Coastal Carolina's Morgan Deneen goes from walk-on to conference champion

Sun Belt Conference

Coastal Carolina's Morgan Deneen goes from walk-on to conference champion

Men

Coastal Carolina's Morgan Deneen goes from walk-on to conference champion

When Jim Garren was named the head men’s golf coach at Coastal Carolina last July, the former Oklahoma assistant immediately faced a pressing issue. The Chanticleers were returning four players and bringing in just one incoming freshman, and their final event of the fall, the East Bay Deli Classic at Kiawah Island, S.C., featured a six-count-four format.

With about a month until classes started and no scholarship money left, Garren’s options were limited.

“We needed a guy, and he had to be a walk-on,” Garren said.

So Garren contacted Will Mann, director of the PGA Golf Management program at Coastal Carolina, in hopes Mann could provide some reinforcements. Out of a program of 300-plus students, Mann recommended two seniors.

Nine months later one of those endorsements, Morgan Deneen, has put together the type of season worthy of a Hollywood script. The Tustin, Calif., native played every round for the Chanticleers this season and ranked second on the team in scoring average (73.15) before capturing the Sun Belt Championship individual title by seven shots April 24 at Sandestin Resort’s Raven Golf Course.

“The opportunity that I got was once in a lifetime,” Deneen said, “and I’m just glad that I took full advantage of it.”

Deneen generated little Division-I interest out of Foothill High and saw his slim hopes of walking on as a freshman at Coastal Carolina dashed early. He enjoyed his time in the PGM school and was runner-up at the 2016 PGM Club Championship.

“But I longed for something more,” Deneen said. “I knew I had the game to compete on the highest level.”

When Garren received Deneen’s name from Mann, he looked at some of Deneen’s results and saw that Deneen, while interning last summer at Pebble Beach, had lost in a playoff in the Monterey City Amateur and beaten a few players who played for Pac-12 schools.

“That was good enough for us,” Garren said. “There was no tryout. He didn’t know I was going to put him on the team right away, but I did.”

Deneen quickly proved he belonged. In the team’s first qualifier, at DeBordieu Club in Georgetown, S.C., Deneen was the only player not scared to hit driver on the course’s tough 17th hole. Garren rewarded Deneen with an exemption into the team’s season opener.

“And he never looked back,” Garren said.

Deneen eagled the first hole of his college career. He notched his first top-10 finish three tournaments later, tying for eighth in Kiawah. And during winter break, he shared seventh at the Agave Amateur.

After a T-16 finish at the Old Waverly Collegiate to cap the regular season, Deneen tied the school record with a second-round 63 at the Sun Belt Championship, one shot better than Dustin Johnson’s best round at Coastal Carolina, and took a three-shot lead into the final round.

“That was an unfamiliar position for me at a tournament of that level,” Deneen said. “It was a little frightening.”

But Deneen stepped up on the first tee and began his final round by hitting “probably the best 1-iron I’ve ever seen hit,” Garren said. The next day Deneen beat Georgia Southern’s Steven Fisk, a top-30 player in the country, in the medal-match-play final to help Coastal Carolina to its first conference title since the 2013 Big South Championship.

“We threw him in the five spot for a reason; he’s our toughest guy,” Garren said. “He’s not scared of anything. … There’s not many guys who step up over a driver, 3-wood or 1-iron on every tee with the confidence he has.”

Before joining the team, Deneen intended to pursue pro golf after graduating this winter. Plans have changed. Deneen has one more year of eligibility left, so he’s applying to graduate school.

“He was sitting on campus for three years just waiting to be found,” Garren said. “I don’t know what the situation was before I got here, but the guy’s really good. … The way things are going, the sky’s the limit for this guy.”

Said Deneen: “Hopefully this was my big break. And if not, I will remember this as one of the best years of my life with great teammates, and I was happy that I could perform on the level that I performed. Now that I know that I can do it, I’m looking forward to doing it more often.” Gwk

(Editor’s note: This story originally appeared in the May 2018 print issue of Golfweek Magazine.)

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