“It’s a lot bigger than a laptop,” said Pomona-Pitzer golf head coach John Wurzer, motioning to his own. “It’s called TrackMan, it’s $30,000, and it’s a radar that reads every shot and how much it spins back, forth, and sideways.”
And it symbolizes the new coach’s vision for Pomona-Pitzer golf.
Wurzer, a former assistant coach at the University of Southern California and Cal State Fullerton, is about to begin his first competitive season at the helm of the program. His arrival in Claremont was deliberate — the Southern California native began a head coaching job at Portland’s Division II Concordia University just three weeks before accepting his current position, but the situation with P-P was ideal.
“It wasn’t the intention to move around that fast, and it is always a little awkward to leave a job after three weeks. But it was just the better opportunity for me, and I was grateful that I had really multiple options to choose from,” he said. “The hiring process wasn’t going as fast, and I just didn’t want to assume that this was going to be a job that I would get offered because I wasn’t anywhere close to that.”
Both schools offered him the chance to coach women and men, but Division III presents unique challenges.
“It’s not so much the job is different — the coaching is not easier or harder — the coaching is the same, and that’s no matter what. But the recruiting, the Division III versus my background has been more Division I,” Wurzer said. “So just the differences in the levels, and it’s not a negative change, it’s just the recruiting is much more academic-based. So that’s a big part of what I do.”
With that academic rigor comes a shift in daily priorities from the DI level. While at USC and CSU Fullerton, players had to schedule their classes around practice, the opposite is true at P-P. The adjustment has proved challenging, but by no means insurmountable.
Under the prior coaching staff, players tended to practice individually due to class conflicts. However, Wurzer has made it a priority to foster a stronger sense of team.
“In the past it’s always been that coach [Bernard] Walker … was very hands-off with the team [and], didn’t really tell us what to practice on, what to work on, he was more of like the transportation,” women’s team captain Sophia Hui PO ’19 said.
“It worked out because a lot of us had our own private swing coaches, we knew our own games a lot better, but I feel like now I see a lot of the girls more. I also know what they’re working on, which is great to hold each other accountable,” she said.
Walker was fired in May 2018, claiming he was terminated for not reporting allegations of student misconduct, among other reasons.
But beyond shifting the dynamic and moving past the sour ending to last season, Wurzer is bringing the team up-to-speed in its use of game-enhancing technologies now considered standard in the elite golfing world.
“They record every shot they hit on an app on their phone, and that’s used to measure not necessarily just the simple stats, but things to the terms of strokes gained. So what it breaks down for them is from zero yards to their maximum distance, it measures where they are statistically against professionals or scratch handicaps,” said Wurzer.
“There’s a large data pool and it just measures how they plus or minus compared to that large number. … These are things that they’ve never done before,” he said.
“We have this app that we use to track all our shots throughout our rounds, so that database is really useful in understanding our strengths and weaknesses,” men’s captain Conor Rooney PO ’19 said. The tool is aptly called Golf Metrics.
Wurzer draws these tactics not only from his DI days but from the highest professional level: the PGA and LPGA tours.
“You sort of follow trends. Some of the stuff you find separately and you sort of pick up on it before it becomes mainstream,” Wurzer said. “A lot of my job is to expose people to stuff. And I pick certain things that I know we’re going to do, but I may expose them to 70 percent more things, and we only do 30 percent of it.”
And that’s where the TrackMan comes into the picture — Wurzer noted that top programs might have between two and four of the pricey devices, and he sees one in the future of his program. Though he “hates” to compare schools, he aspires to turn P-P into something akin to the Stanford of DIII. “Very rigid, high-standards academically, but also high standards from an athletic standpoint,” he said.
It will involve funding from both the athletics department and program alumni to get to that point, Wurzer said. He hopes to increase players’ access not only to the aforementioned technology but also to a network of golf courses.
“Because ultimately it’s about playing golf more than it is about bells, and whistles, and toys, and all that,” Wurzer said.
The team currently practices both at a seven-hole on-campus putting green, which opened in September 2017, and on the football and soccer fields. Players spend morning practices tracking longer shots out on the fields.
“It’s a competitive practice where they measure. They have a yardage, they have to hit to it — just like they’re on the course — make a decision, check the wind, line up their shot, hit it, and then measure about how far they miss,” said Wurzer. “They’ll kind of get a sense of what’s a good range and a miss range every week. Golf is very much cumulative.”
And it will be through the little things that the team improves under Wurzer’s watch. While the women are already one of the top 10 teams in the nation, and were the runners-up last year in what is arguably Division III’s best conference, the men have a ways to go.
“Winning is a byproduct of just putting in the hours and the time,” Wurzer said. “So winning is not something you control, but it’s what you strive for. It’s not an expectation, but that’s a goal.”