Mike Dooley marks his 30th season as Head Varsity Golf Coach.
Following a difficult season for Varsity Golf in 2022, the team anticipates a massive leap forward into 2023. Mr. Mike Dooley, entering his 30th season as the Varsity head coach, positively approached these struggles: “Last season, while we might not have had a great record, we had a very unique roster. We started with one senior, two sophomores, and three freshmen. We had a roster that looks forward to the next couple of years.” Coming off a season with two wins in twelve matches, Coach Dooley used last season as motivation to build a winning program for 2023.
Though young teams are an issue in any sport, sophomore J.D. Mahoney confronted the development with a concrete solution: “It came down to whether they [the players] had tournament experience or not, experience the stress that comes in competitive play. Once you get into that, it becomes more of a mind game among yourself.” He added that this mental challenge hurt their play and match scores.
I also asked J.D. about an issue that has plagued the golf program for many years: participation. He continued to emphasize the mental struggle that comes with playing golf: “I think they don’t like it competitively. Match play is all walking and completely serious, with a lot of mental games. If we were to popularize the sport more, we would have to make it more casual for people to go play.”
The participation issue has also plagued the coaches’ ability to select their teams. Coach Dooley said, “We don’t have the volume. Like this year, in our fall organizational meeting, we only had 23 students attend, and we will carry rosters of perhaps 18/19. We’d like to have more to choose from and people coming into MSJ with more accomplished golf games.” According to Coach Bob, the assistant JV coach, there is not a solution, but the players “have to want to do it.”
On the other hand, the increase in golfers due to COVID has become a massive assist to the golf program. Coach Bob had this to say about the growth of MSJ golf over the years: “We’ve had some lean years and some really good years. Back in 2012 or 2013, I had one freshman. But COVID brought a lot of people out because it was the first sport people could do. The last two years, we’ve had really good groups of freshmen, which will translate into a really good Varsity team over the next two or three years.” Unlike other sports, these coaches must factor in the unpredictability of the incoming golfers, and that makes it hard to know what might happen in future seasons.
Through all the ups and downs, Coach Bob has thoroughly enjoyed his time in the MSJ golf program. As the king of golf references, he paraphrased a quote from thirteen-time major champion Bobby Jones: “If you take everything out of my life except the experience I’ve had with St. Joe, I’d still think I had a really good career.”
Though sometimes completely unrelated, Coach Bob also holds countless golf stories through his years wt Rolling Road and traveling with the JV golf team. When I asked him about some of his favorite MSJ stories, he flashed back to last season’s JV golf finale at Diamond Ridge: “My highlight last year was when Brian Cecil made that birdie on #10 in that last match. Where did that come from? But I’m glad he did it. I think that’s provided him with a, ‘Hey, I can do this.”
The MSJ golf program, although sometimes overlooked, provides a fundamental look into how a sports program should be run. Obviously, hard work and dedication come first, but the excitement and enjoyment from all the coaches and golfers build incredible trust that runs deep in the program’s history. The game of golf can be difficult and frustrating, but it provides lifelong memories and improves people’s everyday lives.