Vanderbilt University has made some superb hirings in the past several years. The hire of Tim Corbin in 2002 was spectacular. Tim is the best college baseball coach in the country and an institution, not only in the college game, but throughout baseball. Coach Corbin has built an phenomenal legacy at Vanderbilt. The hiring of Derek Mason by Athletics Director David Williams in 2014 is proving to be a genius move again as Derek is ready to take his Commodore football program to new heights, greater than the program's ever achieved. Two thousand seventeen looks electrically exciting for football. Commodore football is in tremendous hands. The hiring of Geoff McDonald for the women's tennis team back in the '90's has been a beyond spectacular. His program is as elite as it comes in college tennis and will be playing for its second national championship in the last 3 years in the next 2 weeks as the women's team starts NCAA tournament play. Williams' hire of Bryce Drew was superb. Bryce will have us competing for championships both in the SEC and nationally as soon as next year. The future couldn't be any brighter for Vanderbilt basketball with Bryce at the helm.
And golf has been nothing short of sensational under 5th year Coach Scott Limbaugh, who just led his amazing team to an SEC Championship at Sea Island Golf Club last weekend. The 36 year old LImbaugh got stellar play from freshman John Augenstein, who sank a birdie putt on the 20th hole to beat Florida last Sunday and win the semifinal match. Then, on top of that on Monday, the cagey freshman with all the pressure on the line, beat the Texas A&M player on the 23rd hole to help the Commodores capture their first SEC championship in the program's existence.That's some stellar stuff from John.
But most all of the credit goes to Coach Limbaugh, the Childersburg, Alabama native, who was the lead recruiter at the University of Alabama and recruited Tide standouts Justin Thomas, Trey Mullinax, Bobby Wyatt among other, all 3 of whom are on the PGA Tour. Justin is having massive success. Alabama won the national championship in 2013 and 2014 with many of the players Limbaugh recruited. And he's continued that stellar tradition in Nashville, and that, along with his superior coaching ability, led the Commodores to the pinnacle of the SEC, the toughest conference in the country in most every sport imaginable, with the best athletes, the best competitors, the best coaches. Coach Limbaugh said he got congratulations from everybody, Tim Corbin and Bryce Drew sent texts, as did Justin Thomas and Trey Mullinax. He said the most meaningful thing though was seeing his wife Kate, his two young daughters, Malley and Annie, and his year and a half old son, Thomas, after the team's amazing victory. Scott Limbaugh is not only a superb coach, he's an even better person. He's the personification of a Vanderbilt man. And we are fortunate and grateful to have him.
Now, while the players take a break and get ready for finals, but also get a chance to relish this phenomenal victory, Scott and I talked on Wednesday about the performance of his team last weekend, what this means for him and his program, and what lies ahead with the NCAA's, as capturing the national championship is next the next goal on the agenda for this tremendous team and their superior leader.
DW: How's this week gone for you?
SL: "I just now started today to get my feet on the ground. Monday Night I had to hit the road recruiting, so I didn't get back till last night. But it's been overwhelming. I've had so many people reach out to me, it's awesome. All good stuff."
DW: Talk about the clutch play of John Augenstein, the clutch putt on Sunday against Florida and Monday, his play on Monday, how clutch it was.
SL: "I tell you what, it was the stuff you dream about. You talk to young kids, you try to sell'em on a vision. When we talked to John as a youngster, we sold him on doing a first time thing, and him being a crucial part of that her with him as a freshman. My gosh, the shots he made and the putt he made against Florida on the 20th hole, that was not an easy putt. It was about a cup outside on the left, fast, and he absolutely buried it. And then the final day, when Matthias lost control of his match a little bit and things started not looking as good for us as they had been, we talk all the time about, don't wait for somebody else to do the job that you can do yourself. Always know your match will matter, always know your score is going to count. Don't sit back and think somebody else is going to do the job. For us, we had a freshman. And I'll tell you what, I can't say enough about our assistant coach, Dusty Smith, the job he's done. He's been with us the whole time here and the job he's done and the development we've had with our younger players, that stuff just doesn't happen without Dusty. Dusty walked every hole with John and watched every shot this week. And obviously, the shot John hit on the 23rd hole (on Monday vs. A&M in the championship match), No.14 is the hardest hole on the course. The tour, when anybody plays there, it's the hardest hole on the course. The wind was blowing 30 off the left. You can't hit it left, you can't hit it right. The Texas A&M kid gets up there first and strikes it right down the middle. Honestly, John didn't have his A game this week, he had his A game in his heart, but he didn't have his A game because he is an absolute ball striker, and he didn't hit it that well. He won those matches on sheer resiliency and toughness and fight, because it wasn't always pretty. The one place you can't hit it on 14 is on the left, but you have just a little bit of room on the right. He hit it off a tree (off the tee) and it bounced off the cart path and I didn't think he had a shot, but I was allowing Coach Smith and John to do their thing, I just turned into a fan at that moment. I had walked the final round with Patrick (Martin, who won his match handily). The shot he hit, wind off to the left with a front left pin, it's a shot that's going to go down in our golf memory banks for a long, long time because it changed Vanderbilt golf. He hit that thing 12 feet from no man's land, and this other kid in the middle of the fairway, John had just tightened up the hole for him, and he just kind of scooped a pitching wedge short right of the green and he didn't hit a great chip. John almost made the birdie putt, left it a little short, and that kid had a par putt that was breaking about 2 feet and you just couldn't hardly make it. We were really fortunate that the ball just bounced our way that way that day, and that's just the way sports works isn't it?"
DW: How long was John's putt on Sunday, his birdie putt to beat Florida?
SL: "I'd say that was about 10 feet, downhill left to right. The boy from Florida almost made a birdie from about 15 feet, it hit the edge. John just knocked it in."
DW: Coach, what is Dusty's background?
SL: He was an All American (player) at Lamar and he was here for a year with the prior coach before I got here and honestly, when I got the job, I felt like I needed to do things to make my own program. But when my wife (Kate) and I met him we knew it was right. My wife is a former athlete, she played basketball at Alabama, and I trust her a lot in what we do here. We came up here to look at homes, and met Dusty and he just kept doing his job no matter what the future was, and he was just the right guy for me. He does an unbelievable job of relating to the players, an unbelievable job of player development, and just his and my personality work really well.
DW: Coach what are the players up to now, are they in exams?
SL: No, there is a dead period right now, their exams start Sunday or Monday and they're enjoying things right now. We've got good leadership on this team. Am I worried about our focus going forward? Yeah I am because that's my job as a coach, because as Geoff McDonald has said to me, "Success is also adversity," and I'm well aware of that. We're getting an awful lot of pats on our back, so I kind of give them time after the SEC's, I follow the same model Coach (Jay) Seawell and I had at Alabama. There's a 3 week break between SEC's and (NCAA) Regionals and we're going to give our guys a break, to kind of catch their breath, focus on academics, and come the end of next week, it'll be time for us to reconvene and get going again. That's been our model here for my first four years here and we're not going to change that.
DW: When is the selection Show?
SL: "It's Thursday, May 4th."
DW: Do you have any idea where we'll go?
SL: "We feel good. We moved to No.2 in the Golfstat poll which is what the NCAA uses for the regional seeding, and I would say there's an outside chance we could end the regular season No. 1 depending on how (No.1) Southern Cal, (No.3) Oklahoma State some of those type teams do. But we feel good, and we're hopeful that we can get in the regional in Murfreesboro. Middle Tennessee is hosting it and we're hopeful we'll be able to gain the No.1 seed at that regional."
DW: What does this mean to you personally?
SL: "Oh it's big. You sell a vision to young people and you think about it 4 1/2 to 5 years ago when we started here, the program was ranked 80th in the country and you sell a vision. I tell you the amount of support we've gotten from our athletic department, our administration has been truly nothing short of amazing. They have believed in me and what I've told them we'd have to do, what the vision I sold them on if they wanted a championship golf program. We needed a lot of things and we've had no pushback. So you're thankful to a lot of people, David Williams, and my former boss, Rod Williamson, and all of these people play integral parts in what we're doing. It was special for me. I had my wife, and my 3 little kids there. And I never thought about it being the first (SEC Championship for VU). I told Golfweek that was not a burden I carried with me, even though it's never been done. But I've done this long enough to know that knocking down that door after knocking on the door several times, was amazing. I'm just thrilled to death for our boys. Those guys on this team that bought into my vision because there was nothing that said I need to believe in him other than they just took a leap of faith in me and what we were trying to sell. And my gosh, it's such a thrill to see them hold up that trophy."
DW: Coach, that's awesome, really excited about the NCAA's but want you to enjoy this right now.
SL: "That's right. And that's the kind of mentality I've got. I'm a process guy and you want them to have the time to enjoy this one."
DW: Coach, finally, do you feel like the SEC's were really good preparation and do you feel good about the NCAA's?
SL: "Well when you look at it, David, my goodness, we had 10 of the teams in that SEC Championship ranked in the top 30. And we started the week saying, let's leave no doubts, this is our tournament, it's about us and what we need to do. We didn't just want to limp through stroke play and ease into match play. We wanted to dominate and that's what we talked about, and that's the kind of leadership our guys have, and that's the mentality we had all week. And I'm proud of that. We went into the final day of stroke play, we were in third place and our guys really dropped the hammer on the last 9 of stroke play (which we won), and any time you plant seeds like that in your competition's minds, in my opinion, it makes a huge difference. And we planted seeds in that stroke play that allowed us to really compete in every one of those matches."