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Alabama men's golf coach Jay Seawell talks about his star pupils

10 Min Read

Beyond the Ropes

Alabama men's golf coach Jay Seawell talks about his star pupils

    Written by Helen Ross @helen_pgatour

    For as long as he can remember, Jay Seawell wanted to be a coach.

    Even when he was a little kid, he was glued to the TV when the pregame and postgame shows came on TV. By the time he was 15, Seawell was coaching his younger brother’s basketball and soccer teams at the YMCA.

    “I had my mother help me because I was only 15 and I had to have an adult there,” he recalls.

    Seawell’s first love was basketball but he wasn’t tall enough or talented enough to play the game at the highest level. But he did play golf at South Carolina and that’s when his career goals began to change.

    “My passion was always in helping people more than it was my own game,” Seawell explains.

    Six months on the mini-tours confirmed his decision – “they didn’t float my balloon,” he says. Besides, Seawell jokes, he’s probably the worst golfer in his family; brother David played two years on the Tour and one on the PGA TOUR, and both his father and brother Daniel are club professionals.

    “So I just decided to help other people who are really good,” Seawell says with a laugh.

    When an opportunity came to coach at what was then Anderson Junior College in 1991, Seawell took it. He became Augusta State’s head coach in 1998 and for the past 15 years has been at the helm of Alabama’s highly successful program.

    Under Seawell’s guidance, the Crimson Tide won national championships in 2013 and ’14, and finished runner-up in 2012. Five of his former players are on the PGA TOUR right now – Justin Thomas, Trey Mullinax, Tom Lovelady, Bud Cauley and Michael Thompson.

    Seawell says Thomas was probably 15 years old when he started recruiting the future world No. 1. He remembers getting a call from someone who said the teenager might be interested in attending Alabama and Seawell followed up immediately. After all, he says, Thomas could have gone anywhere in the country. He had the “buffet in front of him,” the coach explains.

    “The recruitment on him started from him, believe it or not, and that's the way it happens a lot,” Seawell says. “There are a lot of players out there and so he just kind of sent word through a third party who called my phone. …

    “They said, ‘Hey, I think Justin Thomas would be somebody who'd be interested. They wanted me to know that if you're interested they would like for me to watch him play.’

    “So it kind of was initiated by Justin and his father and of course, when we first saw him we were like, ‘Wow, this is great.’”

    Jay Seawell coaches Justin Thomas during the future FedExCup champion's time at Alabama.

    Cauley’s recruitment was similar. Some people in Jacksonville, Florida told Seawell that he should go watch the 14-year-old play. He was the No. 1 amateur in the country when he committed to Alabama.

    “He’s slight in stature so he kind of underwhelmed you when you first saw him,” Seawell says. “But I don't know if we've ever had anybody work harder at Alabama since I've been here.”

    Cauley, who has been sidelined by injuries suffered in a June automobile accident, went on to earn his TOUR card off the non-member money list – joining Gary Hallberg, Scott Verplank, Phil Mickelson, Justin Leonard, Tiger Woods and Ryan Moore as the only players to bypass Q-school.

    Players like Lovelady and Mullinax flew a little more under the radar but went on to form the nucleus of the 2013 and ‘14 NCAA title teams. Mullinax, for example, grew up in Birmingham, Alabama so Seawell got to see him develop as a golfer.

    “I am proud of Trey because it was somebody who technically we took a chance on because he wasn't maybe as polished as somebody like (Justin),” Seawell says. “But I was fortunate enough to see him enough to know that he had a tremendous upside and he's now becoming, I think he's a got a great future.”

    Seawell is also impressed with Lovelady’s quick ascent to the TOUR after just one season on the Tour.

    “I'm not surprised he made it,” he says. “Just how quickly he did it and how quickly he's kind of adjusted and been able to keep that (status) -- that's been a pleasant surprise to a young man who I'm very proud of.”

    Thompson, on the other hand, was a proven commodity when he came to Alabama after two years at Tulane before the golf team was disbanded in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. He went on to earn All-America honors in 2008, a year after he finished runner-up in the U.S. Amateur. He earned his TOUR card three years later.

    Seawell admits to being a “rah-rah guy.” He says he tends to “holler on the phone” when a player calls him to commit to Alabama and his three kids look forward to celebratory dinners.

    “You work really hard and you identify people that you truly believe in and when they tell you, yes, they want to be part of what you're doing that means they believe in you, too,” Seawell says. “I take that very seriously.”

    Thomas has a FedExCup and nine TOUR wins on his resume now, including the 2017 PGA, while Thompson has won once. Cauley, Mullinax and Lovelady are still looking for that first TOUR title.

    But as much as he enjoys seeing his players succeed, Seawell is most proud of the bond they all have off the golf course.

    “The network of our guys and the care they have for each other and their games that's the most I'm proud of,” Seawell says. “Trying to help each other and the friendships -- I get practice round pictures all the time with them, you know, playing together and things like that.

    “That's, that's the part I love. I'm proud of how good they play, but I'm more proud of that.”

    Jay Seawell celebrates on the putting green with former Alabama athlete and TOUR player Trey Mullinax.

    And here are 18 things Seawell says you might not know about his Crimson Tide TOUR veterans.

    1. Justin broke into our practice facility while he was being recruited. Well, maybe not broke in. He was 15 or 16 years old and he and his father were heading back to Louisville for Thanksgiving after a tournament. They didn't break the glass or anything. But everything was closed because it was a holiday and so he and his father jumped the fence because they wanted to see the place. That was before I'd ever met him.

    2. Bud grew up a Florida fan. After Bud signed with us, I went to a tournament and he drove up to the course with a UF license plate on the front of the car. I remember saying, Bud, do you think you can get rid of that now? And he'd went, ‘Oh my gosh, I forgot it was on there.’

    3. When I first started recruiting Justin, he always wore long pants. He was one of the few guys who did that. He said, I'm going to be like the professionals and wear long pants. But as he got older and it got hotter and hotter, he tended to find a way to put on a pair of shorts.

    4. Michael loves to restore cars. He’s got a 1965 or ’66 Mustang that he’s taken apart and rebuilt probably two or three times just because he may have left a screw out or whatever it may have been.

    5. Justin drove to school in a 3- or 4- or 5-year-old Honda Civic. But he's kind of gone way past that. I texted him after he won his first tournament. I said, do you think you're going to get rid of the Honda Civic now? He said, ‘Oh, yes.’ I think he has a tradition. If he wins I think he goes and looks at leasing a car. He may buy one, I don't know. But I said, we've come a long way from that Honda Civic.

    6. Tom has been Justin’s roommate for several years. Bud has lived with them, too.

    7. Bud's dad was a Navy diver. That's where I know Bud gets his toughness from.

    8. When we won the 2013 NCAA Championship at the Capital City Club in Atlanta, we had a van that had a TV and DVR and a DVD player in it. And they literally watched that Will Ferrell movie “Semi-Pro” every single day. It was about a 30-minute ride from the hotel to the golf course and so it just stayed on the whole way. Guess that inspired them to win the championship.

    9. Justin is a great practical joker as y’all have seen on the TOUR. Our practice facility is the Jerry Pate Golf Center and we used to have a wild cat there that we befriended. His name was Jerry Cat and she really acted like a dog. That's the only reason she was able to stick around out there because I am not a cat guy. Anyway, she’d lay down at the side while you hit balls or whatever. And for some reason Justin liked to chase her. She’d see him coming and he’d do it almost daily.

    10. Trey actually got run over by a car while he was riding his bicycle to class. The driver of the car was texting and driving and didn’t see him. The pedal went into Trey’s leg, so he has about a 4- or 5-inch scar in his calf. He called one of his teammates, Bobby Wyatt, to come get him and Bobby asked him why he didn’t just walk. Trey goes, I don't think I can. I've got my bike lodged into my leg.

    11. Tom’s father passed away right before his senior year. He always puts his initials on his golf ball before he plays.

    12. Bud? Man, that guy loves rap. We called him “Little William” -- really not because of his size, just because it's kind of a good rapper name.

    13. Trey’s dad used to be a NASCAR off-track racer. That’s why Trey has a great NASCAR slang voice.

    14. Tom was an incredibly talented baseball player when he was in high school. It may be his first love. He always had a ball and a couple of gloves in his car and at any moment while we were practicing some of the guys might be throwing the ball back and forth.

    15. Trey finished second to Rory McIlroy in driving distance this year. But we had another guy on our team, Scott Strohmeyer, who literally may be the longest hitter in golf. So we had both of those guys in camp one year and we were doing a thing with Scott on Trackman and I said Scott, I need you to hit one hard. The ball speed on the Trackman was 199.7 and he flew it 345 in the air. And Trey goes, let me go now, Coach. And poor Trey, he only hit about 315, 320 and it was the most underwhelming 315 in the history of golf. That's kind of who Trey is. He loves to compete.

    16. Hurricane Katrina was a devastating natural disaster. But you know, there's always good that eventually does come out of something like that and for us it was that Michael Thompson got to come to Tuscaloosa, which was good for a lot of people.

    17. Michael also restored an old Ford truck, if I'm not mistaken, and cranked it and it caught on fire. Right there in the driveway.

    18. While Justin was here, he developed an incredible friendship with our football coach, Nick Saban. Coach would come out in the spring and Justin tended to be one of the last guys to ever leave the facility. And so Coach would come out late in the afternoon just before the sunset and they'd chip together. Their friendship continues to grow. After Justin wins, Coach will call him and I think Justin actually called Nick maybe an hour or two after the national championship game. They’ve become pretty good friends.

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