The shot that changed everything
Houston coach Jonathan Dismuke's life changed after one swing
Ask Houston head coach and golf director Jonathan Dismuke what led him to where he is today, and he'll flash back to the final round on the 18th hole of the 2009 NCAA Div. I Men's Golf Championship.
At the time, Dismuke was an assistant coach at Texas A&M, and the team's top golfer, Bronson Burgoon, found himself in a sticky situation. After carrying A&M to a comfortable lead against Arkansas for most of the final round, he'd lost the last four holes to Arkansas' Andrew Landry, letting them back into the championship picture and setting up a decisive last hole. Burgoon's drive to open the hole landed in the deep rough, and the realization that A&M might not win the championship began to set in. Burgoon had two strokes to fix his mistake, or else Arkansas would seal the comeback.
Dismuke, knowing the pressure Burgoon was feeling, stepped in. Burgoon needed to get it into the green, and close enough to the hole that he'd be able to win on an ensuing putt. Little did Dismuke know, he was about to drop a stroke of coaching master class to set up what Golfweek called “one of the best shots in college golf history.”
"Part of what I did shift Bronson away from what was going on and occupying his conscious mind. I told him a couple fun stories about stuff that happened in my life. Walking down the last hole, he was more concerned about laughing at me than he was at the shot at hand,” he said with a laugh. "I tried to make sure he had to hit the shot before he had a chance to really think about it.”
With the pressure diffused as much as one can mitigate the pressure of a championship deciding shot, Burgoon cracked a 125-yard shot that hit the green a few feet away from the hole, and rolled to within inches of it. The shot ensured A&M the championship.
It also led Dismuke to accepting his job at Houston that summer.
"It was probably the most important shot of my career,” he said. “It probably parlayed me into this job I have currently.”
Houston's golf program carries a legacy matched by few. Since 1939, the first year the NCAA Men's Golf Championships were held, no program has more tournament wins (16). Only Oklahoma State (10), can say they also hold double-digit championships in golf in this era. But Houston hadn't made an NCAA-championships appearance since 2001.
There's no doubting Dismuke relishes pressure.
“I feel obligated to put a product out there that our former players are proud of, and that's not easy to do,” he said.
“I said, 'I never really thought about it but at this point in my career, but I'd definitely be open to talk to some people,'” he said.
After he interviewed at a few universities, Ole Miss hired him in 2006 as an assistant coach. Two years later, he took the same role at Texas A&M, setting up the Bronson Burgoon shot and launching him into the job he has today. But taking the Houston job wasn't as easy as it may seem.
“It was a huge opportunity, but also a huge risk,” he said.
The job security of winning a national championship grinded against a head coaching job with more responsibilities at a school with an immense legacy, but one that had struggled in recent years. Dismuke's first two years at Houston proved the challenge ahead, with only two wins that came two years apart from each other.
“We got beat up on a little bit in 2010 and 2011,” he said.
The next year, with Dismuke's first recruiting classes entering upperclassman status, the team was stronger than ever. They won three events -- more than his previous three seasons combined -- including the conference championship, made regionals, but unlike the 18th hole in 2009 for the Aggies, his team faltered down the stretch and barely missed the cut. The early end to the season hurt, he said, but it allowed them to refocus on ending the University's 13-year drought on missing the championships.
The team entered this season with more experience and hunger from last year's ending, he said, and its shown. Houston won four events this season, continuing its form from last season. Seven of Dismuke's nine wins at Houston have come in the past two years. And after a strong showing at the regionals, they entered the championships as a 10-seed. The drought was over.
This week at Prairie Dunes is Dismuke's first appearance in the championships since he walked off Inverness Golf Club in 2009 as a champion. Rain delays on the first day prevented Houston from beginning play. It gave him one last moment to reminiscence on the last time he was on this stage with Texas A&M.
"It was a special time,” he said. “And something I'll never forget"