By Max Calderone | Sports Writer
When Mike McGraw took over as head coach of the Baylor men’s golf team, he set out to take the program to new heights. After carefully constructing the roster, results on the links have been astounding.
In just three seasons, McGraw’s Bears have won nine team titles and had four players named All-Americans.
There’s something special, however, about this year’s roster that sets the team apart: all nine Baylor men’s golfers are from Texas.
McGraw said it was a purposeful effort to bring players in that were familiar with the area and grew up competing against each other.
“It was very intentional,” McGraw said. “I’ve known that Texas is one of the greatest states for producing junior golfers and has been for 45,50 years. Waco is in the geographical center of Texas, so it made no sense not to recruit here.”
The team boasts players from all over the state, including the big cities of Austin and Dallas and the nearby suburbs of Lewisville, Plano and Southlake.
Groves junior Braden Bailey said he was familiar with every player on the Baylor team before they all came to compete as a team.
“I grew up playing junior golf with every single one of these guys, so I knew all of them before I even got to Baylor,” Bailey said.
Because of that, both McGraw and Bailey said they have seen improvements in team chemistry, which translates to better results in team tournaments and events. Bailey said this year’s team is unlike any other during his time at Baylor.
“This is probably the closest team that we’ve had since I’ve been here,” Bailey said. “Everybody being from Texas and knowing each other before they got here is great for the program.”
McGraw said that recruiting locally has been a huge part of the team’s growing chemistry.
“It’s pretty close,” McGraw said about the bond his team has off the course. “Every year we’ve added more and more Texas players, so I think that’s part of it. Chemistry has improved as we’ve continued to recruit locally.”
After coming off a second-place finish at the All-American tournament outside of Houston, all seven golfers who competed got to see their parents. McGraw said the support was helpful and that he loves having so many people come out to watch his team play.
“All seven sets of parents were there, watching their kids play,” McGraw said. “That’s a big benefit. I would say Braden had about 25 people from his hometown that were there last week watching.”
Baylor often competes in Texas or Oklahoma, making it a short trip for family members who want to come watch the Bears in action. Bailey said the proximity of Baylor to his hometown made it an easy choice when deciding where he wanted to play collegiate golf.
“That definitely was a pretty big factor,” Bailey said. “Being from Texas and having the weather we have here, it just didn’t make sense to go to a northern school. With the weather we have here in Waco and the great facilities, it was a no brainer for me.”
McGraw said having every player being from Texas raises the attention of the team because it’s a great talking point.
“I think it helps when I’m talking to a donor or an alum, just anybody who might be thinking about finding out more about our golf team,” McGraw said. “If they’re all from Texas, it’s a lot easier to talk about.”
With the program’s success, even more attention will be placed on the Bears as they finish out their spring season.
Baylor will travel to Mexico from March 4-6 to compete at the Querencia Cabo Collegiate tournament before coming back to the states for three more events in preparation for postseason play.
The Big 12 Tournament will be held in Tulsa, Okla. from April 23-25 as the Bears will try to qualify for their third consecutive NCAA Regionals appearance.