Catching A Rising Star
Special feature for upstatespartans.com
by Bill English, Associate AD for Media Realtions
Spartanburg, S.C. – An interesting dynamic exists for coaches and staff who work in a college athletics departments across the country. If you stay at any one place long enough, every year you see turnover in the student-athletes attending your school while you remain in the same position with mostly the same responsibilities year after year. A new crop of student-athletes replaces the crop that just exited. And whether a student-athlete remains at your school for one or four years (sometimes five if necessary for graduation), the cycle continues.
You get close to some student-athletes and then they are gone. And, while you attempt to stay in touch just to make sure the young men and women are making it in the "real" world, inevitably, the contact gets farther and farther apart until it pretty much comes to an end. I guess it's that way in a lot of relationships that end when people move away from each other.
See, coaches and staff members always know that their role is to serve as leaders and mentors for the young men and women who come to college with a dream of playing sports, receiving their degree and making the choices to set them up for their lives after school. We are not supposed to be buddies, but we are there to be friendly, helpful and nurturing as the student-athletes grow into their adult lives.
But, there are times when a student-athlete makes an indelible impression and makes a connection that goes beyond the typical coach-player, staff-student-athlete dynamic. I am in my 10th year heading up the media relations office at USC Upstate and it has been my privilege to get to know golfer Josh Gallman over the years. I had the privilege of watching him play his second round of the Knoxville News Sentinel Open on Friday afternoon (Aug. 27) in his first appearance on the PGA's Nationwide Tour. While he didn't make the cut, largely in my mind because I jinxed him with my mere presence even though head coach Todd Lawton jokingly informed me that I am just not that important, I can't tell you how proud I was watching this young man on the big stage.
I first heard about Josh from Todd Lawton back in 2005. He told me at the time that we had a good chance of landing the highly-respected recruit out of Gaffney High School in Gaffney, S.C., just about a 25-minute drive up Interstate 85 towards Charlotte. At the time, Baxter Culler was emerging as our No. 1 golfer and I had grown close to the golf program since its inception in 2005 (the men's program was re-established after a 14-year hiatus and the women's program was started from scratch).
Josh stepped foot on campus in the fall of 2006 and had a steady freshman season, a season that would be his first and last playing on the Division II level since Upstate was set to make the move to Division I starting in the fall of 2007. At the time, Baxter was our dominant player. He won two tournaments, including the Peach Belt Conference Championship, and led the Spartans into the NCAA Regionals for the second time in the program's first two years playing as an NCAA member. But, there in Baxter's shadow, was this skinny but talented golfer who got more and more steady as the season went on.
Josh made a name for himself by firing a 5-under-par 67 in the final round of the NCAA DII Nationals in Michigan, teaming with Culler and the other Spartans to nearly win a national championship before settling for second by just one stroke.
I was fortunate enough to pick up the golf team at the Greenville-Spartanburg Airport when they came home. I thought I would see a group of guys ecstatic about their accomplishments. And, while they were indeed happy and proud, there was a quiet reserve about them for what they missed out on, winning the national championship, not for themselves, but for Upstate and the Spartanburg community. And Josh seemed to lead the group with his tempered enthusiasm for the accomplishment. That would be a theme in what I have witnessed throughout my time watching Josh develop. He never got too high with the myriad of accomplishments he achieved or too low when things just didn't fall his or the team's way.
The 2007-08 sports year was crazy. We were playing the first year as members of NCAA Division I and there was a lot of buzz. But, we soon found out that DI was indeed pretty challenging. We struggled early. That is except for the men's golf team. They went up to Rutgers and won their first tournament ever playing on the DI level. Michael Lawrence won the individual championship at Rutgers, while Josh finished second. Josh, though, would go on to make a tremendous impact on the program and help lead the school, along with the women's tennis and softball teams and some individuals in cross country and track, into the DI ranks. Josh won four individual tournament titles as a sophomore and it was out of that success and the amount that I had to work with Josh because of his and the team's success, that I really began to get to know and appreciate him, not only as a golfer, but as a person.
Josh rarely basked in the glow of his success, always determined to make sure that he concentrated on the team and what it could have done to get better results. He always talked about how he could improve, even if he won a tournament by finishing 10-under-par. But, as I got to know Josh as a golfer, I saw that his golf game mirrored that of the person he is. I talked with Todd Lawton about Josh a lot. I learned that he came from a tremendous family background, one rooted in love, faith and the value of hard work. As I looked further into Josh and got to know him better, you can see those qualities shine through in his golf game and who he is.
Time slips by so quickly and by the time Josh was a junior, big things were expected of him. To his own admission, he had an average junior year. For most college golfers, they would take his 2008-09 season and run with it. But, Josh never won a tournament and he struggled with consistency. Still, he led Upstate in nearly every statistical category. But, there was something missing from what he accomplished on the course as a sophomore. Of the course, though, he was still every bit as successful.
Josh was a tremendous student in college. He carried over a 3.7 throughout his college career and earned Cleveland Golf/Srixon All-America Scholar honors from the GCAA in 2009.
Josh was second team all-conference selection as a junior after taking home first team honors as a sophomore. On the team, he emerged as the leader, someone the players looked up to for guidance and inspiration. He would take players aside away from the course and talk with them, one-on-one, about golf, life, faith, anything to help the younger players make the transition to college easier. Golf is about confidence. Life is about confidence. Josh had that part figured out and wanted to share that with the other golfers who he saw lacked that confidence in either area.
Josh's senior year was something to behold. He won three tournament championships, never finished below 19th in any tournament he played. He earned his third all-conference honor from the A-Sun with his second first-team selection. He was named an All-American Scholar again by the GCAA, and he was tabbed a third team Academic All-American by ESPN The Magazine/CoSIDA. He was named Upstate's Male Student-Athlete of the Year for the second time in his four years at Upstate and took home a bevy of academic honors from the University and the George Dean Johnson, Jr., College of Business and Economics.
I made the trip down to Chateau Elan outside of Atlanta to watch the golf team at the A-Sun Championships last April. I did so because I love golf, I love the golf teams at Upstate, and I wanted to watch Josh in the final opportunity I had to do so on the college level. I couldn't pass up the opportunity. And, on the drive back to Spartanburg after watching the first two rounds, I was sad. I was sad because although I knew that another crop of golfers would be coming through and accomplishments may surpass those of what Josh and his teammates have done so far, I realized that a fast four years had gone by and Josh's run with us was about to come to an end.
Now, he and fellow senior Michael Lawrence insisted that before they left Upstate for good, that I had to join them out for a night of celebration. So, after they had finished their exams, were weeks removed from any college tournament, and were set to graduate in two days, I joined them out to put a cap on the last four years. It was a night commemorating four years together, me as their SID and them as golfers who put Upstate on the map in college golf. Former golfers Andy Brooks, Tyler Tucker, Jamie Lightsey and Baxter Culler, among others, joined Josh, Michael and me out. We told stories and relived the past. And it was fun. But, it was also the beginning of a new time for them, especially Josh.
I am still working the same job at Upstate. It's a new year and golfers Brian Horton and Matthew Hopper return to lead the men's golf team. It is clearly different, but still very much special to work with the team. I also am fortunate enough to work with other outstanding student-athletes like softball players Morgan Childers and Kim Brasil. But, strangely, I have been a more than interested observer as Josh has made his way in the professional ranks.
While I watched the Monday practice round at the 1999 U.S. Open in Pinehurst, N.C., and got to see Payne Stewart, who won the tournament, in person just months before he passed away, I have never watched a professional golf tournament in person. That was until earlier this summer. I traveled with Todd Lawton up to Lexington, N.C., to watch Josh in an eGolf Tour event. Again, after a solid first round, Gallman struggled in the second and missed the cut. But, watching my first live professional golf tournament round, I couldn't have been happier to know that it was because I was watching Josh.
Josh has had a tremendous start to his professional career. In just three months as a pro, he has three wins, a second-place finish, two other top 10 finishes and his first appearance on the Nationwide Tour. And, no one should have doubted that he could have accomplished what he has in such a short time. And, no one should doubt how far he can take his career.
Josh's parents, Todd and Carol, have been along for the ride. They have nurtured Josh as a person and as a golfer. You can tell just by their interaction just how much Josh loves them both, and he's not afraid to show it to anyone. Whether it's hugging his mom half a dozen times while eating dinner at Cracker Barrel or putting his arm around his dad while walking to an errant tee shot, a rare mistake in a round of golf for the young man, you know that the family is more than just supportive. There is genuine love and caring, and it goes both ways. You can see the pride ooze out of Todd and Carol while they watch their son and talk about what he has accomplished and what could happen in the future. But, they are grounded people who know it takes hard work, dedication, and, probably, a little good fortune along the way. It should be no surprise that Josh has those very same qualities.
So, there I was, picking up my media pass at the admissions tent at the Knoxville Open on Friday, Aug. 27. Almost as soon as we got there, John Daly, he of the tragic life and two major championships, donning his Tennessee orange and white checkerboard pants and matching solid orange shirt, pounced onto the driving range, drawing hundreds of on-lookers. In the background some 40 feet away was the tall, still skinny fella working on his putting. It was Josh with former Spartan teammate Tyler Tucker on the bag as his caddie. Tyler wouldn't put on his caddie bib until the last minute and even a promotional shot of Kettle One from the PR rep wouldn't force him into it.
It's funny. John Daly is a mega star more so for his well-documented ups and downs in his life than his golf accomplishments. But, he sure gathers a crowd. But, my eyes and interest were on Josh and the spectacle of the tournament. It was exciting to see him preparing for his round while the excitement and action of a professional golf tournament went on around him. Now, this was not The Players Championship on the PGA Tour, but a Nationwide Tour event is big-time. It's equivalent to Triple A baseball. There were multiple winners from the PGA Tour in the field. In addition to Daly, there was Kirk Triplett, Rich Beem and Robert Gamez just to name a few of the players who have played on the PGA Tour and had success there. This was the big-time. Baseball player Chris Nowak, whose autographed Upstate batting helmet sits on a shelf in my office, reached Triple A with the Tampa Bay Rays last year. I would have to call it a tie for now between Josh's and Chris' accomplishments. Other than Chris, though, no one has ever reached this stage after leaving Upstate, at least not in my tenure. Former Spartan/Rifle basketball greats Michael Gibson and James Holland went on for brief careers with the Washington Bullets and Harlem Globetrotters back in the 1980's, but not since then has an Upstate student-athlete gone on to do what Josh has done.
The day was raucous. I have watched many college golf tournaments and they are typically quiet, mostly because there aren't a lot of spectators. But this place was noisy, even after what seemed like 2,000 people left the clubhouse area when Daly went to tee off on the first hole. But still, Josh teed off with noise of generators around him. People were laughing and talking while they sipped their beers and other drinks on the warm and sunny day.
Josh had an up and down day. He bogeyed five holes on the front nine and stood at 1-over heading into the back nine when he started to rally. During the front nine, he came upon two holes where he encountered things that just don't happen in college golf and hadn't happened thus far in his professional career. He approached the green at the par-4 15th (he teed off on No. 10) and there was a tremendous amount of commotion coming from the Hooters tent adjacent from the green. He managed par among the laughs, yells and music coming from the area.
He moved on to the tee at the par-3 16th hole. At the green was a pretty big crowd, the numbers growing because they were selling beer for just a dollar. He hit his tee shot long to the low groans of the gallery at the green. They wanted to see birdies more and more with every sip and gulp of beer.
He left his birdie putt four-feet short to the dislike of the increasingly beer-happy spectators yearning for anything to open their mouths about. He missed his par putt and a groan came out of one of the beer-hearty patrons. Josh would later say he heard everything that went on, especially the groan after the missed par putt.
Josh would struggle his way to a second round 77 and missed the cut in his first Nationwide event. Now, I am prone to believe Todd Lawton when he tells me I am really not important. But, the two rounds that I have watched Josh play as a pro, both were second rounds prior to the cut and both followed strong first rounds that put him in contention to make the cut. Both second rounds were not good. So, I vow to never watch another one of Josh's rounds in person out of respect to him and his family. But, I was proud to be there.
As I rode in the passenger seat coming back home Friday night, and as Todd Lawton and I solved the world's problems trying to stay awake, it struck me as to why I have taken such an interest in Josh throughout my time in knowing him. Yes, I am a fan. And, as a fan, I appreciate success. But, I have watched Josh grow from a skinny little boy as a freshman at Upstate, into a man with an emerging professional career. He has achieved so much on the course and off. But, along the way, with all of the attention and accolades, he has remained the same person. That is rare. And it is also refreshing. Our culture promotes the "me" attitude. "It's all about me" is a favorite phrase. It's often used jokingly, but is also a very true statement on who we are, culturally. Josh plays a sport that is singular in nature. He is really out there all by himself. But, to look at Josh, he is truly not alone and it isn't all about himself. Whether it's his family, the countless number of friends and former teammates who jump at the chance to be his caddie, his former college coach who grew to admire, respect and know Josh better than any other player he has coached, or the SID that has more than 21 years in the business, has seen a lot and who is in awe of who he is, Josh is not a me person. He can't be, because he has invested so much in others, and others have invested so much in him.
Josh doesn't have to qualify for another appearance on the Nationwide Tour, make it onto the PGA Tour, or even play another pro tournament to be a success. He could leave it all behind and put his business degree to work. He is a winner in life. That's why I am drawn to following him in his attempt to become a PGA golfer. It's why everyone is drawn to him. It's not that he is a great golfer, it's that he is a great person who happens to have this unique talent that could take him to places few of us ever get to see.
And that's why I suggest that anyone who reads this column should root as hard as they can for this young man to find success in his dream. Because once in awhile, it's good to see the good guy win.