Johnny Keefer leads Baylor men’s golf toward new teamwork culture

Baylor junior golfer Johnny Keefer competes in golf tournament. Photo by Baylor Athletics

By Kamri Alexander | Reporter

Baylor men’s golf has competed in the Maridoe Collegiate Invitational and the Fighting Illini Invitational during the 2021-2022 season, and their common denominator has been Johnny Keefer leading the Bears in scoring. Only a junior, Keefer has shown that he can compete with the best there is to offer.

Performing well for Keefer though is not so much about winning by himself or boosting his own pride, but rather bringing his team along with him. After all, what fun is winning on a team if you win alone? The great scores help boost Keefer’s confidence on the course, but he ultimately wants to lead his team in winning with that same confidence.

“[Performing well] helps with confidence … It helps me know I can compete well on big stages so that’s always great,” Keefer said. “It’s really nice especially to try and help lead the team … I never like to be the lone guy … but I like trying to lead by example and get everyone else a little bit more motivated.”

Staying motivated isn’t always easy for an athlete. For Keefer, however, if there was an equation to success, it would include hard work, grit and playing smart. Keefer said he always knows there’s a better golfer on the course or a better way to swing, but he doesn’t let one round define who he is as a golfer. It’s his grit on the field that sets Keefer apart.

“We always say in golf to have a short memory,” Keefer said. “The bad things, they’re not always going to be bad. One round of golf isn’t going to define you. A lot of those things have to do with how gritty you are. You don’t let the bad things get to you.”

Head coach Mike McGraw said he saw potential in Keefer at a young age. McGraw saw Keefer play for the first time when he was 13 years old and knew then that one day he would be recruiting Keefer for Baylor. McGraw admits that Keefer, as a freshman, was a great student and athlete, but says Keefer has grown to become exceptional in both of those areas.

Keefer came into college with high expectations that ultimately paid off for him when he earned a spot on the GCAA All-Freshman Team. Although it wasn’t luck that got Keefer there. McGraw said the caliber of discipline and consistency that Keefer pours into his craft is impressive.

“The thing that has impressed me the most is his commitment. He’s training like a professional,” McGraw said. “Everything from his workout, the way he eats, the fuel he puts in his body, the type of practice he does, the amount of practice he does, everything is geared towards one day becoming a professional while helping [Baylor men’s golf] while he’s here.”

Combining Keefer’s determination to not only be the best golfer, but also a great student and teammate is what makes McGraw happy to coach him. Athletes sometimes have a stereotype of not caring about school, but that’s not the case for Keefer. His education has not fallen short for the sake of golf. Keefer balances his school work and personal growth all while spurring on his teammates. McGraw said Keefer’s workmanship is helping redefine excellence for the team.

“He understands what excellence look like,” McGraw said. “He doesn’t do things average; he doesn’t believe in average.”

The thing about excellence is that it rubs off onto others. When people are surrounded by others who are goal-driven and striving for greatness, they can’t help but want to achieve greatness at that level as well. McGraw said it might be Keefer’s biggest impact on his team, the idea that Keefer wants to lead by example.

“He puts actions into words. He’s inspiring to them because he doesn’t say ‘Look at me and how hard I’m working.’ He doesn’t say that, he just works hard,” McGraw said. “He’s been a part of that culture we’re trying to build [that] you’re going to give it your best effort everyday.”

In every great player is usually a great mentor, and Keefer said he has that in McGraw. Not just on the course but in the classroom and in life.

“Coach McGraw is a great mentor. He’s about as good as you can get,” Keefer said. “Being under a such a great coach with all the success he has had in his career, I don’t know if I could learn from anyone better.”

Keefer is striving for great success at Baylor but his ultimate dream is to go professional. Keefer will look to lead Baylor men’s golf in their next event Oct. 4-5 at the Colonial Collegiate Invitational in Fort Worth.