The Big Ten has had several recent players move on to PGA Tour success. Northwestern’s Luke Donald won the WGC Accenture Match Play Championship, and Illinois graduate D.A. Points recently won at Pebble Beach. Also don’t forget that Illinois’ Scott Langley is this year’s defending NCAA Champion (look out for the next generation).
In honor of all this success, I caught up with Garrett Jones, a 2007 graduate of Wisconsin, to talk Big Ten golf, rivalries and how to make college golf more recognizable.
How tough or challenging is it for a kid to play college golf in Big Ten country, let alone Wisconsin? You guys seem to always have tough winters with cold and snow. How do golfers handle those months while in school?
The winters are tough, but a couple months off aren’t too bad, either. I know as far as the guys on the team right now go, they probably put the clubs away end of October and miss November, December and January. Figure they put the clubs down for three months – which I think is fine because you see some of the guys on Tour doing it. Look at Mark Wilson from Wisconsin who now lives in Chicago, and now he doesn’t do a whole lot in the winter but comes out winning events to start the year. Steve Stricker, Jerry Kelly – you know, guys that are from Wisconsin are playing at the best level – say that taking some time off is good. It allows you to regroup and be fresh. It’s really important to let your batteries recharge in the winter so that you can get after it in the spring. I don’t think it’s as big of a deal as people think.
When you were playing, it was the peak of SEC and PAC Ten teams controlling the rankings. Where would you have put the Big Ten?
When I played, we had some pretty good teams. Northwestern was pretty good, Michigan State was really strong and Minnesota won a national championship right before I started college at Wisconsin. Right now I think the top teams are Iowa, Ohio State and Illinois so I guess I can say that the Big Ten has flipped since the time I played. Those three teams weren’t very strong then, but have clearly turned it around now. With the Big Ten, a lot of the teams have really good facilities. Purdue’s and Ohio State’s may be the best in the country. It’s becoming more and more competitive and the conference has always had a strong commitment to the game of golf. The Big Ten has always been competitive.
The Big Ten probably has some of the most recognizable rivalries in college sports: Michigan vs. Ohio State, Purdue vs. Indiana and Illinois vs. Northwestern, just to name a few. Honestly though, do college golfers notice or care about them at tournaments? Do they even exist in college golf?
I think it’s hard to get them to exist in college golf. I never noticed any rivalries between any conference teams. I guess to be honest I don’t even know how they really could happen in college golf. I think in order to have a rivalry you need to have a spectator sport. College golf would need to have an atmosphere and right now they just don’t have that. On the PGA Tour they have an atmosphere with people cheering for certain guys and not cheering for others. At PGA Tour events there’s more feeling out there. Fans produce energy and the players can feel that energy and go with it. I think that’s why it’s so difficult for rivalries in college golf to evolve. Perhaps at a national championship now with the match play deciding who wins it all, I think something magical could happen there. The final match is the only way it could produce something special, and even more so if all eyes came down to the final match on the last day.
How do we get college golf to be a big spectator sport? Can it happen?
I think it can happen. It’s tough because when you watch college football or basketball people are interested in it because it’s a big-time sport and people know they’re going to see these guys again in the pros. I’m not saying that’s not happening in golf, because obviously they are the next people to go pro. They don’t notice it as much because I just don’t think there are as many personalities. You get a lot of emotion with football or basketball, but when you look on the PGA Tour the players people follow the most are the ones that show the most emotion or are personable. They don’t necessarily have to be the best player, either. Look at Rocco Mediate or John Daly. You either love them or hate them. You either cheer or boo them. I know you hear it on broadcasts that the younger players are like robots out there, but I think it’s true. They all have straight faces and show no emotion whatsoever. Why is that?
Who was one guy you played with while at Wisconsin that you said to yourself, “Man, that guy’s going to be good. Real Good.”
I played with (Jeff) Overton when he shot that 61 in a tournament, and I shot 12 under for the tournament and finished third. I think I lost by 12 to him. That was kind of crazy when you think about it. It was at Oasis down in (Cincinnati) my sophomore year, his senior year. I remember man he could kill it from 125 yards and in. That round specifically he was inside 8 feet all day. I played with him and knew every time he pulled the wedge out it was going to be close and that he’d knock it in. Then we would go to the next hole and he would hit a wedge close, walk up to the putt and knock it in again. Over and over again it seemed that day. It was pretty cool to see.
Wisconsin is not a place many people are too familiar with. If I were to check out campus or Madison, what is one hot spot I have to check out when I’m there?
I think you’d have to check out the Union Terrace. It’s on campus and is a huge patio right on the downtown campus. It’s packed every Friday with music on Friday and Saturday night. Union Terrace, you have to check it out.