The USGA is making major progress with its national development program.
A week after it was announced that a team of three junior girls would represent the U.S. at next month’s World Junior Girls Championship in Canada, Golf Channel has learned that a significant hire has been made.
Chris Zambri has been tabbed as the U.S. National Development Team’s head coach.
"I heard about the opportunity, and it sounded fascinating to me," Zambri told Golf Channel on Monday. "If there was one thing from coaching in college that I loved more than other things was player development and trying to really dive in on that side of the game, so this sounded like the things that I loved the most about coaching x5. ... My family and I are really excited about this opportunity."
Zambri is currently the associate head coach at Pepperdine, which he helped to an NCAA title in 2021 when he was a volunteer assistant. Prior to joining the Waves, Zambri spent 14 seasons as the head coach at USC, which he led to 12 NCAA Championship appearances in 13 tries, a trio of Pac-12 titles and a national runner-up appearance at the 2015 NCAA Championship. Zambri also coached 2007 NCAA individual champ Jamie Lovemark as well as notable alumni such as Stewart Hagestad, Rico Hoey, Justin Suh and Sean Crocker.
As a player, Zambri spent six seasons on the Korn Ferry Tour, then called the Nationwide Tour, and also competed in a pair of U.S. Opens.
Zambri won't officially begin his new job until Nov. 1, after he completes the fall season with a young Waves team that lost all but one player to graduation from last season's NCAA quarterfinalist squad.
"The opportunity that Michael [Beard] gave me, without it I wouldn't be in this position now, and I know that," Zambri said. "Being able to still be part of big-time college golf, allowing me to come into the fold at Pepperdine – and not just Michael but the athletic director, Steve Potts. ... I will always be indebted to Michael and Pepperdine for allowing me to be part of a really incredible stretch of college golf for that program. And I got to learn a lot from Michael; he's an amazing coach and does a lot of things really well that I need to do better – the way he manages people, how thoughtful and patient he is with decisions. I loved watching him recruit and how thorough he was, and how important it was to him to get to know kids really well that he was going to bring into the program."
In his new position, Zambri will be responsible for leading the day-to-day coaching operations for the U.S. National Development Team, creating strategies to identify prospective golf athletes, developing an elite golf program and tools to cultivate those athletes, maintaining communication between the individual athletes’ personal instructors and college coaches, and oversee training camps, among other responsibilities.
As Zambri describes it, his role is essentially to "help guide young golfers through the day-to-day process of improving."
"The road to becoming a great player from a young, good player is fairly perilous; it's just kind of wrought with a lot of opportunities that will be good and maybe not so good and hard to decipher between those, and this seems like it makes total sense," Zambri said. "Golf is the only Olympic sport that doesn't have this kind of organization behind it in the United States. ... This is going to allow us to have a bigger impact on taking players from being really young and great to getting to professional age and being really great still. How many great young players fell to the wayside because there wasn't a program like this around to help them make the kind of decisions that would keep them moving in the right direction?
"The USGA already plays a huge role with opportunities to display talent, but this is an opportunity now to help nurture it."
Heather Daly-Donofrio, the USGA's managing director of player relations and development, told Golf Channel last week that the USGA had a great range of candidates from college coaches to PGA professionals who instruct on both individual and academy levels.
"I was very happy with the candidate pool," Daly-Donofrio said. "It was very, very strong."
Zambri has earned a stellar reputation for developing players through his testing and practice methods and utilization of Scott Fawcett’s D.E.C.A.D.E. course management system. Suh, who was the Korn Ferry Tour player of the year last season, credited a return to Zambri's practice methods for helping him reignite his young career, which had previously been sapped by a wrist injury and poor form.
Golf Channel spoke with several of Zambri's coaching peers, all of whom agreed that this position was tailor-made for Zambri.
"He's the perfect guy for this," one coach said.
"I think that might've been something that the USGA liked in my record," Zambri said of his testing background. "I would hope my enthusiasm for golf and this project [also was a factor] ... and also an overall track record of putting together good teams and competing. I didn't really ask, but it seems like there's an attraction to the practice stuff and I'm excited to continue doing that because I think it's been really helpful, and I thought that there was a lot of evidence that it could help young people improve."
Zambri, the USGA's fourth full-time hire for this program, will work closely with Dr. Beth Brown, who was recently named senior player development adviser for the U.S. National Development Program.
Last week the USGA announced that for the first time since plans for a national development program were announced in February, it will travel three girls – Molly Brown Davidson, 17, of Springville, Alabama; Mia Hammond, 15, of New Albany, Ohio; and Chloe Kovelesky, 16, of Boca Raton, Florida – to the Oct. 4-7 World Junior Girls Championship in Ontario. It’s the first time since 2018 that the U.S. has sent a team to compete in the event.
Former LPGA player Mo Martin will serve as the team’s coach for that event, as well as the American squad for the Women’s World Amateur Team Championship, set for Oct. 25-28 in Abu Dhabi. Scott Langley, the USGA’s senior director of player relations, will captain the men’s team for the WATC.
Over the summer, the USGA also began its goal of providing pathways for junior golfers into state- and regional-level tournaments. It placed 30 juniors into AJGA events, including Charles Nelson of Dallas, who ended up winning the Under Armour/Jordan Spieth Championship.
"Once we have our head coach on board," Daly-Donofrio said. "I think we're going to have a lot of cool stuff that's almost ready to go that we'll be able to finalize. In the next six to nine months, we're going to have some pretty cool stuff coming."