Amari Avery admits she cried before her first in-person college class, RXRS 201: History and Geography of Drugs, a 130-student lecture in USC’s Social Sciences Building. Avery had recently added the course, about a week and a half into the spring semester, and it was her first time being in a classroom of any kind since elementary school.
“To be quite honest, I was very nervous coming to school,” Avery said. “Just being home-schooled for most of my life and going from only seeing my friends at golf tournaments to seeing them every day, the thought of going to an in-person class was nerve-racking…
“But it went really well.”
The same could be said of Avery’s on-course performance for the Trojans since enrolling early last month. She won her first individual title in just her second college start on Tuesday at the Icon Invitational in Humble, Texas, a week after she tied for sixth in her USC debut in San Diego.
“The way she’s handled the transition is absurd. I can’t believe how seamless it’s been,” USC head coach Justin Silverstein said. “We knew how good of a golfer she was, but you really never know what someone’s truly got until you see it from 2 feet away instead of 20 yards away.”
Silverstein was already aware of Avery’s elite ball-striking gifts – in fact, she may be even better than he thought. But where just a few weeks in Los Angeles have helped Avery lies in the numbers. Seemingly simple things – knowing yardages, how to calculate yardages, understanding effects of temperature and wind – are being presented to Avery in a more data-focused method.
“Coming from junior golf, you don’t do as much data,” Avery said. “It’s just time-consuming, to be honest. But that was the reason why I chose USC because I knew how data-driven they were. It’s really helped my game in just this short amount of time.”
Like knowing her tendency to leave approach shots short of the hole or miss putts on the low side. While the data is still building, Silverstein has already noticed an improvement in Avery’s speed on the greens.
“It’s like a quarterback in a new system,” Silverstein said. “She’s learning the language of how we do things.”
Like a sponge, Avery is soaking it all up quickly. She bookended her tournament at the Golf Club of Houston with bogey-free, 7-under 65s, no easy feat in windy conditions. No other USC player had ever shot 65 twice in the same event. And her 15-under total matched a school record, originally set by Dewi Claire Schreefel at the 2007 Margaret Branch NCAA Preview.
“It helps when your ball-striking and putting are firing on all cylinders,” Avery said.
That kind of play will remind some of Annie Park, who arrived at USC a semester early before sweeping the postseason and leading the Trojans to the 2013 NCAA Championship. It’s a fair comparison, says Silverstein, though he argues that it’s more difficult now for Avery considering the added distractions that student-athletes face, from social media to name, image and likeness. Last week, Avery signed with Wasserman Sports for NIL representation, and she was excited to see what kind of opportunities she could unlock while still in school.
She’s also eager to follow in Park’s footsteps and bring more hardware to Los Angeles. The Trojans had a mostly disappointing first five events, but behind Avery and fellow freshman Cindy Kou, who tied for third, USC won the team title by 15 shots over Illinois while also beating Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, Ole Miss and TCU.
“I know the mark that Annie left on this program,” Avery said. “She holds a lot of records here and has a lot of achievements, and hopefully I can live up to that if not go above and beyond what she did.”
Added Silverstein: “She’s the type of player that would change the dynamic of any roster she went on, all the way to the top. She’s that good. … And her presence is extending beyond just her scores. She’s going to help push everyone to get better.”