Golf: Upswing

Denison Golf

Junior Marc Mitchell ’22 found himself in the rough, downwind, about 150 yards from the pin. He pulled out his pitching wedge but hadn’t given much thought to what he actually wanted to do with the club. That’s when Denison coach Lauren Grogan reminded him, “You don’t need to hit it that hard.”

“She just says the right things all the time,” Mitchell explains. “She knows what it’s like to think as a golfer.”

Grogan grew up around the game. Starting at age four, her father would put her and her older brother into a golf cart and take them out on his round. He cut down clubs so they could take swings, but there was never any pressure to play. But Grogan immediately loved the game, taking as many swings as she could.

Grogan didn’t start playing competitively until high school, where she earned All-State honors at Bishop Watterson in nearby Columbus. At the University of Michigan, she was twice named the Big 10’s Sportswoman of the Year. Grogan had already begun thinking about a career in coaching when her former coach offered her a spot as a graduate assistant at Central Michigan.

Grogan also maintained a professional profile, advancing through Stage 1 of LPGA qualifying school and making an appearance on the Symetra Tour, the LPGA’s development tour. That kind of résumé may earn her instant credibility with her athletes, but there’s a difference between playing golf and being able to coach the game.

“She has proven time and time again that she knows what she’s talking about, so we trust what she’s saying,” Mitchell says. “She separates being a coach and playing golf by setting boundaries and expectations super clearly.”

When Grogan arrived at Denison in the fall of 2019, she knew she had talented teams that were looking for structure and consistency. She also wanted to instill a sense of confidence, allowing them to thrive under pressure. “When you’re playing really well, it can be a scary feeling if you haven’t been there,” Grogan says.

Under Grogan’s tutelage, the Big Red have played very well indeed. Both the men’s and women’s teams were ranked in the Division III Top 25 in the fall of 2019, the first time in school history both squads were nationally ranked at the same time. In 2021, the teams won their respective NCAC championships, and at their respective NCAA Division III Championship competitions, the women’s team—in their first Championship appearance—finished 13 out of 25 teams, while the men’s team took seventh, the best finish in program history.

When the COVID pandemic shut down their fall season, Grogan turned practices into competitions, with everything from chipping contests to Ryder Cup–style, co-ed match play. As Mitchell put it, “We work with pressure because that’s what we need to do as a team.”

It’s the team aspect of coaching an individual sport that’s important to Grogan. One of her techniques is to ask her players to recount their shot of the day. What were the circumstances, how were they feeling, what was their thought process? The point of the exercise isn’t to relive past glory. It’s about listening to each other and gaining deeper connections with their teammates. “Those relationships that you build off the golf course really help you build trust on the golf course,” Grogan says.

And that trust—combined with hard work—pays dividends. “The future is bright,” Grogan says. “They’ve worked their tails off, and the right things are in place.”

Published August 2021