Bailey establishes winning culture to transform Marquette into successful program


Photo by Stephen B. Morton

Men's golf earned its first spot in the top 25 last October. Photo courtesy: Marquette Athletics

The night before the 2017 BIG EAST men’s golf championship, the Marquette golf team was down 17 strokes. Head coach Steve Bailey channeled his inner Tom Brady from last year’s Super Bowl, telling his team their comeback would be “one hell of a story.”

The next day, freshman Matt Bachmann shot an even par and helped secure the BIG EAST Championship for Marquette.

It was Marquette’s second BIG EAST championship in the last three years and last fall, the Golden Eagles received national attention with its first top-25 appearance in program history. Marquette concluded the fall slate ranked 26th.

The story of Marquette’s golf program is emblematic of the Golden Eagles’ championship comeback one year ago. Over the past eight seasons, Bailey has created a culture of players simply trying to get better each day. By doing so, they have pushed each other to do things many didn’t think were possible.

“I think we are closer than any team,” junior Oliver Farrell said. “That helps as well because we know each other so well … Everyone sort of feeds off each other … Coach (Bailey) has a great sense of character of people. We all have very similar interests. It is strange; it is hard to find a group of people that have clicked as well as we have.”

“I would say in general how close we are as a team, where it is not an envious competition where other players are competing on a negative level. It is all friendly competition,” sophomore Matt Bachmann said. “At the end of the day, we are all brothers.”

When Bailey took over the program, he faced the challenge all golf coaches face — creating a culture centered around a team for an individual sport. Then, Bailey had the additional challenge of selling recruits on a place where outdoor golf is nearly impossible for most of the academic year.

“You might not have a lot of what people see as positives, but we have enough to get there. You just really had to sell that culture we were creating,” Bailey said about recruiting in his first years at Marquette. “It was maybe tough when you didn’t have a lot to throw out there — you know, those carrots to hang in front of people.”

Four years into his tenure as head coach, Bailey got a massive carrot to offer possible recruits. Bailey developed a relationship with a pro at Ozaukee Country Club, Rich Tock. When Tock left Ozaukee and took a job with Erin Hills golf course as a PGA Ambassador, he asked if Bailey and Marquette would be interested in hosting a collegiate tournament.

Tock pitched the idea to Erin Hills owner Andy Ziegler, who was on board. Now, Bailey could tell potential recruits they would play one tournament per year at a course that hosted a major. Playing Erin Hills also gave Bailey the ability to create a better schedule for his team because top programs were willing to come play Marquette at Erin Hills.

Bailey could now recruit a higher level of talent to play at Marquette, but talent wasn’t everything.

“I want to win, I want our program to be successful, but it’s equally as important who they are as people,” Bailey said. “All it takes is one bad egg to bring your group down … If you look at our roster, not a lot of them were five-star athletes. They are good players, but I’m just really proud of how they have developed.

His recruitment goes beyond what someone could see on just a box score.

“I can see every score a kid shoots on the internet, so a lot of coaches might just recruit off what they see on a resume,” Bailey said. “I want to go out and I want to see him have a bad stretch because I want to see after that double bogey how does he steps up to the tee box, how does he treat volunteers and how does is he talking to his parents after the round.”

Now, despite freezing temperatures outside, Marquette athletics’ investment in the golf program has allowed the team to continue to excel. The team can hit balls in the new dome at Valley Fields, or get a better sense of the distance of their shots by taking swings with the golf simulator.

The program has a budget that allows for preseason training in warmer climates. Soon, the Golden Eagles will also take advantage of the new athletic performance research center.

Without a sense of doubt in either of their voices, Bachmann and Farrell talk about the possibility of winning a national championship this season. It’s a lofty goal, but a hope that has been born out of the program’s culture. But before any championship can be won, Bailey has a clear goal for his team: “to get better at practice tomorrow.”