CONOVER, N.C. -- As the 2001 Nationwide Tour champion and a four-year PGA Tour veteran, Pat Bates knows what it's like to climb the ranks in professional golf.
Now head coach at Central Oklahoma, Bates’ goal is to take his Broncos to the pinnacle in NCAA Division II competition. It’s a lofty aspiration to be sure, but one that’s within reach after the first day of the NCAA Divisional II national championship.
Led by Logan Gray’s one-under-par 70, Central Oklahoma is tied for fourth, eight shots behind top-ranked Nova Southeastern. The top eight teams after Wednesday's third round will advance to three rounds of match play to determine the champion.
Bates, a three-time All-American at Florida, said golf didn't come easily, but he worked hard to develop his game to that point. That kind of work ethic is what he has tried to pass along at Central Oklahoma.
“When I played, I trained a lot, practiced a lot and studied a lot,” Bates said. “I try to offer all the things that I learned throughout my career, because I wasn’t like a young phenom or anything. The game didn’t come completely easy to me. I had to work at it.
“I realized these kids are 18 and 19. Coming in as freshmen, there are things they need to learn. There are things I didn’t know back then when I was their age. I just stay patient with them and teach them as much as I can. Some have a higher threshold of how fast they can learn. Some, I have to bring along slower.”
By the time his players are ready to graduate, Bates wants them thinking like a PGA Tour player. If he can do that, Bates said, he’s done his job.
“I want them to have an understanding of their golf swing and their fundamentals so that they can play at the highest level,” said Bates, who also played professionally on the European, Canadian and South African tours. “One thing about playing professional golf is that you study every area of the game at the highest level and become basically an expert in the game.”
Making life interesting as a coach is the fact that every player has different needs, different areas in which he needs help. Some need more help. Others, too much tinkering can hurt their game.
Some need help with the game’s physical mechanics, others need help not getting too tight or too loose mentally. As a result, there’s no one way to coach the game of golf.
“It depends on the player,” Bates said. “Some players are innately smarter and have a higher golf IQ. Some players are more talented and they don’t have any course management. There’s fundamental players. There’s skill players. There’s all kinds of different players.
“I think the important thing is that you want to know the complete game. That’s your fundamentals. That’s the mental side. Physical fitness has become a big part of golf. It’s all-encompassing. I think you have to look at each player and evaluate where they have to improve the most, and then we try to do that.”
Central Oklahoma’s five players are all homegrown Sooner State natives. And none are seniors: Gray, Russ Purser and Eric Kline are all juniors, while Eli Armstrong is a redshirt freshman and Cody Troutman a true freshman.
Although the team seems to be built for the future, Bates is concerned only about the here and now -- and a national championship to chase.
“The future looks great, but we’re not too worried about next year,” Bates said. “We’re concerned about this week and we’ve been preparing all year. The guys have worked really hard to get themselves ready to play to win and become champions. That’s what we’re here to do. The future’s bright, but we’re not really worried about it right now.
“We’ve got five Oklahoma kids here. Next year, all eight of my kids are Oklahoma kids. We’ve got some great talent in the state. We’re excited to be at the national championship. We’ve just come off a win at the regional championship. We’re ready to compete and looking forward to the opportunity.”