Following Big Brother
April 3, 2008
by Jeff Smith
When looking back, it seems Penn State's Kevin Foley has one person to thank for getting him involved in golf. His oldest brother Ryan was 18 years old when he cut down the shaft of one of his old clubs and gave it to his little brother to get him started in the game. Four years later he brought Kevin to the local municipal golf course in Sommerville, N.J., when he finally met the minimum age requirement to play the public track.
Now if you are doing the math and are confused, relax. We will explain. You are probably thinking that either this golf course allows only teenagers and older on the grounds or Foley comes from a very large family. In fact the latter is correct.
Foley is the youngest of eight kids and when 18-year-old Ryan presented Foley with his first golf club, Kevin was only four years of age. And the local muni did in fact have an age limit. You must be 8 or older to play, which is what Kevin was when his brother took him along that day.
Foley notes that Ryan played a key role in getting the entire family interested in the game. With a family of six boys and two girls, Foley's family spent several days around the golf course.
Penn State head coach Greg Nye, who became interested in Foley while watching him at an American Junior Golf Association (AJGA) prep event in Pennsylvania, says that his talented sophomore has always been a links hound.
"Kevin wasn't given all of this on a platter in any way," Nye said. "He grew up at the local municipal course and did everything from staffing the pro shop to working the bag room. He probably did his fair share of caddying as well."
Foley seems to have always been comfortable with his surroundings, so it's really no surprise that he chose Penn State because he enjoyed the college atmosphere and the environment of Happy Valley. Originally Foley had planned on attending Central Florida, but changed his mind after visiting Penn State and talking with Nye.
And with Foley's game beginning to blossom, it turned out to be perfect timing for the two to meet.
Prior to his freshman season, Foley finished second in a qualifier for the U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship, an event in which he would later advanced to the Round of 16.
"Being able to qualify for that was the highlight of my summer and then I made it to the Round of 16," Foley said. "I learned I could compete with these college guys on the national amateur circuit, so I think it made it an easy transition into college golf."
In his freshman campaign, Foley turned in five top-10 finishes and placed tied for 11th in another event. In 36 rounds, he carded an average of 73.47 with a low round of 66 and was a runaway winner for Big Ten Freshman of the Year. His efforts also earned him second-team All-Conference accolades.
"Winning the Big Ten Freshman of the Year was a pretty awesome feeling," Foley said. "I didn't even expect it until my coach mentioned something about it with a couple of tournaments remaining. I put together some decent finishes in the spring."
But it would be the following fall season that put Foley and the Nittany Lions on the national scene. In mid-September of 2007, the squad started an impressive four-week run at the Hartford Hawks Invitational in Boston. Penn State finished second in the event, while Foley tied for 17th at 224 (78-73-73). The next week it was off to the Wolf Run Intercollegiate in Indiana, where the team took home the tournament title, while Foley, who was under the weather for the majority of the event, battled to an 11th-place tie with a 4-over 217 (76-70-71).
The following week Foley dominated the field at the VCU Shootout in Virginia and helped the Nittany Lions to their second straight win. For Foley, his 15-under 201 (65-68-68) earned him medalist honors for the first time in his career, and by an impressive 12-shot margin to boot. His 201 was the second lowest 54-hole total in school history and even more impressive considering the competitive field he faced. The team dominated powerhouses Wake Forest, North Carolina as well as other ranked teams such as UT-Chattanooga, prompting Nye to call it one of the biggest regular season team wins in program history.
"The field strength was phenomenal," Nye said following the event. "Kevin's win has to rank among the top of any I've ever been apart of."
That says a lot seeing that Nye has spent nearly 25 years coaching, including the last 16 at Penn State.
Remarkably, Foley was not yet finished with his dominance. Concluding the team's four-week venture from Massachusetts to Indiana to Virginia to Tennessee, Foley notched a second-straight title at the Memphis Intercollegiate. His winning score of 6-under 138 was highlighted by yet another opening round 65, which tied his career low, set one week prior. The victory marked the fourth time in school history a Nittany Lion golfer won back-to-back tournaments.
"Those two weeks were the high point of my fall," Foley said.
Despite having only spent three semesters at Penn State, Foley made it clear that this past fall was the best one for both himself and the team since he has been on campus.
Weather would soon hamper the Nittany Lions' training efforts for the spring season. Foley noted that the team was forced to practice indoors for the entire winter and did not have a chance to get outside until they opened the spring at the Annual Palmetto Intercollegiate in South Carolina on March 11. Penn State finished fourth in the event and improved to third two weeks ago at the Pinehurst Intercollegiate. Foley has finished outside the top 15 in both tournaments, but says "some better stuff" is on its way.
The Nittany Lions resume action tomorrow at the Marshall Invitational in Huntington, W.Va.
One thing that has continued to catch Nye's attention this season is Foley's composure on the golf course. He says his sophomore stays pretty level throughout his round, regardless of how good or bad of a day it is.
He also fully expects Foley and redshirt freshman T.J. Howe to carry the torch following this season when the team loses veterans Harvin Groft and All-Big Ten honoree Robert Rohanna.
"Absolutely," Nye said. "Kevin has already begun to do that. He and T.J. both know the job ahead of them."
Perhaps it is fitting that Foley will soon play the role of "big brother." Foley refers to his eldest brother Ryan as his role model and hopes to someday have others follow him the way he followed his brother.
Only this time the younger Foley's followers will be closer to him in age.
And they will already have their own clubs.