By BOB SUTTON
Sam Puryear’s experience in golf is wide-ranging from an instructional standpoint, with variety that stretches from grassroots youth levels to top college programs.
So he has come full circle to some degree in the early stages of his role at Queens University in Charlotte.
“I took the job to try to build something special with a small school,” Puryear says. “I wanted to keep coaching and to be as creative as I can be. It really broadens my horizons.”
The Winston-Salem native has returned to his home state after varying assignments from Atlanta to the West Coast to the Midwest. Health issues involving family sparked the move to be closer to his roots.
The chance to take a role as the men’s and women’s coach at Queens and oversee the school’s 12-year-old Professional Golf Management program is inviting as well.
“Queens can be similar to Stanford more than anything else,” Puryear said. “I think I can do some fun things here.”
Puryear, who turned 41 in October, has learned from experiences along the way, yet his current endeavor holds unique aspects that he says keeps him motivated.
Puryear was a captain of the golf team at Carver High School in Winston-Salem before going on to Tennessee State. He called Winston Lake Golf Course his home facility growing up, crediting his father (Sam Puryear Sr.), a former standout at Winston-Salem State, for recognizing the multiple opportunities available through golf.
“I give my parents credit because I was able to deal with all different (types of people),” he says.
The younger Puryear has worked in the golf profession since 1998. He became executive director of Atlanta’s East Lake Junior Golf Academy, which he views as a model for the First Tee programs that combine education and character-building through golf opportunities for youth.
“We were the forerunner,” he says. “I was working with so many kids. East Lake has some great stuff in place.”
The program grew to 1,000 participants and also enabled Puryear to learn about fund-raising and a wider scope of the golf industry. He says he’s glad he was able to embrace elements of golf that weren’t limited to birdies, 5-woods and sand traps.
And, coincidently, some of the golfers in the East Lake program ended up on college teams competing against squads that Puryear has overseen.
His role with the golf academy led to collegiate golf coaching ventures. He was the first full-time assistant coach at Stanford and was on board when the Cardinal won the 2007 NCAA men’s national championship.
Then he made the jump to become head coach at Michigan State, where he coached the Spartans the last four seasons. That included the 2008 Big Ten championship and a Big Ten Coach of the Year honor the same year.
The move to Queens is providing him an avenue to continue coaching on the college level and a hand in other parts of golf education.
“Working with kids is my greatest strength,” he says. “It has been my one common thread. I’m in position to help junior programs through my different experiences. I thought my best contribution was to be in education and helping other kids.”
The Professional Golf Management program at Queens includes about 40 participants. The program is geared toward guiding students as they learn about the golf industry so they can pursue careers in the field. Queens Athletic Director Jeannie King described Puryear as an ideal fit for the multiple roles that involve intercollegiate athletics and cultivating students for the golf management program.
“The person to take over as the director of golf needs to be a dynamic leader, have a strong character and offer plenty of experience both as a coach and a teacher,” King said.
Puryear said he likes the challenges at Queens, where he says many students hold the same characteristics that he encountered at Stanford.
“Those kids want to get fed mentally, too,” he says.
Puryearis is also coaching women for the first time at the collegiate level.
“It really broadens my horizons,” he said.
While his role is that of coach and educator, he says the competitive aspect hasn’t diminished. He wants the Royals, who compete on the NCAA Division II level, to field strong teams that contend for championships.
“The fun part of it is winning along the way,” he says.
Of course, success won’t always be measured by the scorecards turned in. And that’s something Puryear has appreciated about golf for years.
“My foundation has been to make sure regardless of where I’m coaching to give them a chance for dreams to come true.”