Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Bisons' Men's Golf Building Momentum

Using the vernacular to describe the status of Lipscomb men’s golf, Head Men’s Coach Will Brewer says the Bisons’ program is “teed up” for future success.

From the top down, there is excitement surrounding this program. To begin, Director of Athletics Philip Hutcheson hired Lipscomb’s most decorated collegiate golfer to become Director of Golf Programming and to serve as the head men’s golf coach. Brewer, a 1977 graduate of Lipscomb, was the NAIA National Champion in 1976, a three-time NAIA All-American and is a member of the NAIA Hall of Fame. He is also a Lipscomb Hall of Fame inductee and was the 1998 Tennessee PGA Player of the Year. 

He has served as an instructor, teaching pro and/or director of golf at a variety of clubs and has also coached six state high school champions and several college champions. He has coached professional tour players as well. Brewer was named as Golf Digest's Instructor of the Year for the state of Tennessee and also has been presented the Lou Frank Award for cooperative service and support of the Tennessee Golf Foundation.

Upon his hire, Brewer identified and focused his attention on two key factors as he began the revitalization of the Bisons’ golf program. 

“The number one thing is we need to rebrand the golf program,” said Brewer. “Number two, we need to recruit. If we do those things well we will have the momentum to allow us to have some conversations in the golf community and the Nashville community overall. We want to have a brand that is going to be noticed.

So far in 2012-13, the Lipscomb brand is already proving to have considerable upside.

“Coming into the season I really didn’t have a lot of expectations,” said Brewer. “I wanted to observe the team and see what we needed to do. I set some goals for us at the beginning of the season, and quite honestly they were lofty goals. They got all ‘wide-eyed,’ so that told me that they didn’t have a lot of confidence mentally and that they didn’t believe that they could accomplish them. I think that has since changed some because of a new found confidence.”

Brewer’s new team recorded three top-3 finishes and finished in the top half of four of the five events in which it played in the fall 2012 season. Of course, as a coach, he also identified areas for improvement.

“We didn’t perform particularly well in the first tournament, and we were able to identify a few points of emphasis right away,” Brewer said. “We had some time between the first and second weekends of competition that we could spend a lot of time working and focusing on those, and I think that really helped us.”

Individually, Blanton Farmer posted a win and a pair of top-10 finishes and Ryan Terry added two top-fives in the fall 2012 season. Brewer also points out that in September, the Bisons were rated 239 in GolfStat and they begin the spring season rated 188. In the GolfWeek rankings the men were at 215 on Sept. 1, went as low as 146 and are now at 181 to begin the spring season.

“One positive that came out of the first tournament is that I have seen them buying into what we are trying to do,” said Brewer. “They responded quickly after the first event and realized that I did know what I was talking about, and there have been no complaints. They want to improve, and so it has simply been ‘here is what we need to do.’ The next few weeks after that first event were fruitful because they immediately saw what their needs were. It gave them a lot of confidence and the success they enjoyed has resulted in increased motivation as well.”

Brewer’s plan to rebuild the brand includes selling Nashville and surrounding communities on Lipscomb, and it is already paying dividends. He announced during the early signing period in December that he has signed a class in which four of the five are ranked in the top 36 in their class in the state of Tennessee and between 300-to-800 nationally. Two are state champions, one a city champ, and all come with multiple district, regional, state and junior golf accolades. Additionally, he has also received several verbal commitments for 2014.

“I feel that we are right on the cusp of having this program rebranded in such a way that is becomes an attractive option, particularly within 200 miles or so around Nashville,” Brewer said. “The goal is to get Lipscomb some looks now and in the near future from players that in the past would have never considered us. We are working from the inside out, rebranding this community first. We have some experienced players coming in next year and we have already received three verbal commitments for 2014, so it shows that already there is more interest to come here to play golf.”

While admittedly still feeling his way around the program, Brewer understands that one major component of its growth is the quality of available practice facilities. Recently Brewer presented a plan for a short-game project to be constructed at Nashville Golf and Athletic Club. The cost of the project is estimated at $125,000 and the deadline to complete the funding is March 31, 2013. Brewer and women’s coach Buddy Harston are overseeing the design of the facility, the impetus of which came from the shortcomings that the two coaches continued to see in recruits – the short game.

“I am excited about this facility because it will tremendously impact our games,” said Brewer. “The top programs in the country have access to outstanding facilities, and that includes teams in our own conference. An athlete who feels valued will perform better, and that is what we expect to come from the new short game facility.”

Brewer also believes that the idea of having value is resonating with his team.

“They now have someone who is dedicated full-time to their development and success, both on the course and off,” said Brewer, “and it tells them that “we have someone who cares about us.’ I think the team was ready to have some intentional coaching, to really spend some time in their development as people, along with strengthening the other aspects of the game such as mental toughness and course management.”

As a teacher, he enjoys working with young men who need leadership. With his personality trait of taking something good and making it better, Brewer is not satisfied with maintenance.

“I enjoy teaching them about accepting responsibility and what it means to live an authentic manhood,” he said. “I look at this position as a process of teaching life through golf, and about reaching that valuable balance between a competitive nature and honor. To me it is about proving to them that you can do better than you think you can. There is an element of character development woven into this rite of passage of becoming a man.”

The Bisons made great strides in the fall, performing as well as any team in a conference that is certainly not lacking in talent. Four teams – North Florida, Kennesaw State, ETSU and Mercer – are ranked in the Top 80 in the latest GolfWeek national rankings, along with several individuals in the Top 100. Brewer understands that along with shoring up recruiting in his own backyard, he also has to compete against national contenders in his own conference.

“There is no question that the A-Sun is a very difficult conference in which to compete in golf,” said Brewer. “You have a program like ETSU that has been good for years, and now UNF and Kennesaw are contending regularly for a championship and participating in the NCAAs. There you have three teams that are No. 75 or better, and there are still a lot of teams between us.

“With that said, there are plenty of positives that we can build on. We had three top-five finishes in the fall and we are ranked fourth in the country in pars. We are also top 50 in first round scores. We can build on those and correct those things that are keeping us from being better, like doing well in our recruiting and upgrading our facilities to catch up with those types of programs.

“We want to be on the same playing field like those teams in our league and others from the SEC and the PAC-12, but right now we are not there. In two to four years I think with our upgrades and intentional coaching and recruiting, we can be knocking on that door.”

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