The Golf Coaches Association of America, in cooperation with its long time corporate partner, the NGA Pro Golf Tour, will feature a monthly Q&A with former collegians who are currently playing the NGA Pro Golf Tour. Long considered the premier developmental tour in the United States, thousands of former college players have started their professional careers there. More than 250 NGA Pro Golf Tour alumni have or continue to play on the PGA Tour.
This month's feature is Justin Lower. Lower played collegiately at Malone University, where he won an individual NAIA National Championship, was named the NAIA Jack Nicklaus Award winner, was a four-time NAIA All-American and won the 2011 David Toms Award.
Lower had seven top-10 finishes on the NGA Pro Tour in 2012, including a victory at the NGA Carolina Summer Series event at Aberdeen Country Club in July, his first professional win.
Q: Justin, how would you explain the process of finishing collegiate golf and actually getting started playing as a professional golfer?
Finding the funding is the first thing you need to do; it’s not cheap. Once you do that, you kind of need to simplify everything and go out and do the best you can. You know what you want to do and how to do it, but you have to go out and do it.
Q: You had your first professional victory this summer on the NGA Professional Tour. How would you compare that to your victory at the NAIA National Championship in 2010?
Winning the NAIA nationals was huge for me. It gave me a bunch of confidence. And it was the same thing when I won on the Carolina Series. It gives you a bunch of confidence and lets you know you can compete under pressure.
Q: We saw that you thanked your college coach at Malone, Ken Hyland, after your victory at the NGA TOUR Carolina Summer Series event at Aberdeen Country Club. What did you learn from Coach Hyland that helped prepare you for that moment, winning as a professional?
Being patient, taking one shot at a time and not looking at the leaderboard. You can always use one more birdie and you need to keep grinding. When I won on the Carolina Series, I birdied the last hole to get into a playoff. I didn’t know I needed a birdie at the time. But the biggest thing I learned from him would have to be patience.
Q: What experiences as a student, outside of golf, do you think helped to prepare you for life as a professional golfer?
I think being able to balance your time. In high school, the coach does everything for you and you show up to play. In college you make your own schedule and start doing everything on your own. You have to divide your time between golf, classes and studying. When you turn professional, you’re used to doing stuff on your own, so it helps. Eventually, it gets easier and easier.
Q: What about playing professionally has been a surprise to you?
It’s said a lot, but the depth on the NGA TOUR was a surprise. You hear it all the time in college, but until you get out here, you don’t know. The fields are so deep. You can shoot 6 under one day and be losing by three shots. If you shot 6 under in college, you would usually be leading by a shot or more. It’s amazing how many guys are out here that can play.
Q: How has the way you work on your game, or the amount of time you spend working on it, changed since you left school and became a professional golfer?
I’ve worked more on fundamentals and my short game since I left college. I’ve really done a lot on my short game. You’ve got to make sure you can show up every week mentally and physically. If you’ve got strong fundamentals, it makes it easier.
Q: What is the favorite course that you have had a chance to play?
Cutter Creek Golf Club in Snow Hill, N.C. The course was awesome and all the people around the course were awesome. The greens were perfect, fast and undulating. We didn’t have the best weather, but the course was in a great shape. It was a good test of golf.
Q: What is your favorite aspect of playing as a touring professional?
That’s easy. You’re playing golf for a living, what could be better?
Q: Several alumni of the NGA Professional Tour have gone on the great success on both the PGA and European Tours. What about the NGA Tour prepares golfers for continued success as they progress through their careers?
Everything about the NGA TOUR is just like the next level. You get the course to yourself for the week, you get great yardage books and great courses. It’s set up just like what you’re going to be doing at the next level when you get there. Everything is in place to prepare us for the next level; we just have to take advantage of it.
Q: Finally, what advice would you impart to college and junior golfers dreaming of a career in professional golf?
Learn how to manage your time and work on your short game. If you think your short game is good, it won’t be out here. You need to work on it hard.