March 5, 2014
By Tony Jones, Media Relations Assistant
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – When Scott Gump was named the assistant coach of the University of Notre Dame men’s golf team in August of 2012, it was a full-circle return to the collegiate game for the longtime PGA Tour veteran.
An All-American at Brevard Community College in 1984-85, Gump was a member of the 1985 NJCAA National Championship winning team under Hall of Fame coach Floyd Horgen. He then transferred to the University of Miami (Fla.), where he earned honorable mention All-America honors.
Gump’s success as a collegiate player led to an 18-year career on the PGA and Web.com tours, where he recorded more than $2.7 million in career earnings and earned lifetime membership status on the PGA Tour for making more than 150 career cuts. He was a three-time winner on the Web.com Tour, and added three runner-up finishes on the PGA Tour during that span.
Gump joined the Notre Dame staff after serving as a coach and instructor at the Gary Gilchrist Golf Academy from 2009 until June of 2012 in Howey-in-the-Hills, Fla. He was responsible for instructing student-athletes in the fundamentals of the game of golf, management of emotions and goal setting, strategic on-course planning, fitness programs and balancing life responsibilities with golf activities.
Making the move from collegiate player to professional touring player, touring professional to academy instructor, and now to his first collegiate coaching opportunity has been a ride that Gump has enjoyed. But, as he described, the game has truly remained the same throughout his journey.
“Going from playing for a living, having to perform or you weren’t going to eat, which is an interesting animal, to the academy situation where I met some wonderful kids and some great instructors, everyone has been very passionate along the way,” Gump said. “To see where they want to go, which is the promised land of collegiate sports, and experience and live all that can give them was enriching, but I knew in my heart I really love competition.
“I’ve told other people that this job allows me to do everything, but I don’t need to use my body to hit a golf ball,” he explained about his role on the Notre Dame staff. “I love all the aspects of it but I don’t have to use my body, and my body, that ship has sailed and I’m fine with that.”
Gump hit the ground running alongside Notre Dame head coach Jim Kubinski last summer, as the team played in its first tournament of the 2012-13 season in September in Chapel Hill, N.C., a little over one month after Gump arrived on campus. The quick turnaround is one of the characteristics of collegiate golf that rarely ever changes, but was especially striking to Gump given the circumstances.
“When it comes to collegiate golf here at Notre Dame, the biggest and most interesting thing is, say on day five of the season, we are qualifying,” Gump said. “Academy life, or even life as a touring player, is different because you have to build up and work on your game. In college, oh no, here at Notre Dame and all of the other schools, it’s go time. There is no time for, how do I grab the club again, or how do I tee the ball up, do I hit 3 wood or driver? Those are the decisions, skillsets, that should have been long since learned.”
The breakneck pace was a departure from the academy setting where Gump had honed his coaching skills the previous three years, a setup that encourages a slower, more methodical training experience for junior players. The adaptation back to the college mindset, while it may have been a change from his first coaching stop, is what Gump likens to the quote, “Times change, and times stay the same.”
“I haven’t used that quote in at least a month,” he said with a chuckle. “My college coach told me, in 1984, we had a meeting with all of our guys. He stood up and said, ‘Gentlemen, the last thing I need is another 75 shooter. I need guys who are going to break par so we can bring home the trophies.’ That hasn’t changed, so collegiate golf, if you shoot 75s and 76s, you aren’t going to bring home the trophies.
“The game is the same, break par, now it just happens to be what tournament you are at, what the courses are like,” Gump said. “The courses are challenging, they are set up tough, but for me personally in terms of collegiate golf and professional golf since I was basically coming off the PGA Tour, I had to almost step back and really observe.”
Playing on the PGA Tour at the height of the explosion in popularity for the game of golf in the late 1990s is the type of experience that not many golfers will ever get to have, but one that Gump brings to the Notre Dame team. Along with his three Web.com Tour wins, Gump logged more than 50 career top 25 finishes on the PGA Tour, and made 10 career major championship starts, including two appearances at The Masters Tournament in 1988 and 2000.
Through all the accolades, what Gump is most proud of was his longevity on tour.
“As a pro, first of all, earning a living is a pretty cool thing,” he said. “Being able to play a sport for a living was great. Number two was that I loved golf because no coach could tell me I wasn’t good enough. Oh contraire, I post numbers, I get checks, and it’s guaranteed. So the system is very clean that way.
“The biggest challenge was purse-wise, and the very first PGA Tour event I played as an amateur, the purse was $700,000,” Gump said. “The next year as a pro, I qualified for that tournament again, was fortunate enough to four-spot, and the purse was $800,000. I believe at the match play event in February of this year, the purse was $9 million. The boys could still play back then, and my point is you could go out and beat all those guys who were good players, and make a tenth of what the guys on tour are currently making.”
An accurate driver of the golf ball, Gump hit nearly 11 fairways per round over his PGA Tour career, at an average distance off the tee of 265 yards. With the innovations in the game’s technology that occurred during the middle of his career that helped players hit it longer, straighter and more precise, Gump looks back on his career accomplishments through the lens of an overachiever.
“I didn’t necessarily have the skillset that even certain players on our team have,” Gump said. “I tell them that, but I am not sure they really believe me, but I know in my heart that I have seen shots that I could not produce from guys on this collegiate team right now. I was smart enough to realize that I didn’t have those skills, but there are other skills you can get better at to beat people, and I just wanted to compete, to be in the game.
“Not always will the lights be on and everyone is cheering for you, telling you how great you are,” he added. “Sometimes that Friday afternoon, where you have no chance to make the cut and you still have four holes to go, do you have the character to still stay in your rhythm and routines even though it so-called ‘doesn’t matter’? You know what, the next week it might matter, and if you have that discipline to stand up there and do what you know gives you the best chance to be successful, that trait became deeply engrained in me.”
Even when the pressure is turned on, professional golfers need to remain largely even-keel, taking the experience at face value for what it is, not overly drumming up the moment. The enjoyment of the experience is often created by the thrill of the challenge, and the joy of overcoming an obstacle is recognized and appreciated later.
For Gump, finishing in second place at the 1999 PLAYERS Championship, two strokes behind the then No. 1 ranked player in the world David Duval, was one of those events.
“In the pressure situations, like when I made over $500,000 in one tournament, it was fun to talk about, but I learned how to handle that with skills from 10 or 15 years prior that made it exciting but not a really big deal at the time,” he said. “It’s nice to get paid and have the lights shine bright, but I was more excited when I was by myself and figuring it out, that is what really got me going. I knew I learned something that kept me in the game, and it was a blast.”
The dream of the recreational golfer is to stand on the tee at one of the sport’s major championship events and compete against the most elite players in the world. Even for the top professional players in the game, being in the right place both physically and mentally go hand-in-hand with success. Gump recalled the rigors of the mental game the first time he appeared in the Masters at the Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Ga., generally considered the premiere major championship tournament in golf.
“The first Masters I played in 1988 as an amateur, I shot a 68 in my practice round playing with (World Golf Hall of Famer) Gary Player,” Gump said. “I had a lot of fun, and even hit the pin on the par 5 13th hole going for it in two. That was really neat, and I was happy.
“All of a sudden I was in the Masters par 3 competition and they mowed the greens a little shorter. I ran a putt by at least 10 feet, and I didn’t see it coming. Then I started three-putting, I got a little spooked, and so then I was out there trying too hard. Guess what that meant? Missed cut, didn’t play that great.”
It took 12 years for Gump to return to Augusta, when he qualified for the 2000 Masters after his best season on the PGA Tour in 1999. He earned $954,732 that season, and finished in the top-10 four times. He also ranked fifth in driving accuracy (78.80%) and 15th in greens in regulation (69.35%) during the 1999 campaign.
On his second go-round at Augusta National, Gump felt he was much more prepared for the legendary golf course.
“The second time I played the Masters in 2000, in the par 3 I couldn’t have cared less what I shot, and went into hit and giggle mode,” he said. “I downplayed the event, just got down to competing and I made the cut. I had a rough Saturday playing with Colin Montgomerie, and I had a decent last round of one-over 73, but I learned my lesson. Unfortunately, I didn’t always apply that lesson, so it’s funny that I can really preach that to the guys on our team.
“You re-learn these same competitive lessons, and coming here it’s been fun to work with the guys because you will cover something that you think, ‘They got it, we are good, they understand now,'” Gump said of his approach as a mentor to the Irish players. “Sure enough, two months later, it’s almost like you are having the same conversation, but there is a teaching-learning situation to revisit it, and the light bulb comes on even faster.”
Anyone attending a Notre Dame golf tournament will see Scott Gump on the course, where he has been at the highest level of the sport for nearly three decades, but the times have changed. No longer is he chasing a lead down on Sunday, or grinding for a par save to keep a round rolling. Instead, he is sharing the wisdom he has gained with the next generation.
“One of the best things about collegiate golf is during the rounds, where as coaches we do everything except carry the golf bag,” Gump said. “We are the caddies that don’t carry the bag, meaning as a coach’s decision, we can pick a certain player and walk the entire 54 holes, 18 holes, 36 holes, with that player.
“For me a lot of times, being with these guys, my instincts for competition will kick in and I won’t even know I’m doing it,” he said. “But being there, supporting the guys and watching them grow while being able to help is very rewarding. Watching them go through this battle that golf can bring is rewarding, and as a collegiate coach to be that close to the action, it’s pretty cool.”