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Wednesday, Feb. 21
The Indiana Daily Student

sports golf

Column: Overton’s success translates into IU golf program

Overton

IU men’s golf coach Mike Mayer has always said to his current and former athletes that success breeds success.

Probably the most notable of those current and former golfers, Jeff Overton is living that philosophy through his weekly ventures on the PGA Tour. The Evansville native and five-year Tour veteran has yet to miss a cut in major championships in which he’s participated, and he helped lead the United States in a monumental comeback effort on the final day of last year’s Ryder Cup in Wales.

Although the Americans lost the Ryder Cup to the Europeans at the Celtic Manor Resort, it was an awakening for other touring professionals that there was a new player in town — a player who, according to Mayer, could have slipped through IU’s fingers in the recruiting process.

“He was a recruit I could have lost,” Mayer said. “We were tight on scholarship money and I probably went overboard (on his recruitment), but who knows where this program would be without him.”  

Mayer’s efforts prior to Overton’s commitment and his time with him during his four years as an IU golfer continue to pay huge dividends, as they relate to Overton’s professional career and the current state of the IU golf program.

To date, Overton has racked up more than $7.5 million in career earnings and played through the weekend at his inaugural Masters Tournament two weeks ago.

Mayer said it wasn’t until Overton was well into his college career that he saw something special in him. As a junior in the fall of 2003, Overton won the 49er Classic, finishing at 17-under (64-67-68).

“I’m not sure if there was a real epiphany, but I remember a tournament down in Charlotte Jeff’s junior year,” Mayer said. “I felt like if he continued down the same road as he did in that tournament that he could be something really special.”

In an age when golf’s main attractions include record-shattering drives, surreal ball control and trick shots most amateurs will never accomplish, it was the little things Overton did to make people believe in him.

“I think the one thing he showed was the ability to shoot low numbers,” Mayer said. “He wasn’t afraid to make birdies and keep making them. Some guys aren’t able to handle that pressure, but Jeff always looked to get further under par.”

While Overton continues in his attempt to clear the next hurdle and win a major championship, his effect on the IU golf program is still present. Last fall, Overton donated $50,000 to IU and its efforts in the PGA’s Play Golf America University program.

And aside from his monetary contributions, Overton makes it a point to find time to tutor IU’s current golf team.

“We get a perspective of how good you have to be to make it at the next level,” said sophomore golfer Corey Ziedonis on the opportunity to play with Overton. “It’s the little things he does well. Everyone hits it long, but it’s those little things that got him to the next level.”

With the 2005 Big Ten Championship, Ryder Cup status and contribution to IU already in the bag, Overton’s best days could very well lie ahead of him. Overton’s next shot at his first career win in the professional ranks will come at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, a course Mayer said Overton is very comfortable with.

It’s not too often that a player of Overton’s caliber comes around a collegiate program. But when one does, it’s a unique connection for the individual and the program.

“We made a couple of changes in his putting and equipment (selections),” Mayer said. “But once all of those pieces come together, I think we could see something very special.”

From Evansville to the IU golf team to Augusta National Golf Club and the rest of the PGA Tour circuit, that special legacy continues to leave a mark.

The only question is, how much impact will it have?

­— ftherber@indiana.edu

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