BOWLING GREEN, Ky. (WBKO) --- It’s still early in the season for the WKU men’s golf team, but they’re already playing some of the best golf of their careers. All nine golfers are clicking together perfectly and have thrived in the competitive environment created by first-year head coach Chan Metts.
The biggest factor for their success comes from loss. WKU’s beloved head coach of the past eight years, Phillip Hatchett, passed away last summer in a bicycle accident. Hatchett built a positive culture around the golf team that allowed incoming freshman to feel comfortable as soon as they stepped foot in the program. His legacy lives on through his players who have been inspired by his intense love for Western Kentucky University Golf.
Hatchett’s passion for the program impacted senior Stuart Easton deeply. Easton said, “His dream job was to be the WKU head golf coach… He put so much time and effort into creating this team dynamic, and we could not let that go to waste… He is the reason we try to work as hard as we can.”
You must truly love a coach to have Easton’s level of motivation. The golfers love for Coach Hatchett comes from the precedent he set when they were brought into the golf program. Easton was thrust into WKU from an individualistic golf culture in his native country, Scotland. As a highly-rated youth golfer, he only spent very short stints with other young golfers around the country during tournaments. As a Hilltopper, he was shocked by the strong bond and competitive golf culture that was created by Hatchett.
Humility was one of the most important values that Hatchett taught incoming golfers. According to redshirt senior, Billy Tom Sargent, his former coach emphasized that each player who walks through the door is there for a special purpose. This team isn’t a group of nine golfers. They’re one family with one goal.
Senior Blake Smith said, “It’s a brotherhood. You might see other teams that have a couple (of) cliques, but it’s nine guys that all come together as one here. Each year at Western 9Kentucky University) has been amazing. You go out on the course, and even if you’re not playing well, you have four other guys that can back you up and get after it.”
This next-man-up mentality has given WKU a peace of mind on the links. Even if a member of the team starts poorly, they know that they have four other golfers who will be able to produce. This allows teammates who are struggling through a few holes to stay in a rhythm and get back into a fighting position.
Smith said, “It’s a game changer. It’s so nice knowing that if you get off on a couple bogeys, then you have four other guys fighting and giving it their all.”
Sargent further explained, “If you have a couple bogeys here and there then it’s nothing to worry about because you have four other guys taking care of business. That frees you up to go out and have fun, and usually if you’re having fun, then you play a lot better.”
This freedom has translated into success for the Hilltoppers. As a team, they have finished under par four out of the last five times after only shooting under par twice last season. Recently, Coach Metts has led the Hilltoppers to a third-place finish at the Mobile Sports Authority Intercollegiate. During this tournament, WKU had their best 36-hole game since 2005.
Metts said, “I’ll put all the success on the players. They are very hard workers and do things right on the golf course. They are very process oriented as far as our approach and our practice. This team’s work ethic has never been questioned since day one.
Metts hasn’t had to change much to the foundation that Hatchett left. Metts has focused on developing the Hilltoppers killer instinct by creating a high level of competition within the team. He has added to Hatchett’s philosophy that everyone on the team has a purpose. Their purpose is to make each other better by raising their individual work ethic, which in turn raises the level of play.
Smith said, “Coach’s saying this year has been, ‘everyone is pushing somebody.’ When you have everybody pushing, then everyone is going to get better. We are all looking over our shoulder, watching each other go the extra mile, saying to ourselves that ‘I can’t let him get better than me.’
The senior trio of Easton, Sargent, and Smith determined how they wanted to leave their mark early on in their Hilltopper careers. When they came into the program, they relied on a group of seniors to help them with their transition into collegiate golf. Just like those before them, this year’s senior class has ensured that the program Hatchett built will only improve as they graduate
Easton said, “Now, I’ve seen that a lot of the younger players can lead themselves… All of us have tried to make sure that they’re not going to miss us. They’re ready to push us forward."