Furman alumni make pitch to save men's golf

Longtime pro golfer and Furman alum Brad Faxon was among those that helped secure funding to reinstate the men's golf program.

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There is hope for men’s golf at Furman. Right now it’s only a glimmer, but a conference call Monday between a group of passionate alumni and administrators led to a proposal sent Feb. 19 to the school’s Board of Trustees.

“A couple things had to happen for there to be a chance,” said Rob Langley, a 2005 Furman graduate who is part of a six-man, multi-generational committee leading the efforts. “A willing university and a lot of really engaged people. So far we’ve had both.”

The outcry from Furman supporters over the Feb. 7 decision by the Board of Trustees to eliminate men’s golf at the end of the spring season was so loud that the administration took a step back and listened. In fact, two prominent administrators since have written personal checks to help the reinstatement efforts.

Frank Ford, a 1974 Furman graduate and member of the Greenville, S.C., school’s Athletic Hall of Fame, said the initial commitments for fundraising “are pretty dramatic already.” And they’re only hours into it.

Eight-time PGA Tour winner Brad Faxon, a 1983 graduate who is the face of the men’s program and its most decorated product, said the first step is to raise close to $300,000 to fund the 2014-15 season. The deadline for that target, if approved by the board, would be July 1, sources told Golfweek.

Those close to the discussions say the university has offered to fund the scholarship portion of the program, provided that alumni support take care of operating costs.

Furman athletic director Gary Clark responded to Golfweek’s email inquiry by saying that negotiations are ongoing and "nothing has been decided or approved so it is too early to answer any questions."

More than 2,500 Paladin supporters have signed an online petition since the school announced the end of men’s golf 12 days ago.

“Can those people that were very emotional about the news, can we ask everybody to dip into their pocket to somehow come up with the money to save the program for one year and then two years and then go forward from there?” Faxon asked.

From the start, Faxon has said the goal isn’t just to come up with a short-term plan to keep the program alive for a year or two. Built into the proposal is a second fundraising effort to endow the program for the long-term. The details of that challenge, expected to be a seven-figure total, have yet to be worked out, Faxon said.

The hope is that this crisis ultimately will provide the steppingstone needed to move Furman’s struggling program back to its rightful place. Furman stands 131st in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings. No doubt the situation already has caused immediate damage to the program's prestige – at least two of three signees for next fall asked for releases from their national letters-of-intent – and will continue to do so until the uncertainty is resolved.

“The bones are there to have a top-25 team,” said an optimistic Ford.

• • •

Faxon came south to Greenville from Rhode Island in the fall of 1979 on a $400 golf scholarship and dived head-first into sunshine and cheese grits, his head swirling from all the Southern charm. He gets emotional talking about Furman, a small, liberal-arts school where he earned a degree in economics, honed a PGA Tour-worthy game and learned “what it was like to take care of yourself and take care of others.”

It goes without saying that Faxon, 52, will do whatever he can to save men’s golf at Furman. He chose the color purple after applying to Wake Forest, North Carolina, Florida and several other schools because he feared he couldn’t make those other teams.

In fact, Faxon received a form letter from Wake Forest coach Jesse Haddock as a teen that said walk-ons didn’t play at Wake Forest. He’d never make it.

Faxon kept that letter, and after his freshman year at Furman another letter arrived from Haddock, this one asking him to transfer.

Not a chance, said Faxon, who took pride in beating every player on that Demon Deacons team.

Faxon received a full ride to Furman for his last two years and was college golf’s Player of the Year in 1983.

• • •

While Faxon is undoubtedly the face of these efforts, alums like Langley – who never even tried to make it on Tour – are the ones who ultimately will save this program.

Langley, 31, played on the 2004 Southern Conference Championship team with T.J. Blandford, the Harvard Business School alumnus who launched the online petition. Langley, a father of two with one on the way, met his wife, Lauren Welch-Langley, a tennis player, while at Furman and now works for a private-equity firm in Dallas. The couple plan to make a meaningful donation.

“There are a lot of real lives involved,” said Langley, speaking of current Paladins coaches and players as well as incoming recruits. “There is an urgency around raising this initial money.”

Langley said he recently received an email from a 90-year-old alumnus who pledged a five-year commitment to the men’s program.

“All I have to do is reach my 95th birthday,” wrote the man, who copied his daughter, the executor of his will, on the email, saying, “Please make sure we make good on this.”

Langley said the outpouring of support – from young and old alike – has been incredible. He encouraged those interested in learning more about how to donate to send an email to savefurmangolf@gmail.com.

“You don’t always know how many people care until there’s a crisis,” Faxon said.

Now that we know, it's up to the administration as to what comes next.

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