Veteran golf coach’s joy is watching his players grow, mature

Veteran golf coach’s joy is watching his players grow, mature
June 18
00:00 2015

In photo above: Lewis Green
   Lewis Green is a veteran golf coach who used to have zilch interest in the sport. He didn’t start playing until the age of 30. Prior to that, he never had any exposure to golf and never watched the pros play on TV. But once he picked up some golf clubs, he developed a seemingly everlasting passion for the game.

   Green, a retired Army veteran, was first introduced to golf while he was stationed at Fort Benning, Georgia. A co-worker brought a shag bag and sand wedge to the job, and during lunch break, he’d practice hitting balls. At first, Green declined invitations to play. Eventually, though, he decided to give it a try.

   Known to most people as “Sarge,” Green has vivid memories of his first encounter with the game. “I tried to hit that little ball and couldn’t do it to save my soul,” said Green. “I was so frustrated that I went to a pawn shop that night and bought me a set of golf clubs.”

   That was just the beginning. Every day after work, Green and his co-worker would leave and hone their skills at a 9-hole golf course at Fort Benning. On every visit, they played 36 holes without the use of a golf cart.

   “It took me about eight months to go from shooting in the 100s to shooting in the low 80s,” he recalled. “I’ve been in love with golf ever since. It’s the only game I’ve ever played that you can’t master.”

   “You see a number of different athletes dominate in other sports. In golf, though, dominance doesn’t last. You can go out today and shoot 65 and tomorrow you could wind up shooting 85. That’s just how the game is.”

   Green has 24 years experience as a golf coach at R.J. Reynolds High School. Initially, he coached football, but in the late ‘90s, he stepped in as an assistant golf coach to help former head coach Howard West, who also coached boys’ basketball.

   During that time, the Demons won three straight state championships in basketball and as a result, the extended post-season for basketball created conflicts with the start of pre-season practice for golf. Green conducted try-outs and ran team practices until West became available once basketball season was over.

   Green has been in charge of the golf program since 2005 when West resigned and went to Reagan High School. During Green’s head coaching tenure, RJR has won six Central Piedmont Conference titles, which includes three straight from 2013 through this year.  

   The Demons got off to a slow start this spring. But midway through the season, they began to play up to their potential. Aside from bagging another conference tournament championship, Reynolds won its regional and qualified for a spot in the Class 4-A state tournament.  RJR finished ninth in the team standings. It was the third year in a row in which the Demons placed inside the top 10 at the state.

   The golfers that Green coaches at RJR are not novices. Most started playing the game as elementary-school-aged youngsters at private clubs. Green’s points of emphasis have more to do with handling the mental aspects of the game as opposed to teaching shot technique and swing mechanics.

   “Golf is a tough sport, so having ups and downs can be expected,” he said. “I talk about that a lot. In this game, it’s inevitable that you’ll hit bad shots. If you dwell on what happened on an earlier hole, it could carry over to the next hole, or maybe the rest of the round.”

   “These kids know how to play. I’m just there to help keep them calm and focused. Every now and then, I’ll give them a pat on the back. At other times, when needed, I might have to give them a kick in the butt.”

   Green, who retired from teaching three years ago, points to several factors which have paved the way for Reynolds’ success on the golf course.
   Factor 1: Five years ago, he made the decision to change practice sites from the Reynolda Park Golf Course to Winston Lake, which features its share of challenging slopes and narrow fairways. Making that switch, he explained, has produced satisfying dividends for Reynolds golfers.

   “I knew that if my kids could play well at that course, they could play anywhere,” he said. “Winston Lake is one of the toughest courses in this county. It’s tight. You just can’t pick up your driver and bomb it. You have to know where to put the ball and if you put it in the right place, you have a very good chance of posting good scores. If you don’t do that, you’re in trouble. Other high schools hate playing at Winston Lake because it’s such a difficult course to play.”

   Factor 2: Reynolds golfers tend to be highly self-motivated, so there’s seldom an issue as it relates to work ethic and willingness to put in the necessary time to improve one’s game. “These kids want to play and they want to be good,” Green said. “And they have a great support base from their parents. Most of the players have parents who play the game, and they continue to give me their undying support.”

   “That makes things a lot easier for me. If I have to discipline a kid, the parent agrees with me wholeheartedly. I don’t have to argue with a parent about why I did this or why I did that.”

   Factor 3: Reynolds plays six players in conference matches. But there’s no set rotation for which six players will play in any given event. The top four scores among team members automatically leads to thier advance to play in the next competition. The players who finish fifth and sixth have to battle other team members in practice to determine who earns the last two spots to play in the next match.

   “This keeps everybody hungry,” said Green. “If they’re not in the top four, they have to go back to the drawing board and work on improving. They have to earn the opportunity to play.”

   The measure of satisfaction for Green, a six-time conference Coach of the Year, transcends winning tournament titles. What he enjoys most is the coach-player dialogue, which can help them perform to the best of their ability.

   “Accolades are fine, but interacting with young people is the most important thing,” he said. “Our last group of seniors all started out together as freshmen.

I watched them learn, grow and mature. That gives me a good feeling to see how much they developed during that length of time.”

   “Maturity plays an important role in golf. Yes, it takes physical ability to play this game, but it also takes a lot of mental ability. You have to be mentally focused, but not to the point where you’re tight all the time. You have to be loose, but focused.”

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Craig Greenlee

Craig Greenlee

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