In “Credit Hours,” we tell the stories of college golf teams whose seasons were cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic. Next up, the University of Texas Longhorns.
While being a collegiate athlete is rewarding, it almost always comes with some heartbreak.
In May 2019, the University of Texas men’s golf team was riding high. The Longhorns won the Austin regional by 20 shots in April, punching their ticket to the NCAA Championship for the 13th consecutive season. After finishing fifth in stroke play, they knocked off rival Oklahoma and defending national champion Oklahoma State to reach the final against Stanford. Ultimately Texas fell 3-2 to the Cardinal.
It was a tough loss, but with three rising sophomore stars, the Longhorns seemed destined for a big 2020. After four mediocre performances to start the season, however, they just didn’t seem like themselves.
“This was a challenging year, dealing with our success in 2019,” said head coach John Fields. His three young guns from last year—Parker Coody, Pierceson Coody, and Cole Hammer—were struggling to recover their previous form.
Hammer was going through a particularly rough stretch by his standards. Before his freshman year, the Texas native had put together one of the best amateur summers in recent memory, winning the Western Amateur, the Azalea Amateur, and the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball. At the 2018 U.S. Amateur, he was co-medalist in stroke play and reached the semifinals in match play. The new world amateur No. 1 went on to a strong freshman season at UT. But through three events this past fall, Hammer’s scoring average was more than a shot and a half higher than it had been the previous season.
At its last fall event, Texas finally found its groove. After dominating stroke play at the East Lake Cup, the Longhorns knocked off Vanderbilt and Oklahoma State for the win. Freshman Travis Vick, yet another member of the Texas youth movement, earned the clinching point.
Coach John Fields and the Longhorns celebrate their victory over Oklahoma State University at the 2019 NCAA Men's Golf Championship. Photo credit: University of Texas Athletics
It was a turning point for the Longhorns, and Coach Fields saw a shift in the team’s mentality. “The two Coodys are fiercely competitive, allowing their attitude to motivate our entire team,” he explained. “Cole Hammer, dealing with a seven-month struggle, was working diligently and coming into a positive flow. Additionally, Travis Vick was gaining experience to go with his undeniable God-given talent. Spencer Soosman was having his best year as was junior Chris Bring.”
In the new year, UT’s rise continued. Everything was clicking. Then, three weeks ago, the team was at home preparing for the Valspar Collegiate when news of the canceled season arrived. Just like that, their momentum ground to an abrupt halt.
It was difficult news for Texas, but Coach Fields wasn’t about to let COVID-19 change the team’s tone. “We will be fresher next year,” he told them. “[We will be] motivated by what might have been in 2020 and energized with our continued growth.”
UT had risen all the way to No. 4 in the college golf rankings and seemed on the verge of putting together another deep run this spring. No doubt the Longhorns are wondering what could have been. But their coach is already shifting focus to the future. Before everyone left campus, Fields had a simple message for his athletes: “Stay safe, stay healthy. We will come back bigger, better, and stronger.”
No. 4 in Sagarin Men’s College Golf Team Ratings
1st – The Prestige
1st – East Lake Cup
2nd – Amer Ari Invitational
2nd – Southern Highlands Collegiate
Parker Coody – Win – Southern Highlands Collegiate (73-68-67)
Spencer Soosman – 3rd – The Prestige (70-69-65)
Pierceson Coody – 5th – Amer Ari Invitational (72-66-67)
Cole Hammer – T-9 – OFCC/Fighting Illini Invite (71-68-73)
Pierceson Coody – T-6 – The Prestige (70-69-69)
Pierceson Coody – T-9 – OFCC/Fighting Illini Invite (67-74-71)
Travis Vick – T-10 – Amer Ari Invitational (66-71-70)