Better Than I Found It – My Life In Coaching, by Mike McGraw
By Ken MacLeod
In a two-year span, Mike McGraw went from being miserable in his dream job to a spiritual and emotional rebirth, and a key contributor to a national championship achieved against players he loved and recruited at his former school.
Talk about an emotional wringer. Yet McGraw came out of the storm more confident, at peace and sure about his direction. Now the head coach at Baylor, McGraw has written a fascinating account of his journey that every coach, player, golfer and fan of golf will want to read.
Better Than I Found It, My Life In Coaching is on sale at www.betterthanifoundit.com.
McGraw, as most know, is one of the favorite sons of one of Oklahoma’s first families of golf. His father Gervis was a long-time head professional at Ponca City Country Club and later owner of Gerv’s Golf in Oklahoma City. His twin sister Patty was a nine-time state amateur champion and a member of the Oklahoma Golf Hall of Fame. Brother Tim was a talented golfer who played professionally.
Mike was a fine player as well but has made his mark in coaching, first at Edmond where he coached Edmond North to three consecutive state championships (1994-96) and a runnerup finish in 1997 before becoming assistant coach to Mike Holder at Oklahoma State. He coached the OSU women’s team in 2005 and took over for Holder in 2006 when the latter accepted the position as director of athletics.
McGraw immediately led the Cowboys to the 2006 NCAA Championship. He later stocked the roster with superstar talents such as Rickie Fowler, Kevin Tway, Peter Uihlein and Morgan Hoffman, but from 2008-11 the Cowboys suffered one heartbreak after the next at the NCAA Championship, culminating in the semifinal loss to Augusta State and Patrick Reed at the home course Karsten Creek in 2011.
Walking off the course that day, McGraw writes that he overheard some of the Cowboy faithful talking about how they just can’t win and maybe a new coach was needed. He looks back to that day as the beginning of the end of his OSU career.
McGraw and the Cowboys could have easily won two or more NCAA titles in that span, and would have if the format had remained stroke play instead of match play. But having missed the prize when the window was wide open only made McGraw grasp harder as it began to shut.
In the book, McGraw, who is one of the nicest men you’ll ever meet, admits he became anything but over the next few seasons as he tried to live up to Holder’s example and expectations. Driven by results instead of process, he became moody, tense and no fun to be around. His team, nowhere near as talented, missed qualifying for the NCAA Championship in 2012, the first OSU absence in a record 65 years. Following another desultory year in 2013, Holder fired him.
McGraw takes the reader through those difficult times, and the rebound when Alabama coach Jay Seawell hired him as an assistant for 2014. As most know, the Tide and the Cowboys ended up in a spectacular match play finale in the 2014 NCAA Championship at Prairie Dunes, where McGraw’s new team (led by future pros Bobby Wyatt, Corey Whitsett and Robby Shelton) defeated a game Cowboy team led by his former assistant and current coach Alan Bratton.
Riveting stuff, particularly McGraw’s honesty in assessing how he lost his way in his final years at OSU and what he has done since to become a better coach and person.
McGraw was inducted in 2016 into the National Collegiate Golf Coaches Hall of Fame and much of this book is written as a self-help guide for fellow college or high school coaches, including best methods to reach players, how to conduct qualifiers, etc. Of much more interest to casual golf fans are the sections where he peels back the curtain and provides anecdotes on the recruiting of a Rickie Fowler, the upbringing and determination of a Trent Whitekiller, OSU’s first native American player; the internal struggles at OSU of talents such as Wyndham Clark or Uihlein. There are many more insider nuggets that golf fans throughout the state will find fascinating.
Although McGraw is never anything but complimentary and respectful toward his former boss, there is only one Mike Holder and one gets the feeling McGraw may have angled off track in part by trying too much to emulate his boss and by not being Mike McGraw, a completely different person with a completely different style.
One of the many things McGraw has done differently since taking over at Baylor is to completely deemphasize scoreboard watching. At one event, he made players turn in their cell phones and not check leaderboards or discuss scores throughout a tournament. The Bears ended up winning the event by 16 shots.
It’s hard to imagine McGraw behaving as anything other than a generous, cerebral steward and historian of the game. He has always been that to this writer, even in the worst of times at OSU. He did, apparently, and he owns it in this book. McGraw openly examines his own life and motivations and his comeback is based on changed behavior, a tough thing for any person and sometimes particularly for coaches who have had success. Thanks to Mike McGraw for providing this honest look at his interesting life.