Former Saluki golfer tries for LPGA

By Matt Wells, @mattwells_DE

Cassie Brooke, formerly Cassie Rushing, is one of SIU’s most decorated golfers and trying to bring her love of the sport to the Ladies Professional Golf Association tour.

Only 1 percent of college athletes make it as a professional, according to SIU women’s golf coach Alexis Mihelich. She said it is the hardest thing an athlete can do.

Brooke last played competitively on the SunCoast Tour at Black Bear Country Club Tuesday through Friday where she finished last out of 67 golfers. Mihelich said Brooke is playing in golf’s equivalent of Minor League Baseball.


Brooke scored an 88, 84 and 91 in the first three days at the par-72 course and missed the cut.

She has another chance to qualify on Aug. 3 at the Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, Calif.

There are three stages of what is known as qualifying school. Brooke will pay $2,500 to compete in the first qualifying stage. The top-100 golfers advance to stage two, which costs $3,000.

From there, the top-80 advance to stage three, which varies in costs depending on how they reach it.

An undetermined amount of golfers gain LPGA tour status from the third stage.

Brooke knows how hard her transition will be, but at 23 years old, she is committed to a professional career.

Brooke has played through a shoulder injury, which was thought to be a torn labrum. It has bothered her since her senior year of high school.

She has since been re-diagnosed with tendinitis and bursitis.

“It was just a lot of inflammation and fluid that built up,” Cassie said.

She said she receives occasional cortisone shots and has to stretch before playing to loosen up.

Brooke said the most difficult thing for her has been working on her drives from the tee, because of the winter weather in southern Illinois.

She had to practice in her garage, where she shot into a net. Brooke said she prefers practicing on an outdoor range or a course but her short game feels good.

Brooke’s collegiate success could be a factor in her confidence in herself.

At SIU, she was named to the All-Missouri Valley Conference team all four years.

Her senior year, she averaged 76.32, which is second best season in school history. She tied for fourth at the MVC Championships in April 2014.

Through her collegiate career, Brooke set SIU’s best average score of 77.1.

Mihelich said Brooke has the talent and she would definitely make SIU’s Hall of Fame, but added few people ever make playing sports into a career.

“It takes hard work, natural talent and time,” Mihelich said.

She said one of Brooke’s strengths is her professional drive length from the tee.

Brooke credited her swing coach Mark W. Faulkner, the golf pro at Lake of Egypt Country Club in Marion, for refining her game.

Her tutelage under Faulkner began freshman year of high school. But she has been a member of the club since she was 8 years old, when she started playing competitively. 

Brooke has the full support of her husband Tom Brooke, who is also her caddy.

“He’ll be with me at every tournament he can,” Cassie said.

Tom, who graduated from SIU with a degree in recreation, said he supports Cassie’s dream and does not consider his assistance a sacrifice.

“I’m just helping her achieve her goals that she has had since she was very young,” he said.

Tom said as Brooke’s caddy, he assists her by sharing his perspective on the course. Together, they try to find the best solution.

“Usually she knows best,” he said. “I’m just there for an extra set of eyes and to help any way I can.”

Tom also helps Cassie by cooking meals when she is busy. He said they communicate well, which is important in their marriage.

“We’re a pretty good team,” he said. “We’re keeping things together and doing what’s best for her golf game.”

Brooke said she is prepared in case things do not go as planned.

She has a sports administration degree and would want to become a swing coach or manage a golf course if her playing career comes to an early halt.

While Brooke attempts the pro game, she is currently the bar and restaurant manager at the Jackson Country Club in Murphysboro.

Brooke will spend the next five months training for stage one on her path to the LPGA.

Matt Wells can be reached at [email protected] or at 536-6311 ext. 269.