Pepperdine’s Gibbs wins 14th WCC coaching award after late-season run

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Pepperdine women's golf coach Laurie Gibbs is shown with freshman Waves golfer Lauren Gomez during a tournament earlier this year. Photo by Jeff Golden.

The Pepperdine Waves women’s golf team finished the three-day Northrop Grumman Regional Challenge in Rancho Palos Verdes in 15th place out of 16 teams. 

In a season filled with putting greens and sand traps, the squad’s finish at the March 13-15 tournament was clearly in the rough. The Waves were discouraged, said Pepperdine head coach Laurie Gibbs. 

“As a team, we weren’t converting,” she said. “We weren’t putting all these good things we could see at practice into place.” 

Gibbs and Pepperdine assistant coach Rich Greenwood adjusted how the Waves practiced in response. They had the team play more competitive rounds and did more short-game drills. Gibbs, Pepperdine’s coach for 29 seasons, also picked the brains of former Waves playing at the professional level, who gave her some insights on how they prepare for competitions. The seven-woman team also attended a LPGA Tour event and witnessed how the pros play. 

Pepperdine then finished third out of 18 teams at the April 11-12 Chambers Bay Invitational in Seattle. Next, Pepperdine won the April 21-23 West Coast Conference Championships in Nevada. Gibbs said both tournaments were played in less than ideal conditions. 

“The tougher the conditions got for this group, the tougher they became,” she said. “They got away from score and said, ‘Oh, I have to deal with what is in front of me.’ That allowed their ability to really shine.”

Pepperdine’s improved play and 18-stroke conference title propelled Gibbs to being named the WCC co-Coach of the Year on April 25. Gibbs has now won the annual honor 14 times. This year, she shared it with San Francisco coach Sara Doell.

Gibbs previously won the honor in 2019 and captured it four consecutive years from 2005-08. She won the award in nine out of 11 seasons from 1998-2008. The only years she didn’t win Coach of the Year in that span were 2001 and 2004. Additionally, the Waves have now won 19 of 25 WCC Women’s Golf Championships, including 14 consecutive from 2002-15.

Gibbs said winning the top coaching award this season was memorable because no one not wearing Pepperdine’s orange and blue expected the Waves to be WCC champs. 

“The years before, we had a pretty steady season where we were ranked in the top 30, top 35, in the country,” she said. “We were expected to win and we did. This year, nobody was expecting us to win. I took a lot of pride in that because the players were so proud to close out a good tournament with a win. Through the ups and downs of the year, there were some really bright moments and conference was a bright moment, so that Coach of the Year award is really special.”

Gibbs wasn’t the lone Wave to receive WCC recognition. Lauren Gomez won the conference’s Player of the Year and Freshman the Year honors while also being the medalist at the WCC Championships. Sophomores Lion Higo and Kaleiya Romero were named the All-WCC first team with Gomez.

Pepperdine’s season concluded with a sixth-place finish at the NCAA Ann Arbor Regional on May 11. The event’s top four finishers advanced to the NCAA Championships. 

Gibbs is proud of how the team finished the season. 

“I don’t want to say, ‘As a coach you are as only as good as your players are,’ but you kind of are,” she said. “We had to rally at the end to close out a good spring and season. We finished the spring as the 30th-ranked team in the country after a really tough fall where we were in the 70s. It was a really good year in the end.” 

When Gibbs first played golf as a high school freshman, she instantly fell in love with the sport. She played on her school’s boys team and eventually played collegiate golf at Long Beach State. After graduating from Santa Monica College, she was a PGA teaching professional at the Wilshire Country Club in Los Angeles and played on the Women’s Western Professional Golf Tour. 

Gibbs was hired as Pepperdine’s golf coach in 1993. It took her a couple of years to get a handle on the role. Once she did, successful play and seasons became normal for the Waves. 

Fourteen of her players have earned All-American status a total of 30 times and nine have earned LPGA Tour cards. Pepperdine has appeared in the NCAA Championships 12 times under Gibbs’ guidance and finished as national championship runner-up in 2003. 

Gibbs was named the 2004-05 National Coach of the Year by Golfweek and was named the West Region Coach of the Year in 1999 and 2003. She was inducted into the Women’s Golf Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2015. 

The Waves started their 2021-22 campaign in September with a fifth-place finish in the Dick McGuire Invitational. That month they also finished seventh in the Badger Invitational and seventh in the Golfweek Red Sky Classic. Pepperdine placed 15th in the Stanford Intercollegiate in October, then in February finished 11th in the Lamkin Invitational. The team finished tied for fourth at The Gold Rush the month before finishing one spot ahead of last place in the Northrop Grumman Regional Challenge. 

Gibbs said the Waves worked hard in practice, but the results of their good training didn’t translate to tournaments most of the year. 

“Golf is one of those sports where you can put in a lot of time and work but sometimes you don’t see the results, so that can be frustrating,” she said. “There are no easy answers when you are coaching, but we had a group that was so close. In each tournament, we were one, two shots away from shooting really solid rounds. In golf, the players know what to do. You just try to keep them positive and moving forward. The team did a great job of plowing ahead.” 

Patience, Gibbs said, is key to coaching. She noted that the more patient you are, the more results you will see. 

“One step at a time,” Gibbs said. “Keep it really simple; push forward a plan. You will see growth even if it’s just one or two shots a year. Work one the parts of your game that you know you can always depend on.”