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SANDESTIN, Fla. – When it comes to Guilford golf, there’s one player you especially don’t want to mess with.
He’s a 27-year-old two-time Division III All-American who’s almost untouchable in match play amongst the Quakers.
“Everyone wants to beat him and none of us has beaten him yet,” said Josh Hill, a junior at Guilford.
That competitor would happen to be Justin Tereshko, the team’s head coach.
Tereshko is in his fourth year helming the Quakers squad, joining the program after serving as an assistant at Huntingdon (and briefly an interim head coach) and DePauw. Before that, Tereshko earned his All-America stripes at Transylvania.
He wouldn’t be the only coach in this week’s Golfweek Division III Fall Invitational, where Guilford opened Sunday in 2-over 286 to sit solo third and six back of leader Concordia (Texas), to be able to put up some good scores, considering Huntingdon’s Dave Schreyer had a 17-year career as a pro golfer.
But it’d be tough to find many coaches who could top Tereshko on the amateur level.
Tereshko plays a full amateur schedule in the summer, winning the North Carolina Amateur in June, making it to match play at the U.S. Amateur two months later and also reaching match play at last week’s U.S. Mid-Amateur.
And he’s often most dangerous amongst his own players.
Nobody on the current team has beaten him in a match (at least one-on-one) and Tereshko can hand players some beatdowns.
Last season, the Quakers hosted the Division III Match Play Invitational in April. As a lead-up to the event, Tereshko had a match-play tournament within the team. The 12-player bracket included Tereshko.
After a bye and a quarterfinal win, Tereshko took on Hill in the semifinals. Hill, of Superior, Colo., is considered the team’s best smack-talker and was undefeated in match play that season.
Before the match, Hill chirped at his coach that there was no chance he’d win. Tereshko waxed him, 8 and 7.
“It was so embarrassing,” Hill said, with a laugh.
But the beatdown was motivational. Tereshko went on to defeat Kell Graham (T-22, 1 over at the Golfweek Division III Fall Invitational) in the final in 19 holes to win the inter-squad warm-up, and an undeterred Hill then went 3-0 in the Division III Match Play Invitational.
Why would he be fazed? After all, Hill (who struggled to a 6-over 77 in Sunday’s first round at Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort’s Raven Golf Club) joined some very good company in his blowout defeat.
Three years ago, Tereshko posted his best showing in a USGA event. He qualified for match play at the 2014 U.S. Amateur and made it to the Round of 32 after an opening-match win.
The margin of victory in his Round of 64 triumph? A stunning 7-and-6 rout. And the opponent that day … Xander Schauffele.
Yes, the 2016-17 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year and a two-time winner on the circuit (including a victory at the Tour Championship) this season.
As the 23-year-old has risen to potential superstardom, Tereshko doesn’t let his players forget about that day.
“It’s all the time,” Hill said. “Every time he sees Xander on TV, he’s like, ‘Oh hey, I beat him, 7 and 6. Is that Xander Schauffele? I beat him 7 and 6 at the U.S. Am.’ ”
Earlier this year, Tereshko and three players headed to the Wells Fargo Championship to watch former Guilford player Savio Nazareth compete.
One of the players in Nazareth’s first-round pairing was none other than Schauffele. When Tereshko arrived as a spectator at the opening tee, Schauffele did a double take, gave his 7-and-6 tormentor a nod and smiled.
Of course, the memory of that triumph works both ways.
Schauffele may’ve been beaten in 12 holes that 2014 summer day, but three years later he cashed more than $7.3 million in earnings (including FedEx Cup bonuses) in his first PGA Tour season.
At the Tour Championship, Schauffele earned $4.28 million alone thanks to his winner’s check and the $3 million FedEx Cup bonus for finishing second in the playoff standings.
Meanwhile the winner of that 2014 U.S. Amateur match is a Division III college coach, a divergence that brings endless humor to Tereshko’s friends.
“After Xander won the Tour Championship, one of my friends texted in a group chat, ‘Someone made 4.28 million better decisions than you did,’ ” Tereshko said, with a laugh.
Tereshko’s players can also use this quirk as fuel to bring him back down to earth.
The coach may be able to boast this feat and is an impossible out in match play at Guilford, but sophomore Terence Schmutz offered the most devastatingly honest assessment when he felt his coach may’ve brought up the win one too many times.
“(One day) he was just like, ‘Coach, he’s on Tour, he’s making millions of dollars a year to swing a golf club. You’re just driving us around the country playing tournaments. We understand you beat him, but you just need to calm down,’ ” Hill said, with a smile.
Still, the talk is all in good humor, and Tereshko even pokes fun at himself at what’s transpired since that 2014 match.
Frankly, though, Tereshko never truly got a big head about the match.
Coming out of Transylvania, he briefly contemplated a pro career before deciding against it (deep down, he knew he couldn’t compete at the highest level). The day against Schauffele didn’t sway him toward pro life: Tereshko said he simply got unbelievably hot with the putter that day on his way to seven birdies in 12 holes.
Even as his relative success in amateur events continues, Tereshko remains adamant he’ll never turn pro.
“There’s absolutely no way I can compete (with those guys),” Tereshko said. “I don’t want to waste my money or anybody else’s money to tell me something I already know.”
As for his current situation, Tereshko’s continued playing career serves as more than just a good story regarding Schauffele.
Tereshko likes to compete with his players to get a better feel for their games. He made a point to play 18 holes with all 10 members of the team in the squad’s four-round qualifier prior to this season’s first event.
This week, Jack Lee (T-30, 2 over) essentially earned his spot without qualifying. Tereshko played with Lee in the final round of qualifying Wednesday and halfway through the round texted Guilford Assistant Coach Mitch Robinette that Lee was going to the event. Lee hit 12 fairways that day and ended up shooting 71.
Tereshko’s match-play prowess also instills a grinding mindset into his squad – one that the group emphasized on the way to a runner-up finish at the 2017 NCAA Division III Championship.
The coach boasts an unorthodox double overlap grip with his left thumb sticking out below his right index finger as well. John Sjoberg, a friend and the men’s golf coach at Emory, says Tereshko’s swing isn’t exactly one you’d teach.
But Tereshko’s stellar wedge play and ability to put up a sub-par score when his game is struggling inspires his squad. His rock-hard mental game – Tereshko is nearly impossible to rattle on the golf course – solidifies him as a dominator in match play and a model to copy.
“He’s really helped me with my attitude on the golf course,” said senior Harrison Frye (T-30, 2 over). “He never really gets too down. It just makes it really enjoyable.”
Still, the biggest fuel among Guilford players remains to take down the man who’s seemingly impenetrable.
Hill is desperate to beat his coach, and every time they compete in a match, the first thing Tereshko brings up is the 8-and-7 win: You think you’ll make it past 11, Josh?
Tereshko doesn’t have many takers outside his team for a match.
“I am not dumb enough to try that,” said Sjoberg, who caddied for Tereshko at the U.S. Mid-Am. “I wouldn’t put a lot on the line playing against Justin.”
What would happen, though, if Schauffele were to embark on a rematch with Tereshko three years later?
Tereshko thinks he only has a chance if he recaptured his incredible putting magic from that 2014 day.
But Hill won’t let his coach be that humble.
When Schauffele posted on Instagram in July about his first PGA Tour win at the Greenbrier Classic, Hill left a snarky comment: Remember when my coach beat you, 7 and 6?
The junior screenshotted the comment and texted it to the team. Tereshko had him delete the comment – the coach is happy to bring up the win, but he doesn’t want to come across as rude. (Hill meant no ill will of course, but social media commentary can be misconstrued.)
Regarding a hypothetical rematch between the 2014 U.S. Amateur foes, Hill wants his thoughts to be heard. The junior says no doubt Tereshko would win, and he wouldn’t be intimidated by Schauffele’s newfound fame.
“The first thing he’d say is probably like, ‘You think you’ll make it past 12 this time?’ ” Hill said, with a laugh. “Xander’s a good player, but I don’t think he’s mentally as good as Justin.”
Sounds like a man who’s pretty tough to beat.