HARRISONBURG, Va. — When Tommy Baker tore his anterior cruciate ligament in the fall of his senior year at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke, the Eastover native found his future.
Even with his golf career over for the Braves, Baker used his final season to continue to help out the golf program, and found his calling in the process.
“It was kind of a blessing in disguise that I torn my ACL in workouts,” Baker said. “The spring of your senior year is a tough time for you to miss due to injury, but (UNCP golf) coach (David) Synan was my coach then and we hosted a tournament each year at Carolina Sands in White Lake and he allowed me the opportunity to help him out with some of the logistics of the tournament.
“That’s kind of when I caught the coaching bug, volunteering while recovering from a torn ACL.”
That calling took a new step last week when Baker was named the women’s golf coach at James Madison University, his fifth coaching stop in his 10-year coaching career.
Baker found his love for coaching golf from the experience given by Synan, who was in his first season with the program. He used that final semester of his undergraduate career to set up the next two years as the graduate assistant for the program until he received his masters degree in 2008.
“If it weren’t for him, I don’t know if that opportunity would be possible,” he said.
After his stop in Pembroke, Baker built up the men’s and women’s golf programs at nearby Coker, and then turned Saint Leo into a national contender in his four seasons in Florida. He followed by taking the step up to the Division I to take over as the women’s coach at Colorado State.
“At the end of the day, you are trying to help grow the person. With golf it is really important to coach and be there for the individual,” Baker said. “Every school I have been at has been so different. Having all that experience coaching all kinds of players really helps me extend my recruiting base as well.”
The move comes on the heels of leading the Lady Rams to their highest finish in the Mountain West Conference — third — since the 2010 season.
For him, the draw for the new job was all about location.
“I thought the move to Colorado State would be more long term turnaround, but I’m thankful for the opportunity at James Madison,” he said. “It was about getting back to the East coast. Growing up in North Carolina, you know of the success with the athletic program at James Madison, especially with football. The campus is beautiful, and now it’s a good time to restart the program.”
As a golfer for the Braves, Baker was a part of the program that saw three head coaches in four season, starting with John Haskins for his first two seasons, Kyle Savage his junior year and then Synan in his final campaign. Each gave him lessons that he still carries with him.
“I’ve told him (Haskins) that I owe him a debt of gratitude for all that he taught me early in my career. It’s what I still teach to my players today” Baker said. “Coach Synan told me the first week I was the graduate assistant that, ‘when I graduate here, I want you to be a good head coach and prepared to know everything.’”
James Madison is coming off a season where it earned three top five finishes and came in seventh in the Colonial Athletic Association championship.
Jonathan Bym can be reached at 910-816-1977 or by email at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @Jonathan_Bym.