How the Northwest proved it can produce great golfers
No longer is the Northwest a distant outpost, looked down upon by much of the golfing world. You can become great playing in the Northwest.
Seattle Times staff
Made in WashingtonPlayers raised in the state who are on the top tours.
Richard H. Lee, Bellevue, UW
Troy Kelly, Tacoma, UW
Ryan Moore, Puyallup
Michael Putnam (also will play Nationwide Tour), Tacoma
Kyle Stanley, Gig Harbor
*Andres Gonzales, Olympia
*Jeff Gove, Seattle
Brock Mackenzie, Yakima, UW
*Alex Prugh, Spokane
Fred Couples, Seattle (also will play PGA Tour)
Kirk Triplett, Pullman (also will play PGA Tour)
Jimin Kang, (Shoreline)
Paige Mackenzie (Yakima, UW)
* Prugh, Gove and Gonzales have each been full-time members of the PGA Tour for at least one season in the past few years.
Four reasons the Northwest is good training for golfMore efficient practice
Bad weather days mean players must make the most of their practice time — you can't count on several days with no rain in in the forecast.
Toughening up because of the elements
Golf was not meant to be played in continual pristine conditions, and players in the Northwest have to contend with rain, sleet, hail, wind, and occasionally, even a little bit of sun. "All in the same day sometimes," said Mike Moore, a longtime golf course owner and father of PGA Tour pro Ryan Moore.
Tree-lined courses force players to be more accurate with their tee shots.
Small greens = better iron play
Many of the local courses have small greens, and Fred Couples says he became a good iron player because of the small greens at Seattle's Jefferson Park Golf Course, where Couples grew up playing.
Too much rain. Too many months of poor playing conditions. Gusty winds.
And — did we mention — too much rain?
Those were the key reasons behind a widely held myth: The Northwest is not conducive to creating great golfers, and on those rare occasions where a great player emerged, the best thing was to leave for sunnier climes as soon as possible.
That myth isn't just being broken, it's being obliterated.
Record numbers of Northwest players have been on the major golf tours the past couple of years, the University of Washington men's golf team has become a national powerhouse and the UW women's team is re-emerging.
No longer is the Northwest a distant outpost, looked down upon by the golfing world. You can become great playing in the Northwest. Just ask the people who would know.
"Is it a disadvantage? Maybe the opposite," said rising PGA Tour star Kyle Stanley. "It teaches you to battle the elements a little bit, and it prepares you for all types of golfing conditions."
Fred Couples, the greatest golfer the state has produced, agrees.
"I always thought it was a huge advantage to grow up in Seattle," he said.
For years, Couples carried the Northwest mantle nearly by himself. Now he has plenty of help.
Ten players from the Northwest have been playing on the PGA Tour the past couple of years. They include Ryan Moore, the Puyallup player who had one of the greatest amateur careers in history before finding success on the PGA Tour, and Jimin Kang, the King's High School of Shoreline graduate who is a two-time winner on the LPGA Tour.
"Having someone on the Tour like Fred Couples, who was a glamorous player, being from Seattle, helped inspire Ryan to think that maybe he could do it too," said Mike Moore, Ryan's father, who owned The Classic in Spanaway, the course Ryan grew up playing.
"Ryan had success and now there are others, like Kyle Stanley, who saw that and are now doing great," Mike Moore said. "Success begets success."
You don't need to leave
While most of the greats left the Northwest after high school, Seattle legend Don Bies stayed put.
Bies, 74, who won once on the PGA Tour and seven times on the Champions Tour, never felt the need to leave.
"You can still live here and play on the Tour," Bies said. "I don't think it's a disadvantage at all. I don't believe you need to play every day, especially after you develop your game. It's good to get away. Look at Steve Stricker, who lives in Wisconsin. Living in a place where you can't play every day — it gives you a break."
The University of Washington was not a power when Couples left O'Dea High School in Seattle to play at Houston.
"I am sure if I had gone to Washington, I would have become the same player," he said.
Couples said the conditions he faced at Jefferson Park Golf Course in Seattle served him well.
"On a nice day, I could hit drives 300 or 350 yards, then certain days I would have a hard time driving it 250," he said. "It could be a totally different course. And the small green sizes made me a good iron player. I learned how to hit a 7-iron onto the small greens."
Tree-lined courses in the area? That made him improve his driving accuracy. It's no wonder that Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles is one of his favorite courses on the PGA Tour.
"It reminds me of (Seattle's) Broadmoor Country Club," he said.
Ryan Moore became a superstar at UNLV, forging one of the greatest amateur records in history. Moore said the lessons he learned playing in the Northwest stayed with him.
"Being from the Northwest, you have to learn how to practice more efficiently," said Moore, who won the 2004 U.S. Amateur. "There aren't 14-day forecasts of nothing but sun, so you have to do more in short periods of time, and I still had that in my system when I went to Las Vegas."
A local powerhouse
PGA Tour players Troy Kelly and Richard H. Lee played at Washington. So did Alex Prugh, who is on the Nationwide Tour after spending a couple of years on the PGA Tour.
Paige Mackenzie played at UW before moving to the LPGA Tour.
The UW men are ranked No. 9 in the nation. Junior Chris Williams from Moscow, Idaho, is ranked No. 6 in the world amateur rankings and Cheng-Tsung Pan from Taiwan is No. 10.
For decades, the Huskies had little success in golf. The school couldn't recruit the top players with the weather issue always at the forefront.
"I probably believed like everyone else, that to become great you had to go somewhere that you can play in good conditions all the time — that's the easy way to think about it," said UW men's coach Matt Thurmond, who grew up in Burlington. "But now I think it's actually an advantage, and I think we've showed that by how we've competed against schools like Arizona and Arizona State."
Thurmond said playing in tough elements is just part of the game, and points to the game's origins in Great Britain, where gusty winds and rain prevail.
"Golf is an outdoor, rugged sport, where you have to play in rough conditions," Thurmond said. "Think of the diversity of conditions we have to play in. Lots of varying weather, uneven lies, there is rough year round. You wouldn't know anything other than a flat lie if you lived your whole life in Orlando. If you look at the top players in the world, very few come from the warmer climates."
In 2005, UW's James Lepp won the NCAA championship, and in 2010, Nick Taylor won the Hogan Award, college golf's equivalent of the Heisman Trophy.
But the real proof that the myth about Northwest golf was gone came when Pan, who was rated as the top recruit in the country, chose UW.
Count Couples among those who are impressed. A big Husky fan, he toured the program's indoor facility recently.
"Impressed? I was like, 'Are you kidding me?' " said Couples of the UW golfing facility at Edmundson Pavilion. "That's an amazing place they have, and they have a great thing going there."
Never going back
Thurmond said great junior players have always been in the area, but that in the past couple of decades they have traveled out of the area more and have tested themselves against other top players in the nation.
More and more, they are performing well — just like the local players at the highest level.
"I don't just follow the Huskies and the Seattle pro teams," Couples said. "I also follow the golfers from the area, and I hope there are more."
That seems certain.
For Thurmond, it's proof of something he knew all along.
"We've always been able to produce great players, and it's become a good golf community, too," he said. "We have excellent courses, the players are gravitating toward excellence, and the college programs are doing well now. All of that encourages the whole concept."
That being from the Northwest is no disadvantage at all.
|A history of Washington men's golfers in the pros|
|Notable state golfers who played in PGA Tour or Champions Tour events since 1960. Current tour players are not listed.|
|Player||High school, college|
|Rick Acton||Lake Washington HS, UW baseball|
|George Bayer||Bremerton HS, UW football|
|Don Bies||Ballard HS|
|Doug Campbell||Puyallup HS, UW|
|Jeff Coston||Inglemoor HS and Sonora HS (Los Angeles), Seattle U|
|Rick Fehr||Nathan Hale HS, Brigham Young University|
|Rod Funseth||North Central HS-Spokane, Idaho State|
|Mike Gove||Nathan Hale HS, Weber State|
|Jim McLean||Glacier HS, Houston|
|Al Mengert||Gonzaga Prep|
|Brian Mogg||Lakes HS, Ohio State|
|Bill Porter||Quincy HS, Umatilla HS (Ore.), U of Oregon|
|Rob Rashell||Lake Stevens HS, UW|
|Mike Reasor||Roosevelt HS, Brigham Young|
|Bill Sander||Shorecrest HS, Brigham Young|
|Ken Still||Clover Park HS|
|Greg Whisman||Mariner HS (Everett), Weber State|
|Mark Wurtz||Chimacum HS, New Mexico|
|Kermit Zarley||West Seattle HS, Houston|