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Rick Houston | | May 16, 2014

Houston: Overcomer

  Tarleton State placed fourth in the championship in 2010, coach Doyle is on far right.

CONOVER, N.C. -- What must it be like to be deaf?

It’s impossible to hear the voices of loved ones, birds chirping on a beautiful spring day or the perfect clink of a driver head hitting a ball off the tee and straight down the fairway. There are no sounds, just silence.

Hearing had always been difficult for Tarleton State coach Jerry Doyle, and when he contracted a case of red measles at the age of seven or eight, it was gone almost completely. In a world that seemed to be completely spun off its axis, it was hard to understand what was happening to him.

As soon as his grandmother figured out exactly what was wrong -- as grandmothers so often have a way of doing -- it was soon confirmed that Doyle was in fact deaf.

“They got me to a doctor and did all of the research and everything, and found out I was really bad,” Doyle said Thursday here at the NCAA Division II women’s golf national championships. “They put hearing aids on me when I was in junior high and high school, and it just never got really better. The hearing aids really didn’t help that much. They just kind of gave some sounds, but I could not understand with them very well.”

Instead, Doyle learned other ways to cope with his disability. He became a master lip reader, and to this day, it’s simply amazing to carry on a conversation with him. He doesn’t miss much, if anything.

He earned a Bachelor of Science degree from Tarleton State in 1975, and afterward dove headlong into the golfing industry -- teaching the sport, building clubs and maintaining courses. Then, in 1999 when he was in his mid-40s, he had a cochlear implant in his right ear that changed the course of his life.

His hearing still wasn’t perfect, but it was at least 75 percent better than what it had been. Then came the call from Dr. Lamar Johanson, a renowned professor and administrator at Tarleton State.

“I was a really hard worker at the golf courses,” Doyle said. “Cathy [his wife] and I really made some good money in the golf-course business, but you work seven days a week when you work at a golf course. I did it all. I did the pro shop. I did the mowing. I did the cutting. We kind of got tired of it.

“Lamar Johanson, the vice president of Tarleton, called and they were looking for a coach and somebody to take care of their athletic fields. So I filled out that responsibility. I actually take care of the athletic fields, besides the coaching job. I just decided I’d do it. I took a little pay cut, but I’ve enjoyed it.”

All Doyle has done is build the TexAnns into a powerhouse, one that has won the past seven Lone Star Conference titles and appeared in eight consecutive NCAA Division II national championships. After Thursday’s second round of competition, Tarleton State stood third behind leader Lynn and second-place Barry.

There are challenges in communicating with his team, but as he’s been doing for most of his life, Doyle has learned to deal with them.

“They’ve learned to communicate with me. It’s not really a big problem. Sometimes, I don’t want to hear what they say,” he said with a grin. “The international players that I have, I have to learn to adjust to them to be able to hear them. But once I’ve been around them a little bit and read their lips and stuff, it’s really not such a big deal.”

Really, the women’s golf head coaching job is the perfect position for Doyle. He enjoys his job, and he’s good at it. Of all the facets of the game, there’s one he enjoys in particular.

Just call him the Putt Whisperer.

“I’m a golf-course guy,” Doyle concluded. “I like being able to help the players read their putts and stuff like that. My degree has a lot of agronomy involved in it, so I’ve been in the grass business most of my life. I think it’s a little bit of an advantage. I like to get out there and help them. I don’t like to sit around. I don’t sit still.”