This week on Blog U., I caught up with N.C. State men’s golf coach Richard Sykes, who has coached in Raleigh for nearly 40 years. Topics of conversation included the NCAA Championship, rivalries, and determining if there are haters in the college golf world.
Coach, you have been associated with N.C. State since 1965 as either a member of the track team, golfer, or golf coach. In fact, you are now entering your 39th year as coach of the Wolfpack. What’s your most memorable experience with the program either as a coach or student athlete?
There are so many experiences over the years, such as Matt Hill winning the NCAA and player of the year last year, but one particular experience sticks out: In my first year as coach, our team finished last in the ACC Championship, 110 shots out of first place. Wake Forest was in the middle of their dynasty, and no other ACC team could beat them at that time. In my second year, we played really good and finished second, which felt like a victory, and seeing the joy on the guys faces still sticks out to this day, 37 years later.
Last year at Inverness, Matt Hill won the NCAA Championship as an individual but because of all the match-play scenarios floating around, the individual race seemed to be lost. You were walking with Matt; did it feel like a championship moment or atmosphere when you were with him?
It would have been nice to have finished with a huge crowd around 18, but it did feel like a championship moment. Matt played every round with Kyle Stanley, who finished second, and the competition was such that you did not notice the surroundings that much.
The Wolfpack ended this fall ranked 23rd in the country. It seems every year your team is in the top 30, but is always overlooked. Are there a bunch of haters out there, or do you like flying under the radar?
I don’ t think there are any haters. We just happen to be in the Southeastern part of the U.S. and there are a lot of great schools, such as the ACC and SEC teams. There are traditional powers and names that get mentioned first, and it is easy to be overlooked. We have always had one or two great players, as evidenced by guys that are out on the tours now. But, because of our lack of facilities in the past, it has been hard to gather enough players to contend for national championships. That is all changing with our new Lonnie Poole Golf Course at N.C. State University, which is fantastic. We will get our due in the end.
I know a lot of attention goes to Matt Hill, but who else on your squad has impressed you this year by really stepping up his game?
Brad Revell has stepped up the level of his play and has been a consistent contender. Our only freshman, Mitchell Sutton, has already had a great impact. People that have waited their turn are now taking their place in the lineup and doing a good job. We are excited about our team!
I know all about the rivalry on Tobacco Road, but where does N.C. State fit in to it? Does N.C. State and Wake Forest have a rivalry to spite Duke and UNC?
Over my 39 years of coaching, the rivalry between N.C. State and UNC has always been the main rivalry. Because of Duke and UNC’s basketball success, N.C. State’s overall rivalry with UNC has been overshadowed. The best way to explain it in our golf terms is this – the first question I am asked when I get back from a tournament is ,“Did you beat Carolina?.” And I feel sure that John (Inman) gets asked the same question over at UNC.
What will your team be doing until the spring?
Eating turkey, exchanging presents, and hopefully practicing!