Lindsay Knowlton stood on the 10th tee at Sunriver Resort preparing for the final round of her Ohio State career when, while addressing the ball, she heard a distracting noise in the distance. Knowlton stepped back, looked behind her and discovered that the perpetrator was her coach, Therese Hession, who was sobbing profusely.
“Stop, I have to hit,” Knowlton told Hession in a tone similar to what a mother would use to scold her young child. Some coaches may cry after a round but rarely will you find one who weeps before, during and after.
Hession’s tears began to flow prior to Knowlton’s and Kristen White’s final rounds at the NCAA Division I Women’s Championship because she knew she would never coach the two Buckeye seniors again. You see, for Hession, coaching women’s college golf is an honor, not an occupation. She cares about her players as if they were her own children. They mean the world to her, every single one of them.
“She’s so passionate, so committed to her job and into us that she’s so emotional,” Knowlton said. “We’ve seen her cry thousands of times over the last four years. Twice a week at least.”
Said White: “She is, night and day, thinking about what she can do to make everything better for us. She will do whatever it takes – within the legal limits – to make us our best.”
What Hession has accomplished during her 14 years in Columbus defies logic. While warm-weather schools Georgia, Arizona and Texas were sitting home for the season’s biggest event, the cold-weather Buckeyes beat top-ranked Duke at the East Regional to advance to the NCAA finals for the ninth consecutive year. Only Arizona State and Stanford have longer streaks. Perennial powerhouse Duke has been to the NCAA Championship eight consecutive years.
“It’s impressive to everyone else but not to us,” White said. “This is what we expect.”
Ohio State has won four consecutive Big Ten Championships and seven overall under Hession’s guidance, and only twice have the Buckeyes finished worse than third in the conference. Still, Hession continues to be the most underrated coach in women’s college golf.
Only once has she received National Coach of the Year honors, and that was back in 1997 when the Buckeyes won five times, including the Big Ten title, and tied for eighth at the NCAA Championship. Ohio State has had more success the past four years than ever before, yet Hession rarely receives recognition. Perhaps it’s because we have grown to expect great things from Ohio State without realizing how difficult it is to produce them.
“She may not get the credit she deserves,” Vanderbilt coach Martha Freitag said, “but I promise you she has the respect of every coach out here.”
Hession has done more with less than perhaps any coach in the country. While a warm-weather school virtually sells itself when a player arrives for a recruiting visit, Hession must sell everything but the weather during an Ohio State recruiting visit. (Hession knows how the game works – she moved from Indiana to Texas in 1975 to play at Southern Methodist because of the cold. Hession was captain of SMU’s 1979 AIAW Championship team before playing on the LPGA from 1980 to ’91.)
“It’s cold up there,” Hession said about Columbus. “A lot of times I’m their last choice, I know that. I just try to work hard and try to look around and find kids that other programs don’t see. What I’ve worked on is trying to make myself a better teacher so I can take kids who aren’t as highly recruited and develop their games.”
There have been many of those. Hession landed unranked junior golfers White and Allison Hanna and turned them into first-team All-Americans, and Knowlton and Mollie Fankhauser have been second-team selections. Point is, because of Hession, anyone on the Ohio State roster has the potential to become an All-American.
“Therese is the reason that I came to OhioState,” said freshman Carling Coffing, who shot a season-best 70 in the final round of the NCAA Championship. “She is the best coach in the nation. She knows the swing and she knows her golf. I wanted to play for her.”
Go up and down the Buckeyes’ lineup, and you’ll discover that they all wanted to play for Hession. That’s why they selected Ohio State – no matter what the temperature.
The players respect their coach, admire her, love her and want to win for her. That’s why all five members of the squad were a touch disappointed that they didn’t play better at the NCAA Championship, although they did shoot a final-round 290 to tie for sixth with Tennessee and finish eighth in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings. Only the Buckeyes’ fourth-place effort at the 2003 NCAA Championship was better.
The final round at Sunriver ended like it began, with tears. Knowlton and White were standing near the ninth green (their final hole) when Hession rushed over to give both a big hug. The two players were satisfied with what they had accomplished in their illustrious careers, and the coach had enough tears in her eyes to fill the nearby Deschutes River. It truly was a beautiful moment.
“I appreciate both of them, their belief in me and their willingness to give me the opportunity to work on their games with them,” Hession said. She tried to keep her composure.
Then the tears flowed again.