After struggles as pro, David Inglis finds his fit as coach at Northwestern

Courtesy of Northwestern Athletics

After struggles as pro, David Inglis finds his fit as coach at Northwestern

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After struggles as pro, David Inglis finds his fit as coach at Northwestern

Editor’s note: This story originally appeared in the February 2018 print issue of Golfweek Magazine and is part of a series looking at former phenoms who found a path outside pro golf. Jim Liu was the first subject in the series.

For David Inglis, it was essentially the beginning of the end.

The former Tulsa standout – a three-time All-American who played in the 2003 Walker Cup – was paired early at the 2004 BMW International Open with a player he didn’t know.

That stranger proceeded to beat Inglis by five shots over 36 holes and open the Scotsman’s eyes.

“He’s hitting it 50 yards by me, flushes every shot,” Inglis said. “He made me look like I wasn’t even playing the same sport.”

The mystery man was Louis Oosthuizen.

Yes, a future major champion. The drubbing led Inglis to believe he didn’t belong.

“I was outmatched,” he said. “My skills weren’t good enough to play professional golf.”

Inglis, 35, worked his way back to college golf in 2010 as an assistant coach for Northwestern’s men’s golf team. After years of recognition as a top assistant, Inglis was named Northwestern’s head coach in 2014.

It worked out after his first career evaporated.

Bill Brogden, then the men’s head coach at Tulsa, thought Inglis was only an OK player when he first saw him in the late 1990s. But he recruited the Scot considering Inglis, unlike most Europeans at the time, relished U.S. college golf.

After Inglis signed with Tulsa, he won the 2000 British Boys’ Championship. His confidence soared.

Tulsa’s coach was overjoyed with the player he got.

“He’d hole a wedge almost every tournament,” said Brogden, now retired. “He was unbelievable.”

Inglis would earn second-team All-America honors in his 2000-01 freshman season and win eight times in his outstanding college career. His ’03 Walker Cup included a singles win over Ryan Moore.
He had become Scotland’s great amateur hope and seemed sure to cruise after turning pro.

GANTON, ENGLAND – SEPTEMBER 7: David Inglis of Great Britain and Ireland celebrates winning his match against Ryan Moore of USA during the 2003 Walker Cup at Ganton Golf Club on September 7, 2003 in Ganton, England. (Photo By Ian Walton/Getty Images)

But Inglis was then consistently blunted with the fact that his skills weren’t good enough. He lacked length, and his ballstriking didn’t match up.

In 2004 he missed the cut in all five of his European Tour starts and failed to advance past first stage in European and PGA Tour Q-Schools.

A short Challenge Tour stint, more failed PGA Tour Q-School showings and forgettable years on the mini-tours, mainly the Gateway Tour, followed. (His most entertaining mini-tour moment occurred when a furious playing competitor wanted to fight Inglis in a parking lot after the Scot refused to sign his scorecard.)

Inglis had come to realize his failure to work early on developing his skills long-term had put him behind. He became consumed with his swing, neglecting his top-notch short game. The compulsion left his swing twisted, to the point the precise golfer struggled to keep the ball in play.

He did this while working full-time at Bear Lakes Country Club in West Palm Beach, Fla., to help fund his pro career. The late attempt to catch up never had a chance.

“It was destined to fail,” Inglis said. “You can’t spend 40 hours a week working and as much work (on my game) as I had to do and as much work as I needed to improve, there was just a disconnect there.”

Inglis knew by 2007 his pro dreams were essentially dead.
Still desiring a career in golf, Inglis meshed his love of teaching with his fondness for college. Inglis scoured the NCAA Market website, applying for any open college golf coaching position. He got no hits for two years. Finally, in 2010, Denver expressed interest in Inglis for its men’s assistant job. So did Ohio State.

Both opportunities fizzled, as Inglis’ coaching inexperience did him no favors.

Pat Goss, then Northwestern’s head coach, made the connection. In Inglis’ interview for Northwestern’s vacant assistant job, Goss saw a man with passion for college golf. It was also clear Inglis’ shortcomings as a pro hadn’t left him bitter.

“It hasn’t at all taken away from his pure passion and love for golf,” said Goss, now Northwestern’s director of golf and player development.

In Inglis’ first college coaching gig, his course-management knowledge immediately made an impact on players. Inglis felt his comfort under pressure might’ve served him well in pro golf – as a college coach, he often had the perfect thing to say.

“He marries the technical side of the game to the tournament side of the game very well,” said Jack Perry, a member of Northwestern’s men’s golf team from 2010-14. “And he can switch back and forth based on what you need at the time.”

With Inglis also adept at recruiting, inquiries about grander assistant jobs as well as head coaching gigs were pouring in. That led Goss to shift away from head coach and let Inglis take over. Last season Inglis nearly led Northwestern to its first NCAA Championship appearance since 2011.

With Inglis emphasizing to players the long-term skill development that might’ve given him a shot in pro golf, his new calling has come full circle.

“If you truly love the game for the right reasons, you can find a place in the game that satisfies you,” Goss said.

The winding path has Inglis fulfilled.

“I think I’m really where I need to be,” he said.

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