WOLCOTT, Colo. – David Sutherland might be the only PGA Tour player to ever coach women’s college golf. Now in his 10th season at Sacramento State, Sutherland brings the experience of 215 PGA Tour events to a rising Big Sky Conference program.
Sutherland’s resume, however, isn’t the main reason Sophie Babic came to Sacramento State from Sweden. She was impressed more with the man.
“I don’t feel any pressure,” said Babic. “I know he would never yell at me or think I had less value as a person.”
Sutherland’s positive energy might be the biggest lesson he’s teaching players. Babic said she can often hear her coach laughing from the other side of the course. Senior Astha Maden appreciates the fact that Sutherland goes off-topic during competition, cracking jokes and talking about television shows to help her save mental energy in between shots.
Sacramento State’s second round at the Golfweek Conference Challenge was less than stellar, but Sutherland said there’s no need to be anxious. Nobody missed a cut or lost a tour card on Tuesday.
“This is the fun part of their golfing life,” he said. “I’m not saying professional golf isn’t fun, but it’s a job. You have to respect that as a professional player.”
An injury-riddled Sutherland left the PGA Tour in 2006 and started teaching social studies at his alma mater, Christian Brothers High School in Sacramento. He was working on getting his full-time teaching credentials when the athletic director at Sacramento State called about coaching both the men’s and women’s golf programs.
“It sounded a lot more fun than student-teaching,” said Sutherland, though he still had his eye on getting back into the classroom.
Sutherland enjoyed coaching so much, the mentorship part in particular, that when a full-time faculty position opened up, he surprised himself by turning it down.
“In coaching you do feel like you have a better chance to really change a kid’s life,” he said.
The biggest struggle Sutherland said he has as a coach is letting his players make mistakes.
“It is so hard sometimes to not tell them what to do every time,” he said. “I probably under-coach more than over-coach.”
The hope, of course, is that they don’t make the same mistake twice.
Playing professional golf at the highest level for 17 years gives Sutherland a realistic outlook about what to expect. His best PGA Tour finish was share of second at the 1997 Greater Milwaukee Open. He had a pair of third-place finishes
Golf is hard, and he’s not looking for perfection.
Babic appreciates that.
“He would be the one to tell me I did great things out there even when I didn’t,” she said.
Like on Monday, when Sutherland told her she played with a lot of class.
Coaching at a tournament, Sutherland said, is really no different than caddying on the PGA Tour. He tries to make his players feel empowered enough to make their own decision without feeling like there’s going to be a consequence.
Say for a example a player thinks she needs a 6-iron on a par-3 and Sutherland likes 7-iron. Should the player go with the 6 when it should’ve been 7, Sutherland won’t get angry. He simply hopes she learns from it.
“I do think too often in collegiate coaching, a lot of coaches expect players to do it the way they would do it,” he said.
Sacramento State has been a perfect fit for Sutherland, who could never see himself at a program that flies to tournaments on private planes. There’s no soft landing in professional golf, Sutherland said, and some over-the-top perks in college aren’t ideal in helping to prepare young players for that reality.
“Half the field wants you to play bad,” he said of the play-for-pay ranks, “and half don’t care how you do.”
Many of today’s stars, he noted, never played college golf. They turned pro early and slept three to a room, scratching and clawing their way to the biggest stage. There is a point, Sutherland said, when college programs create an environment that’s too comfortable.
“I know exactly what’s coming,” he said. “What’s coming is a bunch of people who didn’t have this experience. Their experience was chewing nails.”
Sutherland’s players appreciate his tales from the Tour. But, as India’s Maden explains, it’s what their coach values – commitment, respect, positivity – that mean the most. He could work on his Indian accent though, she joked.
Sutherland’s older brother Kevin competes on the Champions Tour and has three runner-up finishes this season and 14 top-10s. Kevin lives a mile down the road from David and practices at the same courses as the team – Del Paso Country Club and Sierra View. Kevin knows the players well, too.
A now healthy David hopes to soon join his brother on the senior circuit. He’ll attend Champions Q-School this fall, though a tour card will not keep him from coaching the Hornets. In fact, he believes this team could advance all the way to the NCAA finals.
“To say I would leave this job,” he said, “that’s not happening.”