June 10, 2013
Nearly two weeks ago Jan Dowling was named the new women's golf coach at the University of Michigan, becoming just the fifth coach in the 37-year history of the program.
Following a successful collegiate career at Kent State and three years playing professionally, Dowling has spent the last seven years coaching with some of the top women's collegiate programs in the country. Now she has come to Ann Arbor to challenge not only herself, her team and the Big Ten, but to put the U-M women's golf program on the national landscape.
In an exclusive, sit-down conversation with MGoBlue.com, Dowling discussed everything from getting the job at Michigan to her coaching and recruiting philosophies to what she was like as a collegiate player.
On how happy she is to be part of the Maize and Blue ... "It is truly an honor to be the women's golf coach at the University of Michigan. It's a very, very exciting time. Michigan has everything that I could ask for as a coach. The resources, the support, the golf courses and the facilities we have are just first class in every way possible."
On how the last eight years coaching have shaped who she is as a coach ... "I have been extremely fortunate to be around some of the best college coaches in the country. My college golf coach, Mike Morrow, I learned so much from him about playing the game of golf. He was a great player himself. He was great at teaching the game, from the golf swing to course management to short game. I took a lot of my golf swing knowledge and golf playing knowledge from him.
"I had an opportunity to go to Duke and coach under Dan Brooks, who has won five national championships. To be a part of that dynasty of women's golf and to learn what it takes to win and what personnel it takes to win a national title to me was priceless. On top of that, being around Duke really showed me the academic side of things. It is very similar to Michigan. I understand the intricacies of coaching athletes who also have high academic standards and working around those to be successful.
"Florida helped me gain the confidence I needed as a head coach, from running a program to making difficult decisions you have to make as a head coach. The best way to learn is to do it. I was able to inherit a team that got better really quickly; I was able to recruit some very good people and very good players from great families. All these experiences helped me gain a lot of confidence as I step back into the head coaching role."
On if she always wanted to be a head coach ... "I knew I wanted to be a coach someday. I remember when I was in college all I wanted to do was to play professional golf. However, I knew when my career was over, whenever that would be, I knew that I wanted to get into coaching. After three years of playing professionally, I wasn't really getting to where I wanted to be, so I made the transition into coaching. My four years at Kent State were four of the best years of my life. Being part of college athletics and having the opportunities we had, I wanted to provide that for other student athletes and other females that love to play golf. That was my motivation and that is why I do it. I knew I would just love coaching and I really, really do."
On building a successful Midwest program ... "There are all sorts of ways to look at it. There is no right or wrong way to be successful. I look at the winter as a positive. The winter months are a great time, from a strength and conditioning standpoint, you can get a heck of a lot stronger. You can gain mobility, stability, speed and really focus on strength building without hindering your golf performance. From a technique standpoint, we have a TrackMan, V-1 Swing Analysis System, golf course simulator, and we have an indoor 5,000-square-foot putting green, that is a great space. We have all the tools you need to be successful. You can work on things like technique. You can work on things like alignment. You can work on all sorts of aspects of your game and be a better player when we start competing again in the spring. It can actually be more beneficial because you are not concerned about the ball flight or posting scores. You are truly are just focusing on that one area of your swing or the one aspect of your golf game. From a peaking standpoint, players down south are playing eight months straight. There is a chance they can get burned out by May. For us, we get that break and then February and March is when we start to get comfortable again and April and May is when you really peak. We just look at the winter as a chance to really work on many facets of the game and be better players come the spring season."
On if there are any expectations in this first year ... "Absolutely. We have to be moving forward. We have to be making steps every day in a positive direction to get better. I have a lot of expectations and it is important the team also has expectations. They will be realistic, but our goal is to have a great process and get better each and every day."
On taking Michigan to the next level ... "I love challenges. I think that was an attraction in coming to Michigan. We have had only one team qualify for nationals in 37 years. To me, after being here on campus, looking at our resources and looking at the golf courses we have at our disposal, I see Michigan as a sleeping giant. I would love to be part of a program that figured it out and we become a very successful program over a long period of time. Michigan can be that type of place."
On what type of coach is she ... "I would have to say I am a little bit of everything. I like teaching the golf swing; however, I really enjoy teaching course management and an inventive short game mind. I love breaking down a golf course and really teach players how to correctly think out there, especially when you get around the green. Learning new ways to approach shots and then teaching different shots so my players have a huge repertoire of options is very fun for me. However, one of the biggest things I strive to teach is how to practice. It is just huge. Learning how to practice properly is a huge part of my coaching philosophy; getting the most out of your time, especially with a Michigan athlete where there are so many demands academically. You have to make great use of your time."
On having three top-caliber golf courses to play, practice and compete on ... "From a recruiting standpoint and from just being able to prepare our team, I don't know if you are going to have a better combination in the country. To have an Alister MacKenzie golf course (U-M Golf Course) that the university owns and operates right in front of you every day is just amazing. It is great for short game imagination; having to face intimidating approach shots, intimidating chips and intimidating putts is really important to gain imagination. Then to have a Pete Dye-designed course (Radrick Farms) also owned and operated by U-M, I am blown away that we have these two places right in our back yard. Dye is a world-renowned architect and he builds courses that have really intimidating looks off the tee and approach shots. There is even a Donald Ross course (Barton Hills Country Club) available to us as well. So we have a great place to train for our short games, we have a great place to train how to overcome some very difficult looking shots. To have three courses just 10 minutes away from campus is just phenomenal."
On what type of player she is looking for ... "The most important thing for me is that I am able to attract recruits that demand excellence. They want to excel in every aspect of their lives. I don't want to say perfectionists. However, I am looking for players that want it all; they want to be successful at everything they do. With the academic reputation Michigan has you can go anywhere in the world to find these type of players. The block 'M' is so recognizable and people know what it means. This is just a special place.
"I am also looking for people who love golf. I am looking for people who are internally motivated. Do I want them to hit the ball far? Yes. Do I want them to be a good putter? Yes. But that isn't necessarily the only thing I look for. I am looking for the kid that is willing to grind out and shoot the lowest score they possibly can every day.
"I want them to be passionate about the game and love every part of it. That is the kind of player I can relate to because that was me. I eat, sleep and breathe golf. I want my players to be well-rounded, but you cannot put a price tag on that. I will go anywhere I need to go to find those players. Michigan is a brand that people want to be a part of so I will not limit myself to where I will go."
On the Weisfeld Family Golf Center ... "It's a tool that we have that is priceless. Being able to develop your game all year round and to have access and use equipment that professionals have is such a great advantage. My goal is to always try and get our players to improve. This building allows for that and more. It allows us to achieve whatever we want to achieve. It is a beautiful building right on campus that we will be using every day. It is a well thought out and practical building. We can get a club in our hand every day. If you do that you only get better."
On Big Ten golf ... "It's pretty exciting. The Big Ten is one of the best conferences in the country. When you are competing against Big Ten teams and you are winning, you are going to be a nationally recognized program. That is what we want. We have to measure ourselves with the best programs in order to know where we stack up. When we find that out we can work hard to close that gap and start beating those programs. You have to compete against the best in order to become the best."
On what type of player she was in college ... "Honestly, I was a nobody in junior golf. I was recruited by one school and that is where I went -- Kent State. My freshman year was the inaugural season of the Kent State team. I felt so lucky to be there and to be part of the history of the program. I worked really, really hard and felt fortunate to be a member of the program. Our team had a bit of chip on our shoulder because no one expected our program to be very good right out of the gate. We had a great example with the men's program with regards to work ethic and expectations. We wanted to win and be successful, and I felt like we worked very hard to achieve these things. I also wanted to win and compete for individual titles. I was a bit of blue collar player. I didn't hit it very far, so I had to be a very good course manager and have a really good short game."
On who Jan Dowling is away from the course ... "I love sports. I am a sports fanatic. That is one of the reasons I am so excited to be at Michigan. There are huge sporting events going on all the time, whether that is football in the fall to basketball, to hockey, to softball. I love being around athletics and the people involved in athletics. I am a big college basketball fan, I must admit. Other than that I love to be outside doing anything active. In the winter, I love to ski, both downhill and cross country. When I am indoors, I love to cook and eat great food. I also love dogs and really I just love to laugh. I have family not too far away so it will be nice to closer to home. It's been a while since I have been this close to home."