Senior golfer Michael McGowan is UNC's No. 1 player on its men's golf team and is currently second on the team in average score per round at 72.60. McGowan is more than just a golfer, as he is a movie nut and loves Billy Madison and Caddyshack. But he also enjoys other sports outside of golf. His favorite athlete is LeBron James and if McGowan could play another sport, it would be basketball. The Southern Pines, N.C. native sat down and discussed his career at North Carolina and touched on some personal things in his life.
Reflect on what it means to continue your family's legacy of being great golfers.
It's one of those things that you try not to think about too much because you want to do well and play great. At the same time you don't want to put pressure on yourself to perform, which at times you do and results have shown that. I say I'm a perfectionist and I get that from my mom. I don't know you can't really be a perfectionist in this game because you are going to hit a lot of bad shots well and you are going to hit a lot of good shots but get screwed by a bad bounce. It's one of those things. I've enjoyed saying I'm my grandmother's, Peggy Kirk Bell's grandson. My parents both played college golf. My dad went to BYU and played on the (PGA) Tour, rookie of the year in '78. My mom played here (North Carolina) for a little bit. So I mean golf has always been in the family, and I feel it always will be. I grew up on the golf course, it was always right there. It wasn't forced upon me. It was something I grew to love, and I'm happy to be a part of it.
When could you start beating your parents?
Well I've never really played against my mom. To this day, I don't think we've played nine holes. I don't know why, but for whatever reason, we haven't. For my dad I can recall, not sure how old I was, but I can remember we were playing a course out in California in Chico. I ended up beating him by one shot, and it came down to the 9th hole, and I had to get up and down just short of the green. That's a fond memory of beating my dad for the first time and now we just always play and have a little, I wouldn't say side bet, but we always have fun when we play. It's always good to spend time with your parents, and this is something that we both enjoy. I was probably around 15 years old.
Describe how you felt when you found out Coach Sapp was going to be the new coach.
I didn't know much about Sapp at all. I knew he was from Michigan and he was on the team back in the day. I found out that he was an assistant coach and coached at Purdue in between Carolina and Michigan. I knew he was a good coach. I knew he was a good coach. He was able to get a team from Michigan to top ten in nationals; you are doing something. They can only practice a few months, it's all inside because they get so much snow. Getting work done that translates to better golf, whether that's doing up-and-down short game stuff for a day or wedges to targets and overall competitiveness and qualifying. My first two years, it was assumed I was going to play in the tournament. There was no driving force that you need to have to be competitive. In this year in particular we've had a bunch of good guys playing well each week to where it's making the decision for coach very tough to who he is going to put in the lineup. . He's done a good job with picking the lineups. I think he's been great for the program, and I know after I leave they will only be better off than it was. It's comforting to know Carolina golf will be a top contender for Nationals, if not this year then the years after.
Do you two have a close relationship now?
Yeah. Last year was more just trying to feel each other out and I think he would say the same thing. We didn't really know the ins-and-outs of how people reacted. This year has been a much more smooth transition, I'd say, not that it was bad the first year. It was just the first awkward moments where you don't know what the coach is getting at when he is saying something. Is he being sarcastic or was he actually serious? At this point we've gone back and forth quite a few times so everything's much better off than when it started off.
What have you done to improve since freshman year?
Freshman year, I came off a pretty good summer. I didn't qualify for the first few events but I ended up going. My freshman year had a lot of ups and downs in scoring. Now, there are times where I wish I would have done things differently and things would have paid off more if I had put more time into it, but it's tough with school. We are student athletes and we have to put the student aspect first. It's a process; you learn something new every day. Unfortunately you learn more through your mistakes and I've had plenty of those. It's been quite the learning experience. Through people like Dr. Coop, who is a sports psychologist here who has helped me, guys on the team who have pushed me and the coaches too, I couldn't have asked for a better experience and building my golf game for the future.
Is it hard being a student athlete?
Our team is built up of mostly guys in the business school. So obviously we are hard workers in the classroom, but most people don't realize that. What people don't know is that our hours per week is at 12 or 20 hours where you can use your sport. Some days in golf we play 36 holes which is 12 hours on the course that counts for 3 hours of playing. You can tee off at 7:30 in the morning and not leave the course till 7:30 at night. You're worn out after the round and all you want to do is sit down, eat something and go to bed. On top of that, we have to do homework with assignments coming up and it's hard to do. Some people don't realize that. It would be nice to just see how life would be just being a student.
How do you approach the mental aspect of golf?
Someone has said that golf is 90 percent mental and 10 percent physical. You have to have the physical abilities to . . . (Interrupts) Do you agree with that? Yeah, to a certain degree. You have to be able to hit it close and make the putts time and time again. At the same time if you get a bad attitude going, everything can go south and just stay in the dumps. You have to be the most positive person out there, you have to be your best friend. I'm not and I can admit that. It's just one of those things where one day everything is going in and you think this is the easiest game in the world, but the next day you can't even find the club face and you are wondering what changed from the day before. You don't want to focus on the things that drive you crazy. It's definitely a mental game and it can get you at times.
What is your fondest memory here at UNC playing golf?
Thankfully I've been a part of five team wins. My fondest memory was playing in Greensboro's tournament where we set a team scoring record for a day. I think we were 20-under as a team for one round. That was great to be a part of. We ended up winning the tournament by five or six shots, and being able to finish well individually in the tournament was a treat. I think I finished in the top five. Winning in that kind of fashion was exciting.
What have you told the younger guys on the team to help them?
At this point I've kind of kept things to myself. We had to do a 360 feedback where they send in anonymous things about how you are as a leader and what you can improve on. It's hard to see the guys under me say, "He's too negative at times and it hurts the team's play." It's hard to take in, but at the same time it helps me. The last couple of tournaments in particular I've been telling them, "My time here is pretty much done and I don't want to go out any time soon." I've pushed them and I want to go to Nationals, because we haven't been to Nationals as a team, and I think this is the best team that we have had to do that. I think the guys on the team have bought into it, and our coach has been reiterating that. For the guys behind me, I'll tell them to enjoy it. Like they say, "Four years of college goes by quick," and now I'm finally saying it. It's true. Enjoy it and learn from experiences, good and bad. Never give up. There are bad rounds but your score can always count, and it all comes down to the team score so keep grinding.
Are you carrying the momentum of winning the Irish Creek Intercollegiate into the ACCs?
Absolutely. It was definitely great to get a win right before it. Getting those 16 wins was very comforting, and now we don't have to put as much emphasis and pressure on performing at ACCs. We can go out and play golf. In years past it's been, "We need to finish here to be able to get to Regionals or Nationals." It's alleviated pressure. I want an ACC ring. I'm going to try and do everything I can in preparation, and everyone else is going to be out there grinding and putting in the hours so we can compete. We know we need to go out and play well. Everyone is out there, and anyone can win. Everyone is going to show up. I'm looking forward to ACCs. I think we have a very good shot at shocking some people.
Finish my sentence: Ten years from now Michael McGowan will be...
On the PGA Tour whooping up on Tiger Woods.
Here's hoping Michael.
McGowan plans on playing on the U.S. Amateur tour after graduating.
The North Carolina men's golf team plays in the ACC Tournament starting Friday, April 26 and running through April 28 in New London, N.C. Live stats will be available on golfstat.com.