Monday, August 2, 2010

Coach Mike Blackburn: Five questions with…

We are in the heart of the professional golf season right now, but in northeastern Florida, when the pros are near the end, the JU Dolphin’s season is just beginning, and for the women’s golf team, it is starting in dramatic fashion.

Just as the men’s golf team did in February with their JU Invitational, the women will play the TPC Sawgrass PLAYERS Stadium Course on September 6th in the inaugural Labor Day Shootout. This tournament will be the start of their 2010-2011 season

Outside of the players, the person most excited about this event is Head Coach Mike Blackburn, who enters his third season as both the head men’s and women’s golf coach. Since coming to JU, Blackburn has revitalized the golf programs and increased their visibility in the community and improving its play on the course each season. A two-year letter winner at Florida himself, Blackburn turned professional in 1979 and won 10 mini-tour events over nine years, participated in both the U.S. Open and the U.S. Senior Open, and spent a year on the PGA Tour in 1988. Over the past 19 years, Blackburn has focused on teaching, working at golf courses around Jacksonville – including The Ravines Golf Club, Baymeadows Golf Club and Windsor Parke Golf Club.

In between rounds and instruction, the Dolphin Network sat down with Coach Blackburn to discuss the upcoming tournament and season, as well as his views on the pro game.

1. You will be starting the season with the Labor Day Shootout, which is a big event. A number of schools from across the country will be participating and you will be playing one of the premier golf courses in the world. Talk about what it took to put this together and what some of the benefits will be in the long run.

We saw great success with a similar event with the men’s team last season at TPC Sawgrass and are excited to be hosting a similar event for the women’s team. We have the University of Florida, Chattanooga, UCF, Coastal Carolina, and USC Upstate participating in this event, and as this event continues to grow, we expect even more teams to want to participate.

Beyond how well JU performs (which we hope will be strong), whether this event is a success or not is based on a number of other components. The quality of the course is important (something that isn’t a concern with the PLAYERS Stadium Course) and obviously how well the event is run is important. However, what would really set us apart is a good turnout from the students, alumni and fans. That would go a long way towards putting this tournament beyond just a typical college event.

2. The shootout is just the beginning of your season. What are your expectations for the upcoming season? What will be some of the tougher teams and courses the Dolphins will be seeing?

In general, my expectation is that each player works and strives to get better every day. An interesting statistic that I carry with me is that the difference between the 17th best stroke average and 125th best stroke average on the PGA tour last season was exactly one stroke. One stroke! So, I tell my players that if you do something every day to get better, and at the end of the week, that work translates into you becoming one stroke better, your performance - and in turn, the team’s performance - will benefit by leaps and bounds. Therefore, our expectation isn’t necessarily a defined end point, but rather that each day we do something to be better than the previous.

As for whom the best teams we will face, right out of the gate, we have the University of Florida at the Shootout, which may be the best team we see all season. Beyond that, we expect to be facing a number of good teams at the Furman Invitational, which is at the end of October.

Beyond the TPC Sawgrass, the toughest courses will see will probably be in February at the Kiawah Island Classic, which is traditionally a huge field and then April playing at the World Golf Village in St. Augustine.

3. The golf season is one of the longest seasons in collegiate sports, with events happening sporadically during both the fall and spring semesters. As a coach, how do you and keep your athletes focused?

While there is a significant break between the two parts of the season, it does go for the entire school year, and for student-athletes to be able to handle those rigors, they have to be self-motivated and want to want to compete. That being said, the coaching staff is there to help them work on their game and keep them focused.

In individual sports, there is an inherent desire to consistently get better for yourself and to beat your competition. In a team golf setting, if handled properly, that individual desire actually helps produce better team success.

4. The recruiting process for individual sports compared to team sports can be different. What are some characteristics you look for in a potential Dolphin?

Beyond the obvious of being able to compete at the collegiate level, one of the most important characteristics I like to see in a potential student-athlete is proof that they are more than just able, but willing, to take on their responsibilities outside of golf. For example, a willingness to pursue a solid academic course load that they enjoy and are passionate about. Additionally, we want athletes that will represent the university well. This team participates in tournaments across the country throughout the year, and we want individuals that are respectful and considerate.

5. In addition to being the JU men’s and women’s coach, you have also been a PGA professional for more than 20 years. So, as we are head towards the final stretch of the professional golf season, what are your thoughts on what you have seen thus far in the PGA and LPGA?

The highlight of this year has been the emergence of the next generation of golfers of both genders. You have your Phil Mickelson’s and Cristie Kerr playing well, but then you have your Rory Mcllroy’s and Alexis Thompson’s that are clearly prepared to take over in the not too distant future. Both tours have bright, bright futures.

To learn about the Labor Day Shootout, JU men's and women's golf, and other JU team sites, check out the brand new JU Athletic page by clicking HERE.

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