Chris Oetinger knew he had a talented squad on his hands when he took over as head coach of the Holy Names golf program in fall 2016. He also knew talent takes cultivation, especially when helping young student-athletes attain their highest potential.
“We needed to change their approach to the game,” said Oetinger, 32, a finalist for the Dave Williams Award honoring the national coach of the year in Division II men’s golf, “They needed to be more intense in training and more focused in tournament play.”
Oetinger’s winning approach earned him honors as Division II Golf Pride Grips West Region Coach of the Year, the Golf Coaches Association of America announced today (June 6).
Typically, Oetinger said, golf practice means simply getting out and playing. That wasn’t going to cut it for Holy Names players and their committed coach, a former pro named Coach of the Year for HNU in April.
“We made teams within our team, setting up competitions and more one-v-one,” Oetinger explained. When the fourth of five top players lost eligibility to play in the fall, the coach didn’t fill the spot by automatically bumping up the next highest ranked teammate — a tactic known as “next man up.” Oetinger instead stressed that the coveted roster space would go to the player who earned it by merit. In fact, he requires each player to re-qualify for his spot after every tournament.
“Our whole coaching strategy is modeling,” he said. “We have to work hard all the time. We have to be on time all the time. As college players, they can’t be on time every time; that’s not realistic. But it’s my job to show it’s possible.”
His demanding, disciplined style was a gamble on the ambitious coach’s part: How would his players respond?
“They wanted to win,” he said. “We had a group of guys who were willing to adjust to my system. We could have had the opposite response, but they just got on board.”
The team started working out five days a week, regularly rising at 6 a.m. for practice, followed by strength and training sessions that incorporated weights, yoga, and medicine ball routines.
The results: in spring 2017, the team qualified for NCAA regional competition. Spring 2018 saw the squad make University history, becoming the first HNU team to advance to the national final of an NCAA Championship event.
In only the second academic year of NCAA postseason eligibility for HNU, Oetinger has also witnessed his student-athletes’ confidence soar. The players started their own online team chat, “2018 National Championship,” to help maintain focus on their ultimate objective.
“This year confidence was really high,” Oetinger observed. “I had to keep them from going across the line to cocky.”
On occasions when players’ concentration flagged in competition, showing that cockiness had outpaced execution, their coach reeled them back down to earth and converted the experience into a teaching moment.
Teaching ranks as a priority for Oetinger; winning emerges as a frequent by-product.
“Our team seems mentally strong in general,” he said. “They don’t let the moment get to them too often.” But when they failed to advance beyond regionals last year, they devoted significant time to discussing the importance of their process. Then they got busy.
“Our team doesn’t necessarily work more than other teams, but we’re more efficient,” said Oetinger, citing one player who gets “nine hours of work out of three hours of practice.”
“We can’t control outcomes. We can only control process and how we react to things.”
Based on the team’s upward trajectory, the process is taking hold. And word is spreading.
“We have a phenomenal recruiting class coming in next year,” Oetinger said. “Now HNU is a golf destination.”