Player’s Take: Mike Nagy
April 03, 2020
By Staff, PGATOUR.COM
- April 03, 2020
In 2013, Mike Nagy made history when he became the first Manistique High School athlete in 50 years to earn a Division I scholarship when he left the cold of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to play golf at the University of Tennessee. For the four years prior to leaving Michigan, he had won four consecutive club championships at Indian Lake Golf Club, his first title coming at age 15. Nagy still lives in Knoxville after graduating with a business degree, and it was in college where he began his unique way of reading greens. But now—like all other professional golfers—he patiently waits for his first Mackenzie Tour season to begin. After finishing third at the Mackenzie Tour Qualifying Tournament in Dothan, Ala., in mid-March, Nagy planned to return to Knoxville to practice and prepare for the 2020 season. But because of the COVID-19 shutdown, he decided to drive back to Michigan to spend time with his parents. Although he hasn’t played any golf (there’s still snow on the ground), Nagy did find time to do a little blue gill fishing and talk about his journey in golf.
It is definitely an interesting time. I was playing well, and after Alabama I definitely wanted to keep playing and find any events I could play in. It looked like there were going to be a couple of Florida mini tours, but that obviously changed very quickly.
I didn’t expect to be back in Michigan in March and April. I went to Florida to stay with some friends in the beginning part of January and basically spent January, February and March preparing for the upcoming season. It was a lot of work I put in, but now it’s on hold.
For me and golf, I either want to be all in on the practice or I want to get away from it. I don’t feel like I play well when I practice only once in a while. I like it being an all-day thing to keep sharp. In Knoxville, I played a few rounds because the driving range was closed, and the practice facility was closed. I played pretty mediocre, so I just decided to shut it down and go home.
Manastique is an Upper Peninsula of Michigan. It’s six hours north of Detroit and right on the top of Lake Michigan. It’s an hour-and-a-half drive to Canada, to Sault Ste. Marie.
It’s interesting how I ended up going to Knoxville for school. The biggest connection I had to Tennessee was through assistant coach Casey VanDamme. He’s currently the men’s and women’s head coach at South Dakota State. Casey is from Michigan. I had gotten a few lessons from him when I was 12 and 13. He remembered me, and he sent Chip Taylor, the Tennessee head coach, to come and watch me play a couple of AJGA events. I played well in them, and the coach was impressed.
I didn’t really have a good AJGA career. I didn’t travel a ton because of where I lived. Even to play some of the events in Michigan and Wisconsin were five- or six-hour drives. I stuck to the local events, but I played, I think, seven AJGA events, and I want to say my worst finish was 11th place.
During my recruiting, I heard from Michigan and Michigan State—a lot of the Big Ten schools, but growing up in the north, I wanted to get away from the snow and see what it was like to be able to play year-round.
High school was definitely interesting. It seemed like we always had a bad mid-April with the weather, and that usually delayed our season. There was always snow on the ground, the course wasn’t ready, or it was too wet. It seemed like every year our first couple of events were canceled.
A lot of kids ran track, so the high school golf teams weren’t very deep. There were probably a couple of other kids in my age group who went on to play Division II golf. There were a fair amount of decent players, but most of the schools up there you had the No. 1 man who would shoot in the 70s, and by the time you got to the No. 5 guy, he was lucky to keep it in the 80s.
My senior year, I did decide to challenge myself, and I said I wanted to win every single high school event I played. I went 12 for 12 in high school tournaments. I felt that was a good goal, relative to the competition.
It’s definitely a different world where I grew up. I think the entire Upper Peninsula of Michigan only has 200,000 people, and the town I grew up in has 3,500 people. It’s one of those towns where everybody knows everybody.
We had a very nice course in my town, Indian Lake Golf Club. I was fortunate. It is 18 holes and isn’t overly long, maybe 6,500 yards, and it didn’t have a driving range, so I grew up doing a whole lot of playing.
All four years of high school, I also played basketball, and I ran cross country for two years. I did that to prepare for the basketball season. With basketball, it wasn’t like I was trying to get a scholarship or anything, but it’s a fun game and a lot of my buddies played. It was a good distraction from golf and kept me in good shape.
I was pretty much a shooting guard on the court. I wasn’t much into being the point guard. I didn’t want to have the ball in my hands all the time. I definitely liked working off screens to shoot three-pointers.
For a while I had my school’s varsity record for three-pointers in a game. I made six, and in that game I scored 31 points. I was pretty inconsistent, though. I also had games where I only scored a couple of points.
When I committed to Tennessee, the head coach told me he didn’t really like me playing basketball. He was thinking I would shut down basketball my senior year, but I told him I couldn’t quit on my buddies, my teammates. All he said was, “Don’t be diving for any loose balls.”
We were a Class D high school in Michigan athletics. My graduating class had less than 80 people in it, and the whole high school was around 240, 250 students. When I first got to Tennessee, it was definitely an adjustment, going from a town of 3,500 to a campus of close to 30,000 kids. It was pretty overwhelming.
At my first tournament qualifier at Tennessee, I grabbed the fifth and final spot on the team for the Carpet Capital Intercollegiate in Dalton, Ga., at The Farm. It was a really good field. I specifically remember warming up next to Texas’ Jordan Spieth. I definitely knew who he was. I ended up shooting 70-71-73 and finished 11th in my very first college event, low man on the team.
Before that event, I didn’t really know where I stacked up. I knew I was a good player, but I hadn’t played nationally around the U.S. It was definitely a big confidence booster and a great way to start off the college career.
In my junior year in college, I started getting on my stomach on the greens to read putts. If I don’t do it, I don’t read greens very well. From that perspective, I feel like I see the lines much better.
If I’m playing a casual round, I may not do it. But I always do it in tournament play. Plus, I burn a few extra calories during a round. I’ve always told people that it’s my workout on the road. I get in plenty of pushups.
We had a new assistant coach come in my senior year, Sean Pacetti, an accomplished player who played on the Korn Ferry Tour. Overall, I would say I had a lackluster college career, but Sean helped me a lot that final season, and probably before that I was unsure if I was going to pursue professional golf with how my career had been going. It wasn’t looking too promising.
He lit a fire under me, and he definitely helped me get around the golf course. I felt like I had a lot of talent, but he helped me with my course-management stuff. I had way too many rounds in the upper 70s for how good I was striking it. I was just really sloppy overall with the scoring aspect. He helped me clean that up.
I knew I had a good senior year, so I decided to stay amateur that summer. I played decently in a few of the bigger amateur events and qualified for the U.S. Amateur. Things were trending in the right direction, and I knew I wanted to give professional golf a try. Now things are on hold.
On the bright side of this layoff, it’s been nice getting home. Manistique was a neat little spot to grow up in. I try to get up here as much as I can to hunt and fish. That’s what I miss the most about not living up here, the outdoorsy part of it.
I could go fishing every day. That’s for sure. I don’t know what it is. It’s so peaceful out there, whether it’s ice fishing or in a boat. It’s relaxing, and I can get away from everything.
My dad has an ice shanty, an ice shack. I’ve fished in there, but, honestly, most of the time I will be outside trying to brave the elements.
I remember the first year I got to Tennessee, people were complaining about it being 40 degrees outside, and I thought it was the greatest thing ever. After living in Michigan, I don’t even think I brought a jacket when I went to school. I may have brought a sweatshirt. That’s all I ever needed.