An athlete physically, mentally
Oklahoma State's Davis uses other sports to hone golf skills
MILTON, Ga. -- Welcome to the future of college golf, which might already have teed off.
One golfer who offered a glimpse into the crystal ball on Thursday during the final round of stroke play in the NCAA Division I Men’s Golf Championship was Oklahoma State’s Ian Davis.
He didn’t win individual medalist honors -- but Davis made a run at it. He was at 3-under for the day and 6-under for the tournament coming into his final hole, the par-4, 523-yard ninth on the Crabapple Course at the Capital City Club. That had him just one off the leader in the clubhouse at the time.
Of course, that leader still had 18 holes left to play, as did most of the top individuals on the leaderboard who had afternoon tee times opposed to the morning one Davis had. So when Davis missed a short par putt and had to settle for bogey on his last hole, dropping him to 5-under for the 54-hole stroke-play portion of the event, he knew any hope he had of winning was dashed.
Yet he left the course at the end of the day encouraged by what had transpired.
“I felt like I could throw something low out there” said Davis, a junior. “I knew the guys playing in the afternoon, the wind would pick up a little bit. I didn’t think the scores would be quite as low.
“I was trying all day to get to 7- or 8-under, which would have been 5-under for the day for me. And I was right there. I didn’t convert a couple of birdies and then I had a bogey on the last. But I played really well and I was happy with how solid I played overall this week, for sure.”
So was his coach, Mike McGraw, who said Davis is a shining example of the changing nature of the types of players he recruits and mentors.
A former quarterback in junior high school and point guard in basketball through his first two years of high school, Davis used not only his golf talent but pure athletic ability – and a mentality honed from a mixture of all his sports’ experiences – to make his run toward the front of the individual leaderboard on Thursday.
“When I was a junior golfer, the only golfers were non-athletes who weren’t good enough or interested enough in the other sports,” McGraw said. “That’s all changed now. More and more athletes are coming into our sport from other sports at earlier ages. And I’m going to recruit them every chance I get, I can tell you that.”
McGraw’s point is that it’s easier to take an athlete whose golf game is maybe on the raw side and make him into a superior player than it is to take a more finely-honed player out of high school and try to squeeze more out of him when perhaps he’s already reached his maximum potential.
“If I had it to do over again myself, I’d try to be an athlete first and a golfer second,” McGraw said.
As evidenced by his play Thursday and throughout the 54-hole individual portion of the NCAA championship, Davis is beginning to become a wonderful mixture of both.
“I think just competing, going out there every time thinking you’re going to win. In basketball, late in games, you’d have to kind of clutch-up and show what you’re made of,” Davis said. “I think that sort of fighting mentality kind of poured over into golf for me and for a lot of other guys on our team as well.
“I played football in junior high and then played basketball in high school until my junior year. Then I quit that to focus more on golf. But those two sports – and I also played baseball growing up and soccer – but mainly those two sports really helped me. They helped me with understanding the team concept, too, where it’s not all about you.”
McGraw agreed with his player’s self-analysis.
“Among other things, I think the pressure-type situations they find themselves in other sports translate well over to our sport. They know how to deal with the pressure,” McGraw said.
“Ian is not the tallest. He’s maybe not the fastest or the strongest. But he can take a lot from his earlier athletic experiences and apply them to the game of golf. He already has, and as he learns to play the game he can rely on those experiences even more.”
And it’s not like Davis waited until he was done with hoops before picking up a golf club. In fact, that couldn’t be further from the truth.
“My dad had me out there at a really young age, basically from when I could walk,” Davis said. “I still have a cut-down 7-iron where the grip is almost longer than the club is. But I really started focusing on golf when we moved to Oklahoma [from Hoover, Ala.] in what was my eighth-grade year. I knew kind of all throughout middle school and into high school that this is what I wanted to do.
“It was hard giving up basketball, but I had to. I didn’t have the time to put into it that it required. I couldn’t play AAU because that was always in the summer, when I had to play golf. So it was hard, but it was a decision I had to make to focus more on golf – because I knew that’s what I wanted to do.”
McGraw said Davis has been perhaps Oklahoma State’s most consistent player this season, but that his finish in the NCAA championship showed that he can take his game to another level. McGraw said he knows Davis has the athletic tools and mental edge to do it, thanks largely to his background.
“I think he’s always fallen upon those experiences as an athlete to help him in golf, but as a golfer he really didn’t know what he was doing for a long time,” McGraw said. “I think this is a springboard for him. Or at least I hope that it is. That’s the way I’m looking at it and I hope he is, too.”