How an assistant basketball coach turned TCU’s golf program into a powerhouse

Bill Montigel had never played golf when he arrived on TCU’s campus in 1979.

He came to Fort Worth as a men’s basketball assistant coach under Jim Killingsworth, and spent eight years in the role. He recruited, among others, Jamie Dixon in his time on the staff.

But when Killingsworth retired, Montigel had a career change and became TCU’s golf coach for the 1987-88 season. In Year 3, he had the Frogs in the NCAA Regional. That has now rung true for 30 straight years.

Yes, TCU’s men’s golf team is back in the NCAA Regional for the 30th consecutive season. All under Montigel, a basketball guy who found his niche on the links.

“The only thing I’ve ever tried to do with this golf job is surround myself with really good people,” Montigel said. “I don’t think the kids really care how much you know, they want to know how much you care. I’m always around and helping any way I can.”

Only two other golf programs in the country have made 30 straight NCAA Regional appearances under the same coach and that’s Clemson and UNLV. TCU and Montigel are in an exclusive fraternity in that regard.

As former TCU golfer J.J. Killeen said, “Coach Montigel is an incredible person and coach. Thirty straight regional appearances is a historical accomplishment. It’s been fun watching former Frogs consistently get better through the TCU golf program and achieve success professionally.”

The Frogs are the No. 5-seed in the 14-team regional in Austin this week, which runs Monday-Wednesday at the University of Texas Golf Club.

The top five teams advance in the 54-hole tournament and Montigel likes the chances of TCU reaching the NCAA championships after missing the previous two seasons. The Frogs played the 15th toughest schedule this season, according to Golf Week’s latest rankings.

Senior Hayden Springer is playing as well as anyone, winning the Big 12 tournament last month and being named the conference’s golfer of the month. The Trophy Club native recently qualified as the first alternative in a U.S. Open local qualifier.

Senior Stefano Mazzoli of Italy and senior David Ravetto of France are also highly-ranked amateurs who have had success.

“I feel really good about where we are,” Montigel said. “We played very well this semester. We had some good finishes against good competition. We really played well at conference. If we just keep doing what we’re doing, we’ll be fine.”

For Montigel and the golf team, the focus is on advancing this week. But it’s still somewhat surreal that Montigel has had the success he’s had over the last three decades.

The streak started when Montigel was a 34-year-old raising a young family. Now he’s 64 with two grown children and a bevy of former players, ranging from PGA Tour regulars such as J.J. Henry and Tom Hoge to those who’ve become successful businessmen like former standout Johan de Beer.

“For a coach to be there 30-plus years is pretty incredible,” Hoge said after an opening-round 64 at the AT&T Byron Nelson on Thursday.

“To have the success he’s had is quite remarkable.”

The backstory of how Montigel got the job is interesting in itself.

As an assistant basketball coach, Montigel was constantly on the road recruiting players. But the NCAA implemented a “dead period” during his years as an assistant and, during the ‘dead period,’ he and Killingsworth often went to the golf course.

Montigel, who had never played the game, was suddenly hooked.

“When the golf job opened up, I thought, ‘If I’m the golf coach, I’ll get to play every day,’” Montigel said, smiling. “But it doesn’t work like that. It’s kind of like Gary Patterson. He doesn’t go out and play football. Jamie Dixon isn’t shooting hoops. Golf is the same thing.

“As a coach, there’s a million things that you need to be doing.”

Recruiting is at the forefront of those duties and Montigel has attracted plenty of elite players in his tenure.

He’s had success in Texas and other parts of the country, as well as internationally. He recalled taking a trip to Istanbul, Turkey to watch a French kid named Julien Brun. Brun became a three-time All-American (2012, 2013, 2014).

That connection started a pipeline to France as Paul Barjon and Ravetto have followed Brun to Fort Worth.

“We go to a lot of European tournaments, but we also go to a lot of American tournaments,” Montigel said. “You’re always trying to recruit the best players, but you’re also looking for diamonds in the rough and somebody you feel like could develop into a good talent.”

Montigel’s approach has worked. The proof is in the results.

TCU has become one of the top golf programs in the country and has produced players capable of competing at the highest level. It’s remarkable that there hasn’t been a “down year” in a 30-year stretch.

You just wouldn’t think the man behind it all would have been a former basketball assistant who didn’t start playing the game until his late 20s.

“I’m never going to tell the players something about their grip or backswing,” Montigel said. “But we always talk about being smart out there and making good decisions. I think the success of the program hasn’t been just one thing, but a combination of things.

“It comes down to the players, though. We’ve been lucky year after year in being able to attract some really good players to this program. You’ve got something really good to sell them on, playing in great tournaments and playing great courses here in Fort Worth.”

And the pep talk writes itself these days.

“You tell them at the beginning of the year, we’ve made it 29 in a row,” Montigel said. “You don’t want to be that team that doesn’t make it. It makes them work a little harder.”

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