A State of Mind
March 25, 2008
by Jeff Smith
When Ohio State's Jim Brown corresponds with a recruit interested in his men's golf team, he will tell them first about the great academic tradition the Buckeyes have in Columbus. But soon thereafter he will speak of the famed Scarlet Golf Course, about legendary Buckeye Jack Nicklaus, and the pride of playing at THE Ohio State University.
The pride stems from within really. Brown was a two-sport student-athlete in golf and basketball for the Buckeyes and was a 1966 graduate of OSU. He roomed with golf legend Tom Weiskopf and played backup as a freshman to the likes of seniors John Havlicek, Jerry Lucas and Bob Knight on the basketball team. Despite a two-year stint at Rollins College in Winter Park, Fla., where he earned his Masters degree, Brown has been an Ohioan his whole life. He was born in Martins Ferry, Ohio, and spent four years as the Kent State head golf coach and assistant basketball coach in Kent prior to his arrival in Columbus 35 years ago.
So it should be no surprise that the majority of his 2008 squad's background has a unique Ohio flavor to it. Ten of Brown's 12 golfers hail from the Buckeye state, several from just outside of Columbus' city limits.
Brad Smith came to OSU from Peru, Ind., a three-hour drive from Columbus, while Patrick Simard is a native of Madrid, Spain.
Brown's philosophy over the years has been to attract the top local golfers, then the best from the self-described "Big Ten Country" and only then, from the rest of the country and international regions. It's almost a duty of Brown's to uphold the tradition of the program, which has been laced with top area and statewide golfers for years.
"I just always thought that everybody's dream job was to come back to your alma mater and do the best you can and make it the best it could be," Brown said. "Back in the 1960s, all the good players in Ohio knew there was always one place to go. I just don't see why that can't be the same way now."
Brown does not just recruit his kids for their state ties, but also for the fact that he knows he will need players that are used to playing in any type of Midwest weather. He notes that several schools nowadays are relying on international players to make up their squads, a trend that often is not the most academically sound.
"Smaller schools aren't really allowed in the game to recruit against the top prospects, so it's easier for them to recruit internationally," Brown said. "If you get one, then he'll bring a buddy, and then he'll bring a buddy."
But Brown has felt that many foreign players will choose collegiate golf for the sole purpose of it being an open door to the professional ranks, and not necessarily for academic reasons.
In his 35 years at Ohio State, Brown says he has fielded several kids from Canada, but only one from Scotland, New Zealand, Belgium and now one from Spain. Like a proud father, he boasts that all of them were impressive on the golf course and all of them graduated.
Ohio State's current five-man lineup consists of four Ohioans and Simard. Brown says it is the most Ohio natives he has had on one team since the late 1990s and only then were there as many as three in the starting lineup.
Zach Sebert, a senior who hails from Grove City, Ohio, did not pick up a golf club until he was 16 years old. A baseball fanatic, Sebert became burned out with the sport during his teenage years and opted to try golf. Probably one of the few that will admit to enjoying practice just as much as playing, Sebert knew he had to go a different route with college golf because he began so late in the game. He attended Otterbein College, just outside of Columbus, and soon became a household name. During his sophomore year, Sebert was a member of the 2006 Ohio Athletic Conference Champions, tied for 10th in the NCAA Division III Championships and was named All-America.
"I didn't have some of the accolades some of the other kids in junior golf did at that time so I didn't have my named out there," Sebert said. "Once I got in to Otterbein, I got my opportunity. I won five tournaments my sophomore year and when you do that, college coaches know who you are."
Brown was one of them.
An avid follower of area golfers, Brown said he is always looking for good players and found one in his mailbox when he received a letter from Sebert.
"He was an All-American from right here in Grove City," Brown said of Sebert and his hometown less than 10 minutes from Columbus. "Zach wanted an upgrade from Division III and he still has his best golf ahead of him."
Another player for which that can be said is nearby Upper Arlington product Bo Hoag. The talented freshman was ranked 13th in the world last year among amateurs and was looking at Northwestern, TCU, Virginia and Wake Forest as well.
Raised just 10 minutes from campus, Hoag said that when it came down to it, he just could not see himself going anywhere other than Ohio State or wearing any colors other than scarlet and gray.
"I wouldn't change things if I could," said Hoag. "My family has lived here for a while and my parents began dating when they went to Upper Arlington. Jack Nicklaus went to my school too, so it's nice to follow a little in his footsteps. He hasn't done too bad."
In fact, Hoag might just be on a path to follow arguably the game's greatest ever. Back in the fall season, Hoag won the team's Jack Nicklaus Low Fall Qualifying award with a stroke average of 70.1. In doing so, he became just the sixth Buckeye freshman to win the award since it was founded in 1973.
Not only has he followed the path of Nicklaus, but also that of his grandfather Bob Hoag, who was a friend of Nicklaus' and a member of the Ohio State golf team.
"As far as my decision to go here, I had to go to the place that was best for me," Hoag said. "It's obviously pretty neat to continue the legacy and follow in the footsteps of my grandfather because I hold him in high regard."
Hoag also credits another legacy that lured him to Ohio State: Brown's.
"That's the kind of loyalty anyone would want in their program," Hoag said of his coach. "He is a true Buckeye."
Brown is also quick to compliment his young product.
"Bo has lived up to our expectations so far and is a kid that will help turn our program around," Brown said. "Everyone in this area that knows him, and by him coming here, he has helped with us other kids."
Perhaps what has made Brown most proud of Hoag and his freshman class is the academic success they have had so far.
"Three of my freshmen have 4.0 GPAs and Bo has a 3.9 after two quarters," Brown said. "The other two have a 3.85 and a 3.65. They are all good academically and very dedicated to the game."
For Sebert, who still lives at home in Grove City and makes the short commute each day to campus, the number of Ohioans on the team makes it much more comfortable for him and says that bond has helped with team camaraderie.
As for Hoag, he continues to point to Brown as one of the reasons he chose Ohio State.
"He's just a genuine Ohio State alumnus and fan that doesn't want to be anywhere else," he said. "I don't think I have ever seen him wear a blue shirt."
Back in the 1960s, Brown said all the top golfers in the state went one place to play in college, and now all he wants to do is keep that feeling the same.
Quite simply, it has become a state of mind.
And with one glance of the 2008 roster and after speaking with a few the team's Ohioans, one can applaud Brown's efforts and pride over the years in keeping with the tradition of THE Ohio State University.