Sam Puryear Jr. admits he’s been lucky to have so many role models in his life.
From his father, Sam Puryear Sr., to the late Earnest Morris, there have been plenty of people who have influenced Puryear’s development as a top-flight, award-winning college golf coach.
There is also somebody else who helped Puryear along – Dr. Catana Starks – who was Puryear’s golf coach at Tennessee State. She was such an influence that he agreed to be a consultant for a new movie called “From the Rough,” which is the story of how a woman became a men’s Division I golf coach and the struggles that took place.
Puryear, a Winston-Salem native who grew up playing golf at Tanglewood Park, Reynolds Park and Winston Lake, was good enough in high school at Winston-Salem Carver to earn a scholarship to Tennessee State in 1988. He was recruited by Starks, who was new to the game of golf and recruiting, but it didn’t stop her from making lasting impressions on her players.
“Her leadership has inspired me over the years to touch the lives of young people through helping them achieve their goals and learn life lessons through the principles of the game of golf,” said Puryear, who is the women’s and men’s golf coach at Queens University in Charlotte. “(Dr. Starks) overcame incredible odds in her tenure, and she deserves to be honored for her success in opening doors for student-athletes to fulfill their dreams in life.”
Puryear, who was the South Atlantic Conference men’s coach of the year, says the movie touches on a lot of subjects, but there is a lot about the program she began from scratch in 1987.
“The movie kind of takes a look at what she went through trying to coach a men’s team,” Puryear said of Starks. “She basically didn’t get any respect from the other coaches, and it was a tough time for her. Of course, we didn’t really understand it at the time, but looking back, it’s a story that had to be told.”
There are countless success stories of students that Starks coached. One of Puryear’s teammates in the late 1980s and early 1990s was Sean Foley, who is best known as the swing instructor for Tiger Woods, Justin Rose and Hunter Mahan.
Foley says that Starks is an inspiration not only for what she did to break a barrier in coaching but in life she’s a walking success story.
“The thing to me about coach is they are missing the real story,” Foley said. “To me, the real story is that you have a black woman during that time going through a lot. To see a woman who came from nothing from Alabama where I believe she saw somebody hanging from a noose early in her life, and then to go to college, have a son, and get a Masters and a PhD. As a coach myself if my players admire me that’s half the battle, and we certainly admire her and the struggles she had.”
In 2011, Puryear moved closer to home, taking over at Queens, where he also runs the professional golf management program. Before that he was the head coach at Michigan State and an assistant at Stanford.
Starks coached for 18 seasons and in 2005, her final season, led Tennessee State to the National Minority Golf Championship. “That was a fitting for her to go out on top,” Puryear said.
Starks, who retired two years ago as the head of Tennessee State’s Human Performance and Sports Sciences department, was supposed to coach the swimming program at Tennessee State but that changed and she was given a chance to coach a sport she didn’t know too much about.
Puryear says he’s grateful for the life lessons Starks taught him.
“She was ahead of her time in caring for us and making sure we hit the books and did the right thing,” said Puryear, who was an academic All-America. “A lot of my philosophies that I use today are the things I picked up from her.”
Foley said now that he’s a swing coach he can remember plenty of lessons that Starks taught he and his teammates.
“I’m very philosophical and I figured out very quickly that the key to success to where you want to get is enduring pain and she’s a testimony to that,” Foley said. “Coach may have rubbed people the wrong way back then but look where it got her and how successful she became.”
Foley said it’s very cool that a movie was made about Starks’ life, and it’s something she deserves.
“With coach the respect she’s gained is immense when you consider she came from an area that has a 57 percent illiteracy rate in that part of Alabama and she earned her PdD, so that’s pretty dope,” Foley said.
It’s taken nearly four years for the movie to finally hit the big screen, but back in 2011 Starks told ESPN.com that she’s honored and proud of her accomplishments.
“I’m really blessed,” said Starks, who was a classmate of Olympic track star Wilma Rudolph during her days as a student at Tennessee State. “I thought it was a really great honor. I’ve received a lot of emails from people I’ve taught. Students have read about it. It’s a wonderful experience. I never once thought something like this would happen.”
The biggest reason that Starks moved from the swimming team to golf was that Tennessee State was joining the Ohio Valley Conference. Starks told ESPN.com in 2011 that she was a little leery of coaching golf but eventually she came around.
In 1986, when Tennessee State joined the Ohio Valley Conference, former athletic director Bill Thomas traded the school’s swimming program for a men’s golf team. Starks was asked to steer the new squad. As a result, she made history.
Starks didn’t apologize for coaching a diverse team and she admits that her first team in 1987 was as diverse as it gets.
“My first golf team consisted of two injured football players, two other guys and one girl who was permitted to play with us,” she told ESPN.com. “I started out with that and they were all African-Americans. It continued on and then I started getting other interested players from other ethnic groups. Eventually, it evolved into having some international students.”