since 2010. It’s a culmination of May’s vision, Griffin’s guidance and a team featuring six newcomers on its roster this season coming together when it mattered most.

It’s also because May took a chance on hiring Griffin fresh out of college, and their partnership has revived a program that’s heading into the postseason with nothing to lose.

“It was extremely important for us to have Kendall Griffin,” May said. “She was the first piece of the puzzle and how important she is as a piece to the program. To be able to have somebody by my side that I know is going to put these girls in the best position possible whenever she’s out on the golf course, she’s so important to what we’re doing.”

Griffin expressed her desire to get into coaching to her coach at Louisville, Whitney Young, as Griffin’s career was winding down. That’s when May took the Indiana job, and Griffin wanted to join him.

“One day I got a text from her,” Griffin said. “And she said, ‘hey, you know, Brian May got the head coaching job at Indiana, would you want to work for him?’ I was like, ‘yes, absolutely. Like when can I talk to him?’ You know, would he be willing to just at least give me a conversation right? Like maybe I’m not what he’s looking for, but I would love to learn from that conversation to learn from him.

“Being a player, you’re around others all the time. You get to know how coaches really are. And I never heard one bad thing about Brian, and it was all like overwhelmingly great things. And for me like going into coaching, I was going to be very picky about who I started under because I felt like as a new fresh coach, who that person was is really going to affect me and who I become as a coach. So I wanted to make sure that that person was obviously a great person but also had similar values and kind of a similar vision.”

That vision culminated last week.

The Hoosiers were in second place heading into the final round of the Big 10 Championship two weeks ago at Bulle Rock in Havre de Grace, Maryland. However, Indiana was 11 shots behind leader Michigan State.

Enter Griffin. Heading into the last 18 holes, she was speaking with her and May’s players and gave them a lesson from when she was at LSU. In a tournament during her sophomore year, the Tigers faced an 11-shot deficit with nine holes to play but came back to tie it.

“I think showing them that, like taking it down to a smaller scale. I’m like look, this is totally doable for you guys,” Griffin recalls telling the team.” No matter what you guys do, we’re still going to be so proud of you. But this is completely doable for you guys. So don’t go in today thinking that there’s no chance like at least have hope, like knowing that you guys can do it because you guys are great.”

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Indiana shot 5 under on the day, and Michigan State was 7 over. The result? The Hoosiers finished at 8 under for the championship, one shot in front of the Spartans. Indiana was the Big 10 Champion.

Entering the tournament, the Hoosiers were on the outside looking in at an NCAA Regional berth. After their first win of the season, they were dancing.

If the shoe fits.

“We had a roller coaster of a year, May said. “We didn’t play very well, and in January and February, there was a lot of things going on behind the scenes that we kind of had to iron out. But their willingness to go through that with us and not avoid it, whether it was conflict or whether it was just bad play. They weren’t avoiding it. They were willing to go through it.

“The willingness of these girls to buy in and to work hard and to work through, whether we want to call it controversy or just tough times on the golf course and off the golf course, shaped this victory and shaped this kind of season to be something extremely special.”

Some of the challenges going on throughout the season were meshing a roster that included six newcomers, including five transfer players. One of those is Caroline Craig, who came to Indiana from Georgia, and she was one of the conference co-medalists. Then there is Caroline Smith, who transferred from 2023 NCAA champion Wake Forest, and Maddie May, who played her first two seasons with Ole Miss, the 2021 national champ.

That championship experience, along with players learning camaraderie under May and Griffin, took time. But it all came together, and now Indiana is golfing in May.

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May and Griffin admit they knew their team had to do something special at the Big 10 Championship to get into the postseason. When they woke up the final day of Big 10s, they were no the outside looking in. By day’s end, they had a program-changing victory.

Griffin remembers watching Craig’s final approach shot heading toward the green in the final round of the Big 10 Championship. She was overwhelmed with emotion as the ball pierced the air and headed for the putting surface. She knew Indiana had done it.

Now, the Hoosiers travel to the East Lansing Regional as the ninth seed, where they will play at Forest Acres Golf Course. When Griffin was a sophomore at LSU, she played there, and that invaluable experience is sure to help as Indiana looks to build upon its incredible victory two weeks ago.

“The message is just remembering how we got there,” May said. “Not looking too far forward. We got there by taking accountability of our games and taking it personal, being prepared and ready to go. And understanding that our good is good. We’re going to have a great time, we’re gonna pop into cars here in a few days, and we’re gonna head up and see what we can do a regional.”

If it’s anything like what May and Griffin have already accomplished, it’s bound to be special.

Story originally appeared on GolfWeek