2001: Perspective - Coaches’ travels lead to talent

My, how things have changed in college golf over the last 20 years. Used to be only a handful of teams were considered among the elite – the ones you knew time and again would be right there challenging for a national title.

Used to be most college and university athletic departments treated golf with little respect. Give the golf program some money – usually very little – and let it alone.

Used to be golf coaches recruited by telephone, making a few calls hoping to land one of the top junior players. It was almost unheard of for coaches to go to a tournament to watch a potential recruit.

So much for the good ol’ days.

One of the great innovators and most successful coaches in the game was the late Dave Williams at Houston. He was a master promoter of his program and college golf. And his teams always were among the elite. From 1952-87 his Cougar teams won 341 tournaments, highlighted by 16 NCAA titles.

But that was then. This is now.

“If Dave Williams came back today he probably wouldn’t recognize it (college golf),” said Oklahoma State coach Mike Holder, who is entering his 29th season. “I think what has changed most is the quality of coaches and the commitments of the athletic programs to golf.”

Many golf programs have become self-sufficient, and a number of them have fully endowed scholarships and facilities that are among the best in the country.

What was once only a handful of elite teams has become a bushel basket. In the 1960s, Houston won seven NCAA titles. In the 1980s, six different teams won the national tournament. In the ’90s, eight different teams won. There has not been a back-to-back champion since Houston in 1984-85.

“Every year the number (of competitive programs) grows,” said Randy Lein, who is entering his 19th season of college coaching and ninth at Arizona State. “There is so much more depth in college golf nowadays. You can’t take any team for granted.”

In this issue, Golfweek lists its preseason top 30 men’s programs (p18-19). But before the end of the 2001-02 season, there could be a dozen or more unranked teams that move into the top 30. There’s that much talent and parity out there.

One of the big reasons for this power structure change is the number of quality players coming through the junior ranks. And, in many cases, by the time a young man enters college, he’s already a seasoned veteran of tournament competition.

“There are more good players out there to choose from,” said Holder, whose teams have won eight NCAA titles. “As more and more schools put a bigger emphasis on golf, they are able to get these players.

“There are so many more opportunities for a young man these days to go to a quality program. And there are more good coaches chasing them, which has made recruiting so competitive and intense.”

Nowadays, coaches spend the bulk of their summer going from one junior tournament to another. Not only are they seeking out the high-profile player, but they’re also hoping to “discover” one.

Holder said he remembers the 1990 U.S. Junior Amateur at Lake Merced Golf Club in California where he and “maybe two or three other coaches” were present.

At this year’s U.S. Junior in San Antonio, Holder was one of about 60 coaches on hand.

“Someday we may see more coaches (at U.S. Junior) than players,” Holder said.

Some coaches have even planned a family vacation around a junior tournament. What it has done is spread the workload over the full 12 months.

And the job gets more intense during the fall season. Not only are coaches handling their daily team and tournament duties, but they’re also working to get the best recruits to sign national letters-of-intent to join their programs the following season.

By NCAA rules, a coach can begin recruiting a player July 1 following a player’s junior year of high school. For the most part, who’s going where becomes known during the weeklong fall signing period, held the first part of November.

This year should prove to be very interesting as the recruiting wars intensify during the next few months.

Among the leading targets are James Vargas, Matthew Rosenfeld, Ryan Cochran, Daniel Summerhays, Kevin Silva, Spencer Levin, Benjamin Spitz, Colby Beckstrom, Eddie Lee and Matt McLean, to name a few.

So it’s going to be a busy fall as coaches continue their traveling salesmen roles and bring in players for official school visits.

To build a program and be competitive, this is the way of life for coaches today. The job is a lot more work and more stressful than it was in the good ol’ days. That’s the price of progress.

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