Michael Leahy V, Contributing Writer
From the Masters to the U.S. Open, Kevin O’Connell has played in some of golf’s most prestigious events. Now, he’s on the other side of the sport after joining VCU golf’s coaching staff as the new assistant coach.
The former University of North Carolina golfer has experience in all levels of golf and now seeks a different perspective of the game as a coach. O’Connell said his new role is a way to give back to the sport.
“In the last couple years, I’ve had some opportunities to play some pretty special events,” O’Connell said. “I felt like the more of these I played, the more I interacted with the best college players, I personally thought that it would be a neat way to give back.”
O’Connell was drawn to continue learning with VCU’s program from head coach Matt Ball.
“The experience that coach Ball has had here — being in his 23rd season — I felt like he’d be somebody in my first job in the industry that I could stand to learn a lot from,” O’Connell said.
O’Connell’s golf knowledge was a reason he was hired, Ball said. The new assistant coach’s experience as both a collegiate and professional athlete helps him relate to the players.
“He went through all the normal highs and lows that college students go through in their game and academics,” Ball said. “It helps them to be able to relate.”
Golf athletes, such as senior Peter Gasperini, had positive reactions to O’Connell’s new position within the program.
“When you see a player of that pedigree, you know, USGA champion, it’s definitely incredible to be able to tap into,” Gasperini said.
O’Connell’s experience, both in the collegiate and professional ranks, is something the VCU athletes can strive for, Gasperini said.
“If you think about it, not everyone has access to someone that has done both, been a collegiate athlete and a professional athlete,” Gasperini said.
The new assistant coach spoke to this degree of experience, stressing the variety of levels within the sport.
Helping players learn the fundamentals of golf — the mechanics of a strong swing or improving one’s short game, among other topics — is the easy part of coaching, O’Connell said.
“The harder part is giving them an idea of what the lay of the land is going to be like after they get out of school and try and turn professional,” O’Connell said.
Even as a seasoned collegiate player, senior Sachin Kumar aims to take advantage of what O’Connell has to offer as a new mentor.
“I’m excited to pick his brains a little bit, find out more about his career and the things that he’s been through,” Kumar said.
While O’Connell’s arsenal of experience is available, he faces a learning curve to coaching and being able to integrate his experience with the position.
“The thing that’s taken the most time is learning each guy, where they come from and what their aspirations are,” O’Connell said, “[having to] walk that line of being a coach where there is some form of authoritative figure, but also being a friend and a bit of an encourager.”
As he navigates this new position, O’Connell expects to use his skill set for the betterment of the team.
“Having had that experience, knowing what it was like, I think there’s definitely some ways here that maybe I can help the program here get to a higher level,” O’Connell said.