When Richard James was growing up in Wales, much of his time was dedicated to golf.
“It was perfect,” he said. “I’d watch the European Tour in the morning, go play golf and then watch the PGA Tour at night.”
It was through the TV screen that James became familiar with America’s most prestigious golf courses — the same courses he now gets to play on as a member of the USF men’s golf team.
James is fresh off a second-place finish in The Invitational at the Ocean Course which took place last Tuesday in Kiawah Island, S.C., his third Top 10 finish in three semesters with the No. 16 Bulls.
But it wasn’t always a walk in the park for James.
Growing up in an area with much pride for golf and with a father who was hard on both him and his brother in regards to sports, James said, largely factored in to why he tends to get down on himself when the ball doesn’t spin in his favor.
At New Mexico Junior College prior to USF, James made technical improvements, becoming a top-ranked player at the junior college level.
But a positive attitude is something James said he has made great strides in under coach Chris Malloy’s tutelage.
“My coach in New Mexico helped with my swing,” he said. “Coach Malloy has helped with my mental approach to the game and worked on my weaknesses in the offseason. I’ve improved huge amounts in the last year-and-a-half.”
The improvements were noticeable with each swing at last week’s event, in which James’ second
No. 2 placing of his career led USF to its second tournament win in 2013 after the Big East tournament win last spring.
Malloy said he noticed the improvements the morning of
“I was continuing to compliment his attitude,” Malloy said. “His best finishes have been when he has a good attitude throughout the week. Rich can be his own worst enemy at times. He’s gotten so much better than where he was a year ago. He would shoot himself in the foot with his attitude. But it was absolutely spot on in this last event.”
Malloy said he can often predict if a player will do well based on the course design.
The Ocean Course was no different, James said. Last year he didn’t play as well as he wanted to, but he said the course plays to his strengths, which are a strong iron game with quality chipping and putting. He expected to do well.
“I was hoping the weather would be really bad,” he said. “Playing in Wales, I’m used to that, but it was perfect weather. I tried to tell myself I would play well because I like the course a lot.”
And when it comes to weather, James has experienced it all. The gloomy clouds and wind of Wales, the dry, 100-degree heat of New Mexico and the humid, rainy days of Tampa.
It has all made him a better player, he said.
“It was hard to practice here,” he said. “You have to hydrate. You have to eat quite a lot on the course so you don’t get dehydrated and energy levels are high. I found it difficult to start but I don’t even want to go back home now because the weather is so bad in Wales.”
While home in Wales last summer, James said he competed in 13 events in three months, including a win in a tournament that he “wanted to win for a long time,” one that he said was big for
He also shot a practice round with teammate Chase Koepka’s brother, Brooks, who plays on the European tour.
James said the experience helped in knowing what he needs to do to get on the pro tour, and the difference in skill between tour players and top college players isn’t as significant as some may think, he said.
“Everyone says tour pros are amazing,” he said. “But they hit bad shots too. They just don’t hit shots that go in the rubbish. Their bad shots aren’t as bad as the amateurs, and their short game is great.”
Though Koepka, the No. 11 player in the country, gets the bulk of national recognition, James said his strong finishes shows he can compete with the country’s best, even if they’re on his own team.
“It says a lot,” he said. “I’ve beaten Chase in qualifying many times, but it was just taking the right approach. It shows in how I’ve been able to compete against the best players in the country.”
But given the choice, James said he has no desire to be viewed as an underdog.
He said any player outside of the Top 100 can win, but rankings are a sign of consistency, and hopes to hear his name among the elite.
“I want to be the best,” he said. “I handled it really well when I was near the top in the junior college rankings, and at home in Wales I’m one of the top players. I know I’m good enough to compete with these guys.”
James said he plans to turn professional by December 2014, but his first priority is to graduate. He would then go to qualifying school for the PGA and European Tours to turn pro, and wants to stay in America where there is more opportunity, he said.
But before that happens, James and the Bulls will hit the course again in February for the start of their spring season.