Oklahoma State golf coach Mike McGraw hails from one of the most prolific golf families in Oklahoma history.
His late father, Gervis, was head pro at Ponca City Country Club from 1957-1982 and opened Gerv's Golf Repairs in 1983. His sister, Patty, is a member of the WOGA Hall of Fame, has won the State Amateur championship a record nine times, competed on the boys' team at Ponca City High School, was a four-year starter at OSU and became the first women's golf coach at the University of Central Oklahoma when the program began in 2003. Older brother, Tim, was the 1974 state high school medalist at Ponca City.
Mike, meanwhile, has become the state's most prolific golf coach at multiple levels. He was a three-time Oklahoman coach of the year at Edmond Memorial High School, where he won three state titles in a four-year span. He was Big 12 coach of the year in 2005, the only season he directed the Oklahoma State women's program. The following season, he became just the third men's coach in OSU's storied history and the Cowboys claimed their 10th NCAA championship in his debut season. That was followed by being voted Big 12 coach of the year for five straight seasons (2007-11).
Last year, however, OSU failed to advance to the NCAA Championships for the first time in the program's history – a record streak of 65 straight seasons.
I think our family's commitment to golf just happened. We took direction from my dad and his example every day. He worked six days a week and he worked from open to close. He took Mondays off because club pros get Mondays off, and that was about it. We learned from a good example.
My dad gave me an incredible opportunity at age 11. He opened up a checking account for me. He put $25 in the account and said, "If you want to play in all these junior tournaments during the summer, you can play in every one of them. But you've got to work to save the money." So I worked for him – picked up the (practice) range, swept carpet in the pro shop, cleaned golf carts, washed golf clubs, stored the bags, did everything that needed to be done during the school year and saved all that money. Then when I traveled, I made my own travel arrangements, paid for all my entry fees.
I paid for my junior golf tournaments and that's the biggest favor my dad ever did for me was allowing me to do that. I didn't take any one tournament for granted. I didn't ever think about withdrawing from a tournament when I was playing poorly because I was the one who paid that entry fee.
He started the Cherokee Strip Tournament (at Ponca City CC in 1961). I played in it this year in his honor for all that he had done for me. Teaching me about respect, about not taking things for granted and working for something that you want and getting it through hard work. I don't think that has changed in this world. I think people don't pay as much attention to it, but I think it's just as valid today as when I was a boy.
Tim and Patty were much better players than I was. She was a much better female player than I was a male player by a long shot. When I realized I probably wasn't going to be a player I decided I might want to coach.
Art Proctor was the head pro at KickingBird at the time and told me, "You ought to be a coach someday." Anyway, that's kind of how that happened. It wasn't by design or anything.
Another suggestion Art Proctor made was to be Gil Morgan's caddy, who had just quit him in December of 1982. Art said, "You ought to go caddy for Gil." Gil won the first two events that (1983) season, but unfortunately I didn't caddy for him. (Morgan has won 32 career events on the PGA and Champions tours.)
I had played at Central State (now UCO) and during the summer worked with the junior golf program as one of the assistants. I was 23 or so, I had been trying mini tours and that hadn't worked out so well and Art said, "Why don't you find your niche right there?" It kind of made sense. I needed to put food on the table. I needed a job and I really enjoy working with kids. Looking back, I guess I'm glad Art had that kind of foresight. As many kids that played golf at KickingBird at the time, it was probably some help for him at the time as well.
Art was always trying to help me. He pointed me in that direction. I'm always thankful that he did that because it kind of morphed into whatever it became. That was Art.
Initially, I wanted to be a high school coach and I figured what better way to help out the high school team than to start a little farm club (through junior golf)? The EC Hafer Junior Golf Program was a great kind of farm system. You saw which kids were serious about golf, which liked it, which had an aptitude, which were talented and then you'd kind of keep them around that fall and make sure they were taking lessons, practicing and playing.
I understood the awesome responsibility of becoming the OSU men's coach. I was following a legend in Mike Holder (now the school's athletic director). No question about it, he's probably the greatest coaching legend in college golf history. There's been nobody like him. I knew what I was following. I knew what I was getting into. My eyes were wide open. I understood that part, but I also understood the awesome responsibility to do well, to do the right things, to recruit the right kids. I understood all that, so I don't think it was overwhelming.
There's a good stress to being coach here. I get up every day thinking I have to do something good, do it well, do it right. Mike Holder was a good example of that. I had worked for him for seven years as an assistant and one year as the women's coach. He was just a great example of how you did things the right way and, by golly, you have a hard time outworking that guy.
I still feel that responsibility. That's why last year hurt so bad. It wasn't just because of the responsibility to Mike Holder, but to every golfer who ever played at Oklahoma State, from (initial OSU coach) Labron Harris and his memory, to all the people that have supported OSU golf through the years. I at least owe them my best, whatever that is, and that's what I hope I give every day.
I've known Willie Wood (former OSU great who has won two of the last three stops on the Champions Tour) since we were junior golfers. He's never changed from when he was the best college player, the best amateur and a very good tour player. He didn't change when he became a terrible tour player. And when he struggled for years and made almost no money, he was the same guy all the way through – just as friendly as ever, treated my wife (Pam) just as friendly every time he would see her. That's the way he's always been. An amazing guy. Oh my goodness, what he's doing is so exciting.
I think team golf can be contagious. You can get some positive mojo or some negative mojo within the team. Every team is different and every year is different.
I tried as best I could to figure out if everything I was doing was right last season, if it was beneficial for the team. I kind of started taking stock in what we do and how we do it and what we say, that type of thing. But it was probably a little late to resurrect a season that had kind of disintegrated.
The greatest thing I appreciate about Rickie Fowler – and I appreciate a lot of things about him – is I love the way he treats people. He's very genuine, very good, so I want my guys to be the same way in that regard. Rickie's got a great short memory for bad stuff. Bad things have happened. Yeah, they might beat you up for a second, but he gets on to the next thing quicker than any golfer that I've ever known in my life. I like that. I hope we can emulate that as a team this year.
Last year was bad, but we're not going to wallow in that self-pity or be in a cesspool of negativity. I'm not going to be there. I don't want to be there. That's one way to stay there is to kind of wallow around in there. I'm moving on, and I'm trying to get the kids to do the same.
I'm not sure how anybody can ever duplicate (65 straight NCAA appearances) at any level. That's 65 years of competing at the highest level of your competition. That's crazy. But you know what, looking back, we still should have made it last year. That was silly.
I think every golfer is one swing away from being completely confident. Just one swing away, if you can think of it that way.