J.T. Poston would love to be that player on the PGA Tour who sends everyone to a Google search.
Wait, where did this guy come from?
A senior at Western Carolina University, Poston has rewritten the record books in Cullowhee, N.C., a small town situated between the Great Smoky and Blue Ridge mountains. Poston hails from Hickory, N.C., and his Catamount teammates call him “Jimbo.” He’s fond of wearing fancy socks, mostly of the purple and gold variety as those are Catamounts’ colors. In the final round of the Southern Conference Championship on April 21, Poston wore a nice chevron print.
Bryant Odom, now in his second season as head coach at Western Carolina, calls Poston a late-bloomer and said his No. 1 player relishes the opportunity to match up against top programs – ACC/SEC schools who overlooked him in the recruiting process – to put on a show.
“Since then, he’s always wanted to prove to these guys, ‘you know what? you missed out on me,’ ” said Odom.
But while that’s internal motivation for Poston, he’s mostly a humble guy who goes about his business working hard and draining clutch putts.
Case in point: this week’s SoCon Championship. Two hours after Poston posted a 71 to finish at 9-under 207, he went back out for a sudden-death playoff against Adrian Meronk of East Tennessee State. Poston made quick work of it, pouring in an 18-foot birdie putt on the first playoff hole to win his second consecutive conference title.
“He said he was really nervous,” said Odom, “that he was shaking over that putt, but I couldn’t tell.”
Poston will advance to NCAA regional action May 14-16 for the third time in his career, and just five days after he graduates from Western with a degree in finance.
“We’ve never had somebody from WCU get to nationals,” said Poston. “I’d love to be the first person.”
Poston tied for 38th in both his previous NCAA regional appearances.
There’s nothing flashy about Poston’s game. He does his damage from 130 yards and in, dialing in wedges and making putts like nobody’s business.
Odom, an SEC champion at Georgia, compared Poston’s game to that of former Bulldog and current Tour player Harris English.
“Not as big as Harris,” said Odom. “Just has that flowing swing and acts like nothing bothers him. Next thing you know he’s shooting 67, wearing you out.”
J.T. stands for James Tyree. Poston’s father’s, James Tyree Sr., goes by Ty.
“I’ve been J.T. since I was born,” he said.
It was J.T.’s grandfather “Doc” who first introduced him to the game, giving him a plastic set of clubs around age 2 and eventually teaching J.T. the fundamentals. Charles Cunningham traveled from his home in Huntsville, Ala., to watch his grandson claim another conference title on Pinehurst No. 9.
J.T. still works with the same instructor, John McNeely, that his grandfather chose for him around age 7. Both McNeely and Joe Humston of Diamond Creek Country Club in Banner Elk, N.C., keep an eye on Poston’s swing.
Poston’s SoCon title marked the sixth of his career at Western Carolina. Last season Poston set the school’s single-season scoring mark with a 71.97 average. Through 32 rounds this season, Poston is on track to better that mark at 70.68.
Currently 39th in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings, Poston has a season-long head-to-head record of 848-77-16. And while he’s had little exposure to the best of college golf in team competition (against the top 25, he’s 4-7-1), Poston tied for sixth last November at the elite Western Refining College All-America Classic.
As a junior, he notched 16 of 33 rounds in the 60s. And while he’s slightly behind that mark this year, he has broken 70 in four of his last six rounds of competition.
“He turns those 71s into 68,” Odom said of Poston’s greatest strength.
Poston plans to remain amateur throughout the summer in hopes of catching the eye of Walker Cup captain Spider Miller. His summer schedule includes U.S. Open qualifying, the Sunnehanna (unless he qualifies for the U.S. Open), the Northeast Amateur and possibly the Players Amateur, Southern Amateur, Western Amateur and U.S. Amateur.
“He’s not shying away from any of it whatsoever,” Odom said.