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10 Years Later: Why the assistant coach has made college golf better

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It’s been 10 years since the NCCA Legislation began allowing assistant golf coaches to perform on-course coaching in college events. Today, 94 percent of the top-100 men’s golf teams have assistant coaches, and the coaching pool is stronger than ever, with individuals such as Jean Paul Hebert (Texas), Jake Amos (South Carolina), Ryan Jamieson (Florida), Robert Duck (Florida State), Donnie Darr (Oklahoma State), John Mills (Kent State), Garrett Runion (LSU), Zach Barlow (Illinois), Bob Heinz (Duke), and 2017 Assistant Coach of the Year from Baylor, Ryan Blagg. The list includes a guy with 20+ PGA Tour experience (Bob Heinz), several former college standouts and some National Championship wins (Jean Paul Hebert – 1, Runion – 2, Amos – 2).

In the 10 years since the expanded role of the assistant golf coach, the National Championship has still been dominated by major conference schools, with only three non-major conference schools earning a spot in match play (Kent State 2012, and Augusta State in 2010, 2011). Of course, Augusta State went on to win both of its appearances in match play, earning back-to-back national championships under Coach Josh Gregory.

One of best examples of the success of assistant golf coaches is Chris Malloy at Ole Miss. Malloy, a graduate of Ole Miss, began his coaching career as the women’s assistant golf coach at Florida State. Shortly after, he was working with both programs and had an immediate impact, which included helping the men win their first ever ACC championship. Shortly after, Chris took over as the men’s golf coach at University of South Florida, transforming the team into a National Contender and a top-30 ranking. Today, at Ole Miss, Chris has done the same thing, transforming a team and a culture in three years, earning a spot in the 2017 NCAA National Championship at Rich Harvest Farms.

Another great example is Sooner coach Ryan Hybl, who in 2017 lead his team to the NCAA National Championship. Hybl, an outstanding player at Georgia, then was an assistant with the program from 2005-2009. The system continues to work as three notable assistants made moves this summer; Jim Garden from OU to Coastal Carolina, John Handrigan from UF to Notre Dame and Dusty Smith from Vanderbilt to Mississippi State.

Although to date, mid-major teams have not fared consistently on the national level. The system of assistant coaches has proven to be an excellent tool in broadening the pool of candidates. Last year’s National Championship featured six mid-major schools with half being wily veterans, and half being a product of the assistant coach route; Michael Beard of Pepperdine served as the assistant at Arizona State; Bryce Waller of University of Central Florida served as the assistant at the University of Tennessee; Bryant Odem of Kennesaw State served as the assistant at the University of Wisconsin. It will also feature teams like Oklahoma State, Baylor, Virginia, Oklahoma, Vanderbilt, Ole Miss and Purdue, which have coaches who have benefited from their experience as assistant coaches in their roles with these programs.

Practice Facility at the University of Central Florida

Practice Facility at the University of Central Florida

The pool of candidates for coaching positions today is deeper than ever. Athletic Directors are blessed to be able to interview several good candidates for almost each job. The result for the players are fully engaged coaches who bring passion and desire to improve each of their programs.

Bowen Sargent, the current head coach at University of Virginia and former assistant coach at the University of Tennessee under Jim Kelson, started coaching when the rules only allowed one coach. In the 10 years since the rule change, Bowen believes “it’s a positive change for sure. Having two coaches allows for a better student-athlete experience and for them to have more access to their coaches.”

Coach Bowen Sargent of UVA, along with former players Denny McCarthy and Derek Bard at the US Open

Coach Bowen Sargent of UVA, along with former players Denny McCarthy and Derek Bard at the U.S. Open

The diversity among coaches is also greater. Today’s juniors have the option to play for a skillful player such as a Mike Small at Illinois or Casey Martin at Oregon, or Doug Martin at Cincinnati, or even a world class instructor like Bryce Waller at UCF, Ben Pellicani at Limpscomb or Casey Van Dame at South Dakota State. Waller, an excellent instructor himself, has lead UCF to three National Championship appearance in 7 years. Likewise, Ben, a Golf Digest top-40 under-40 instructor who spent several years learning from Mike Bender has been instrumental in transforming Limpscomb into a national contender, participating in their first ever National Championship in 2017. Lastly, Casey who spent several years under Jim Mclean, then as the assistant at University of Tennessee, has transformed South Dakota State Men’s and Women’s Golf, with both teams currently ranked in the top-100 in the country.

Ben Pellicanni of Limpscomb University helping to read a putt

Ben Pellicanni of Limpscomb University helping to read a putt

Athletic Directors are also starting to put more funding towards golf resources. The result has been an explosion of golf-specific training facilities across the scope of college golf. Many mid-major schools have top-notch practice facilities, including places such as University of North Texas, University of Richmond, University of Central Arkansas and Illinois State to name a few.

Golf facility at the University of Central Arkansas

Golf facility at the University of Central Arkansas

The tremendous pool of coaching candidates has also benefited other levels of golf. For example, 2014 Assistant Coach of the Year Chris Hill is now the head men’s and women’s golf coach at Concordia University, a Division 3 School near Austin, Texas. In his two years as coach, he has already lead the program to seven tournament titles.

As time passed, I believe that we will see a change at the NCAA Championship and it will include a growing trend towards mid-major universities not only earning spots at the National Championships, but having success like Augusta State. The person at the head of one of those programs is likely to have come from the assistant coach ranks and should be thankful for the rule change, which lead to these opportunities.

Please note: As of writing this article, only 6 men’s teams in D1 do not have assistant coaches. They are UTEP (51), McNeese (84), Nevada (88), Richmond (89), Cincinnati (92) and Tennessee at Chattanooga (96).

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Brendan is the owner of Golf Placement Services, a boutique business which aims to apply his background in golf and higher education to help educate players, their families and coaches about the process! Website - www.golfplacementservices.com Insta - golf.placement.sevices Twitter @BMRGolf

6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. Will Brewer

    Jan 18, 2018 at 10:27 pm

    Brendan – we appreciate the mention of LIPSCOMB and what we have done the past 5 season.
    Let me know if you want to know our history and how we have reached unpresidented heights for a mid major. Glad to inform our process.

  2. Greg Hunter

    Jan 18, 2018 at 5:56 pm

    I’m enjoying coaching at Concordia University with Coach Chris Hill and Cody Hebert. Fantastic group of golfers that are playing for us!

  3. Lorne Kelly

    Jan 18, 2018 at 8:05 am

    Must have taken some time to put together, most of which probably came off the top of your head (photographic memory an all that).
    Makes for good reading and I’m sure welcomed by many across the board. Well done Brendan!

  4. Jon

    Jan 17, 2018 at 5:35 pm

    Lipscomb not Limpscomb and John Handrigan has been the Head Coach at Notre Dame since August.

  5. AllanG

    Jan 17, 2018 at 2:27 pm

    Yup…. two half-brains are better than half a brainlet having ‘fun’. There are no great minds in the game of golf.

  6. Loudan

    Jan 17, 2018 at 1:41 pm

    Casey is the coach for South Dakota State University not North Dakota State.

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Opinion & Analysis

Are golf fans and the media right to judge Brooks Koepka?

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Brooks Koepka’s relationship with observers of the game has been uncomfortable of late. You only have to go back to August of this year, when at the PGA Championship, Tiger Woods poured his heart and soul into his final round at the year’s last major with the spectators of St. Louis delivering in kind to create one of the best atmospheres at a golf event in recent years. Koepka that day, received polite applause from the crowd that Sunday evening as he tapped in nonchalantly on the 18th green to win his second major championship title of the year. After the climate that Woods had created, that final scene, it is fair to say, was a little anti-climactic.

Koepka, who ascended to the summit of the game after victory at the CJ Cup on Sunday has come under fire for being an aloof golfer who lacks personality and passion on the golf course. His lack of emotion while competing rubs many people the wrong way, especially ever since he described golf as “kind of boring” in a 2015 interview with Golf Digest.

Koepka’s blasé appearance on the golf course has led to a distant relationship between himself and both golf spectators and the media. The media’s perceived lack of appreciation for Koepka is fueled by his robotic style on the golf course. Unlike, Woods, McIlroy, or Spieth, who express themselves on the course and offer marketable narratives at all times, Koepka is considered dull and lacking a personality.

This lack of appreciation from golf’s media lights a fire under the American. Earlier this year, Koepka displayed the type of emotion that golf fans would love to see on the course when he railed against the media for the lack of attention they give him.

“You’ve got guys who will kiss up, and I’m not gonna kiss up. I don’t need to kiss anyone’s butt. I’m here to play golf. I’m not here to do anything else. I don’t need to bend over backwards to be friends with anyone [in the media], but certain guys do that because they want their names written. I’d rather be written about because of my play. Sometimes it does suck, but I’ve started to care less. Come Sunday, I won’t forget it when everyone wants to talk to me because I just won. I don’t forget things.”

It is clear what now motivates Koepka (at least in part): His indignation at the lack of respect he feels he receives from the media has given him the impetus to work even harder, resulting in a career-defining year which saw him bag two majors, the PGA Player of the Year award and the world number one ranking.

Are golf fans unfair to judge Koepka on his emotionally void performances? I don’t think they are. While it’s only right to appreciate the level of dedication, skill, and nerve that Koepka has displayed on his way to the top of the sport, fans of any sport want to root for a player who showcases their thirst for victory as imperative to their being. Think Rafael Nadal, Tom Brady, Cristiano Ronaldo etc. Athletes are admired as much for their skill as they are their desire to win that they express outwardly, energizing fans of their sport. Nowadays, sports are as much a competitive activity as they are entertainment. As long as Koepka fails to show how much he wants to win to the public, fans of the sport and the media are not going to show him the adoration and attention that he deserves.

How will Koepka’s personality affect his status in the game of golf?

Should the American continue to claim major titles and hold onto the world number one ranking, will appreciation rise? Probably not. His situation is reminiscent of tennis legends Pete Sampras and Ivan Lendl. Both world class champions throughout their illustrious careers, yet both failed to capture the imagination of fans due to their stoic and emotionally lacking approach on the court.

While the attention and love Koepka receives currently is limited for someone who is world number one, his unresponsive, passive demeanor doesn’t afford him the luxury of having a dip in form and still staying relative. Woods barely played from 2014-17, yet any news from the 14-time major winner in this period was still box office, while the likes of McIlroy and Spieth who have both suffered substantial dips in form over the past couple of years have received bundles of attention both from the media and from spectators during this period. Koepka does not have the same comfort, and he will need to stay at the top of the game or his limited attention from the golfing world will diminish.

However, it’s difficult to imagine the 28-year-old going anywhere anytime soon though. The three-time major winner has a game designed to dismantle even the most challenging of golf courses. While viewers may be unenthused by BK’s robotic nature, it’s something they may have to accept. Koepka’s feeling of being slighted by the golfing world may have had one of the most positive effects on his career, and as long as he feels unappreciated, he can allow his talent to hit back at his critics.

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Podcasts

The 19th Hole (Ep. 55): How to cure the chipping yips, from Master Instructor Jim Waldron

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The yips can be career-ending. Master Instructor and GolfWRX contributor Jim Waldron talks with host Michael Williams on what causes the yips and how to get rid of them. Also appearing in this episode is Dean Knuth of Heat Golf, and Bodo Siebert of Tagmarshal.

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes!

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The Gear Dive: Golf prodigy Cole Hammer talks equipment, not turning pro, committing to Texas

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Cole Hammer, who once qualified for the 2015 U.S. Open at 15 years old, joins The Gear Dive Podcast with Johnny Wunder to discuss equipment, being a Freshman at the University of Texas, committing for 4 years, not turning pro and his crazy big summer including a win at the 2018 Western Amateur.

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes!

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