By Joe Pratt | Broadcast Anchor/Reporter
Talent is useless if you don’t have the hard work to complement it. Redshirt sophomore golfer Johnny Keefer embodies this idea and has worked his way up to be the top player on head coach Mike McGraw’s roster.
“[Keefer] is the most talented kid on the team who actually works the hardest, and he puts more effort into it than just about anybody,” McGraw said. “Because of that, his teammates respect him a great deal, I know his coaches do too. It’s one thing to be the most talented kid, but it’s also another to actually develop that talent.”
Keefer burst onto the scene at Baylor by finishing tied for third in his first ever collegiate appearance. In the Gopher Invitational, Keefer fired three rounds of 69, 67 and 74, placing him among the best players in the field of 70. Baylor ended up winning the tournament as a team in its first tournament of the 2019-2020 season.
“That was a lot of fun and kind of set the road for the rest of the year,” Keefer said. “I had a good freshman year, and had a few more top fives, so that was a lot of fun and I didn’t let it get too big in my head though. I didn’t have that great of finishes a few times, but also didn’t let that get me down, so I just kept on practicing.”
But McGraw knew he had someone special long before Keefer teed off for Baylor. The coach of eight years for the Bears noticed Keefer at a junior golf event while recruiting the next wave of Texas golfing talent.
“The very first kid I saw on the practice tee … was Johnny Keefer, and this kid just eyeballed me, and I think he didn’t expect to see a college coach there that day,” McGraw said. “I saw the look of determination in his eyes … even to this day, he never hits a lackadaisical shot, he’s always paying full attention to every shot he hits.”
In his three years as a Bear, Keefer has maintained a scoring average of 71.3, at least two strokes ahead of every other golfer on the squad. Such consistency has helped Keefer become one of the top ranked players in the country. As of March 29, he is No. 23 in men’s college golf rankings.
“I’ve just tried to improve on everything,” Keefer said. “I’d obviously love to see those averages go down a little bit, but just same work ethic, just trying to do as much as I can off of the course and take care of my body – workout, practice, keep studying and [do] all the right things.”
What Keefer does behind the scenes is clearly paying off on the course. On March 1, he shot a program-record 8-under, 63 in the final round of the Cabo Collegiate Invitational. Having chased the lead all day, Keefer came up short to Vanderbilt University’s Cole Sherwood, who posted a 61 in his final round to secure the individual title.
“I had a good round, but I just kept on trying to dig further and further back into the lead,” Keefer said. “I couldn’t quite catch 17-under, but I just thought why not, just keep on chipping away, you never know what can happen, even a backdoor top-five is good.”
As he builds experience, Keefer now poses as a role model for the other golfers. Following in the footsteps of past leaders such as Colin Kober and Ryan Grider, Keefer hopes to translate what he learned from them to his younger teammates. McGraw believes that he has effectively filled this role for the team.
“What he adds to this team is leadership, and he doesn’t always do it in a vocal way,” McGraw said. “Most of the time, It’s just kind of the way he takes care of his business, and I appreciate that a great deal. As a coach, that’s what you’re looking for, you’d love for guys to be vocal and excitable, but I’d really rather a guy be of substance and Johnny’s every bit of that.”
After this season, Keefer still has two more years of eligibility which he plans to use. Once his collegiate golf days are over, he looks to make a run for the PGA Tour.
“I think he’s always on an uptick,” McGraw said. “Even though golf has ebbs and flows and goes up and down, his general trajectory is up and I think he’s headed toward the PGA Tour one day, but he needs to do some more here at Baylor before he’s done.”