What recruits likely will see first when they enter the office of the University of San Diego’s new golf coach is a shiny piece of hardware they won’t see on any other recruiting visits.
“That’s one of my key recruiting tools,” the new coach, Chris Riley, said gleefully. “I have the Ryder Cup sitting in my office when kids come in.”
Every member of a U.S. Ryder Cup team receives a replica Ryder Cup trophy. Riley, who received his for haivng played on the U.S. team in 2004, is the only college coach in the U.S. to have the Ryder Cup on his resume. He partnered with friend Tiger Woods in defeating Ian Poulter and Darren Clarke, 4&3, in a four-ball match.
“Hopefully that encourages some young men to come here,” Riley said.
Riley, who was introduced as the new USD coach two weeks ago, is also one of the few college coaches in the country to have won on the PGA Tour, at the Reno-Tahoe Open in 2002, a year in which he also finished third in the PGA Championship. USD athletic director Bill McGillis said “his pedigree as a collegiate and professional golfer is unmatched amongst college coaches.”
Indeed, for references he might list Woods and fellow San Diegan Phil Mickelson, who once called him “one of the nicest guys I know.”
The degree to which a stellar resume will help a new college golf course is unclear. But when your goal is as ambitious as Riley’s, to compete for and win a national championship, any advantage obviously is helpful.
“We have our work cut out for us,” Riley said. “We’re ranked 176th in the nation. And I didn’t take the job to be top 80.” He also noted potential recruiting disadvantages. “It’s a great academic institution and it’s kind of expensive [tuition is $47,100 annually],” he said. “My recruiting pool is a little smaller.”
Riley, 43, played 14 years on the PGA Tour. “In 2012 I got done playing the tour and my game was declining,” he said. “My girls [Taylor and Rose] were getting to an age that I wanted to be home a lot more. I slowly faded away from professional golf. I kicked back a couple years while I figured out what I wanted to do next.
“I’m going to be 44 years old. There’s not many 44 year olds on the PGA Tour. I was at the point that I didn’t want to be a hanger on. I had had such an incredible run. So I focused on doing something else.”
Many coaches, he said, had been influential in his life, including Dwain Knight, the UNLV golf coach for whom Riley played in college.
“Coach Knight let me be kind of a volunteer assistant for two years,” Riley said. “He let me shadow it and be part of the program. I fell in love with it. I knew that’s what I wanted to do next.
“I pinch myself still, to know that I’m a college golf coach. [Stanford’s} Conrad Ray and [USC’s] Chris Zambri and [Oregon’s] Casey Martin, they’re great mentors and coaches. It’s an exclusive club and I’m proud to be a part of it.”