Noah Fleischman, Sports Editor
From Cary Street Gym to Gladding Residence Center, VCU has grown and evolved from what it used to be 20 years ago. The same can be said for VCU’s golf team.
Something that has not changed, though, is the team’s head coach, Matt Ball.
“What hasn’t changed? Everything has changed,” Ball said. “From the way it looks, the way it runs, golf has changed completely. Everything is done a lot nicer. The equipment is better, the student athletes are treated way better. In every way it has changed.”
Ball was introduced as golf coach in 1999 — 12 years after he graduated from VCU — as the first full-time golf coach in program history. He made his return to the program after playing under coach Jack Bell, who spent 17 years at the helm of the team.
During his time on the team, Ball was named to the Golf Coaches Association of America’s Academic All-America team in 1987. On the course, Ball won two events in his four years.
“I’m really the first full-time coach that we’ve ever had,” Ball said. “I always like to teach, so working with talented kids and how good they could be is what drew me to coaching.”
Ball is the second-longest tenured coach at VCU, behind Director of Tennis Paul Kostin, who has coached the Rams for 29 years.
Ball has led Golf to seven conference titles and 12 tournament victories. But the highlight of his coaching career was — “somewhat selfishly,” he says — coaching both of his sons in the 2013 NCAA Tournament.
“We won the conference championship, went to the NCAA Tournament together,” Ball said. “And as far as anyone can recollect, it’s the only time in NCAA history that a father coached two of his kids.”
Ball’s sons were both decorated players during their collegiate careers in Richmond. The older of the two, Matthew Jr., won five tournament titles. The younger, Adam, holds the program records for single-season and career scoring average. Adam was also named Atlantic 10 Player of the Year in both 2015 and 2016 while playing for his father.
“That was the greatest thrill and one of the greatest treats in my life other than them being born,” Ball said. “It was just really cool. All of my pro friends, their kids don’t play golf and they’re all jealous.”
Ball is a decorated coach as well, receiving twice Colonial Athletic Association Coach of the Year and A-10 Coach of the Year.
Under Ball’s guidance, many players are playing professionally after leaving VCU. Notably, Lanto Griffin — who has made starts on the PGA Tour — and Rafa Campos, earned a win on the Web.com Tour this season.
“Most of them when they come, that’s their dream, [to make the PGA Tour],” Ball said. “All of them are willing to win, but not everybody is willing to do whatever it takes to win. Those that make it, they’re extremely talented, gifted, want it really bad and they’ve got a lot of guts.”
Playing golf on a professional level is different than other sports — very players people get contracts. They have to earn their paycheck every week by making the weekend cut. If they don’t, they are not paid.
“If they go out there and don’t play good that week and miss the cut, they don’t make a dime,” Ball said. “They spend $1,500 to $2,000 every week, and they may not make a dime. Financially, it’s not like having a contract knowing you’re going to be able to pay the bills. They don’t even know how they’re going to pay for the next meal or the next entry fee sometimes.”
The players that make it in the professional ranks use their toughness to withstand the grind of working their way to the PGA Tour.
“To see the struggle that they go through and endure and come out on the top end of that,” Ball said, “it’s absolutely amazing to see how difficult it is.”
Even though Griffin and Campos have reached the pinnacle of golf, Ball said they are not the toughest players he’s coached at VCU. That title is Vincent Nadeau’s.
Nadeau played three seasons for the Rams after transferring from Purdue. In his VCU career, Nadeau won two event titles and had four top-five finishes.
“He had Crohn’s disease, and he’s recently just seemingly kicked cancer’s ass. He’s the toughest kid that I ever had,” Ball said. “And I talk about him to every player that comes in here.”
Ball uses Nadeau’s story to inspire players because of his grit and toughness. He called Nadeau the “toughest son of a gun you ever met at 5-foot-6.”
“There was no way any golf course was going to beat him,” Ball said. “He always figured out a way.”