If You Can't Beat Them, You Join Them

The player-coach relationship in college golf obviously differs from other collegiate sports. Very rarely do you see players competing against their mentors. But they do in golf and two years ago, Mississippi State sophomore golfer Matt Fast found himself in a unique position.

Fast was trying to chase down the leaders at the 2005 Mississippi Amateur Championship.

As he neared the last couple of holes in the final round, Fast had positioned himself at 11-under par. But that's when he found out he had company atop the leaderboard - his soon-to-be college head coach, Clay Homan.

"Actually, Coach Homan and his group were a few holes behind us," said Matt Fast. "I didn't even find out he was in the lead until someone told me that my coach was tearing it up. And that was when we had three holes left to play."

Homan, a former All-SEC golfer at State, eventually edged his pupil by one stroke to claim the Mississippi Amateur title.

Two years later Fast is now one of five talented sophomores on State's roster.

The Bulldogs got off to roaring start in the fall, finishing in the Top 10 in all four events, including a win in the Mobile-based Calis Communication Intercollegiate, and a match win over Ole Miss in the Magnolia Cup.

And Fast was a major part of State's success.

In the team win in Mobile, Fast captured the individual crown with a total of 10-under par (three rounds), including a career-low 67 on the final day to clinch his first collegiate tournament win.

Fast, due to his efforts, was named the National Collegiate Golfer of the Week by GolfWorld Magazine.

Fast finished the fall with a team-best 73.14 average and posted a pair of Top 10 finishes.

"I definitely didn't expect too much in the fall," said Fast. "I hadn't won a tournament since junior golf, but I had a great fall. It makes you want that same feeling and makes you play hard every day to get that feeling back.

"Plus, it was even better because Mississippi State won the tournament, too, and we had five sophomores out there playing."

Although State has struggled in the first three spring tournaments, Fast believes the Bulldogs still have a shot at their top goal of the season.

"This year our goal was to make the (NCAA) regionals," said Fast. "And we were in good position coming out of the fall. In our first three spring tournaments, we have missed a key shot here and there and those shots could have really made a big difference in somebody's round.

"We still have a shot but we really have to focus on our last three tournaments. We can't give away shots and we have to make those key shots."

Fast enjoyed a banner rookie campaign last year, concluding the year with a team-best 14th-place showing at the SEC Championships, including a 68 in the final round.

Fast noted the differences between last year's group of freshmen, a collection of recruits ranked 9th in the country by Golfweek.

"We've got a lot of young players and a lot of really good young players," said Fast, who currently paces State with a 73.60 average. "You can tell this year how much is different from last year with our experience. We just need to play as a team and be confident on the course."

Following an all-state career at Oak Grove High School in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, Fast choose the Bulldogs' program as a member of Homan's first recruiting class at State.

Fast also excelled on the junior golf circuit, something he credits for his quick adaptation to SEC golf.

"Playing junior golf is a lot different than say, high school football," said Fast. "In junior golf, some go all over the country playing golf and we play against the guys we are facing now in the SEC.

"And this is a talented league. Probably 10 of the nation's Top 50 schools are in this conference. You have to play your best with this much talent around. Right now, we want to get our name out there, like Alabama has done the last couple of years and, of course, definitely like Florida and Georgia who have been powers for years."

Fast received quite a bit of interest following his prep career. In addition to State, he also had opportunities from Alabama, Ole Miss and Oklahoma State.

But he was impressed with the demeanor of Homan, and his teaching methods on the golf course.

"I always looked at Mississippi State," said Fast. "When Coach Homan got to State, they really started contacting me my junior year of high school.

"And Coach Homan is a laid-back coach and a really good player. You can learn a lot from him and his experience in golf. And you want to play for a coach like that. He is in there every morning with us working out the same way."

And yes, Homan and Fast still talk about that day two years ago, when the pupil was trying to chase down the coach in a winner-take-all final round.

Fast talks about that final hole and how close he came to knocking off Homan.

But over the long haul, this coach always gets the best of his students.

"We still talk about it a little, especially my last shot of the tournament," said Fast. "I hit a 9-iron and I thought it would be around five or so feet to the hole. But it spun down the green and I could have tied him on that hole. But hey, he's a good golfer.

"And he still beats up on us every day out there."

Paul Jones is a writer for the Dawgs' Bite, Powered by GenesPage.com website. Paul, also a sports writer for the Columbus Commercial Dispatch, can be reached by email at pjones@cdispatch.com.

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