In the summer of 2010, members of the USF men’s golf team carried clubs in the trunk of their cars to and from practice.
That’s how it was for many years.
Men’s golf, and women’s golf for that matter, were the only USF athletic teams without locker rooms, men’s coach Chris Malloy said.
When the former Florida State assistant coach took over the men’s team June 29, 2010, he didn’t walk into facilities that indicated USF as a premier college program. The squad didn’t play anywhere close to a premier level either.
“We were just over 200th in the country,” Malloy said. “We had to dissect everything. We started from scratch, which is great. We’ve gotten some great guys in here.”
It was an uphill battle for Malloy and the Bulls, who built the program into national recognition in a little more than three year’s time. When ranked as low as 200th, Malloy said, one may have to ask for some favors.
That’s because successful teams get invited to the best events at the best courses, among a field of the best teams in the country, he said. USF had to play events that were seemingly above them in difficulty and prominence, and a team has to do well in order to climb the rankings.
“Over the past couple years, I had to call in favors (for tournament invites) to coaches I knew when I was at FSU,” he said. “You can only do that so long, unless you continue to progress like we have. We plan a year in advance and I haven’t had to call and beg for next fall’s events. We’ve actually had some of the bigger tournaments call us.”
USF played in four tournaments this fall, and placed in the top five in a field of 12 to 14 schools at each location. Two second-place finishes and a tournament win last week have vaulted the Bulls to
No. 16 in the country.
But traveling to tournamnets comes with challneges.
Led by sophomore Chase Koepka, the 11th-ranked collegiate player, and senior Richard James, who placed second individually in the win, USF heads into the spring as one of the fastest rising teams in the nation. Such an improvement has several factors, according to Malloy and James.
The opening of the Chowdhari Golf Center in September 2012 has done wonders for the Bulls, Malloy said. Through a donation by the Chowdhari family, owners of the University Pain Management Center, the clubhouse-like atmosphere has given both golf teams a home.
“The team camaraderie has been unbelievable from the building,” Malloy said. “In recruiting also, a parent has to feel comfortable letting their child come here. From a recruit’s standpoint, they’re thinking ‘My goal is to be on the PGA Tour one day. How is this place going to help me get there?’”
James said he spends countless hours at the golf center, whether it be to watch television, hang out or do homework. The center is also home to state-of-the-art technology that helps the Bulls assess how they’re playing.
FlightScope, a golf ball-tracking program with radar that finds the distance the ball will travel down to the half yard, is one of several at the Chowdhari facility, Malloy said. Breaking down a golf swing frame-by-frame allows Malloy and the players to notice faults in their swinging motions that the bare eye might not pick up.
The Bulls also have the ability to track the spin of the ball in flight, which is helpful, especially in their short game, James said.
“The spin rate has helped my wedge game a lot,” he said. “I was a very average wedge player. But my favorite part is the gym.”
James said the Bulls have focused on stretching this year, ever since golf fitness instructor Randy Myers paid a visit and taught the team a warm-up routine.
“I’ve seen huge improvements in ball striking,” James said. “At the hotel, I will do his routine before hitting the course. I’d probably be able to play well without taking practice swings now.”
James said the routine has helped with rhythm, and that fact isn’t exclusive to only him. Myers has worked with over a dozen college golf programs and numerous pro
golfers and USF is seeing results, James said.
“I think the warm-up routine is why we perform so well as a team,” he said. “I spoke to some teams at the last event and they said they don’t warm up. I think it puts us a step ahead.”
But above all else, Malloy said competition among teammates is the magic ingredient.
“They’re competitive with everything,” he said. “Whether they’re throwing a golf ball, guessing a coin flip or seeing who can walk through an airport the fastest.”
“We were in the Atlanta airport on the tram going to the next terminal,” James said. “(Freshman Ryan Borg) was on his phone, and we all left thinking he was coming with us. He ended up in a different terminal.”
Malloy said it almost happened again to Borg in the same trip, but he enjoys seeing the team out of their comfort zone, and out of Tampa.
USF will head out of town for their next event Feb. 21