Pomona-Pitzer golf coach Bernard Walker was fired by Pomona College March 7. Walker claims he was terminated for not reporting allegations of student misconduct, among other reasons.
According to Walker, the termination letter given to him by Pomona Human Resources said he was fired because he did not inform the athletic director of allegations made by a student about team members drinking alcohol on team trips and doctoring scores during qualifying rounds.
“There was a student who informed me of these allegations,” Walker said. “I investigated, found nothing, so I chose not to bring unsubstantiated allegations to the athletic director.” He said that the letter provided other reasons for his termination, but would not disclose them to TSL.
Walker said he was not given any prior notice that he would be terminated and described it as “unfair.” He has not made any plans going forward, but will probably look for a position at another college, he said.
According to Pomona spokesperson Marylou Ferry, the Dean of Students’ Office is now investigating a student conduct matter related to the golf team.
With regard to the allegations of doctoring scores, “it was a perception that can be addressed with a more structured practice environment that better reflects the procedures in competitions,” Ferry wrote.
Pomona spokesperson Mark Kendall declined to comment on Walker’s termination more broadly and said he could not comment on personnel matters.
In addition to coaching the men’s and women’s golf teams, Walker was the manager of the Rains Athletic Center. He came to Pomona in 2004 and has been the head golf coach since then, and also served as the assistant football coach for several years.
The assistant coach, Javier Bazurto, will serve as interim head coach for the rest of the season, according to P-P Athletic Director Lesley Irvine, who informed the team of the news in a meeting on the day of Walker’s termination. Irvine referred TSL to Ferry for comment.
The team was not given any explanation for Walker’s departure, Thomas Verigin PZ ’21 said.
Beyond his failure to inform administrators of the misconduct allegations, members of the men’s team have had complaints about Walker for some time, golfer Jack Carrigan PZ ’20 said.
Although Walker said he had coached golf for 15 years prior to being hired by Pomona, Carrigan claimed that Walker knew little about golf and was an ineffective coach.
“When you know nothing about the sport and you’ve got ability on the team and a lot of potential, he just really wasn’t letting us unlock that,” Carrigan said. “We would have tournaments and come ill-prepared and play really bad the first day but once we knew the course we’d have the lowest score of the day in terms of tournaments.”
Team members either voiced their opinions to the team captain, Conor Rooney PO ’19, or met directly with Irvine, Carrigan said. Rooney could not be reached for comment before press time.
The allegations of misconduct were brought to Walker in the last week of February, Walker said. It was unclear to him whether they were aimed specifically at the men’s or women’s team.
Sophia Hui PO ’19, the captain of the women’s team, said she believes the allegations are not connected to the women’s team.
“If … this happened recently in the spring, I was here and I would be very surprised if this was connected to the girls,” Hui wrote in a message to TSL.
Two members of the men’s team, Carrigan and Hunter Lowry PZ ’18, said they had no knowledge of these allegations and had never heard of or witnessed such incidents.
Some golfers also defended Walker’s coaching.
“Yes, there were definitely some things that I did not agree with how he managed the team,” said one golfer, who asked to remain anonymous to avoid jeopardizing their position on the team. “But he was always open to our feedback, and year after year I definitely saw improvements in his time management and his organizations, how he interacted with all of us. I think every player has had complaints about him, but also we have a lot of respect and care for him.”
The same anonymous golfer also felt the decision was poorly timed.
“I don’t think the way it was handled was justified, because it was in the middle of our season and it was very, very abrupt,” the golfer said. “I felt like they didn’t really consider the players’ input [and] it was very much, at least from my perspective, an administrative decision.”
Despite the turmoil, Carrigan is optimistic about the future.
“Things are looking up for the first time in a while for the golf team,” he said.