As she teed it up with teammates in a qualifier last Monday for the opening tournament of the spring, University of Virginia senior Leah Wigger had an unusual swing thought rattling inside her head. The first player to sign with the Cavalier women's golf team was keeping a secret entrusted to her the previous weekend by the woman who brought her to Virginia in the first place, Jan Mann, one that wouldn't be made public until the day's end.
"It was kind of awkward," Wigger said. "Going through practice it was like 'Geez, these girls are going to get some bad news in a couple hours.' "
Indeed, it's not every day your coach, the woman who had built the program literally from scratch and turned it into a national power in just 3½ years, announces she is retiring at the end of the season.
When Mann first asked Wigger to meet her over coffee and hot chocolate at a Panera Bread shop on campus, the two-time All-American was nervous she might be in some sort of trouble. It's not about you, Mann told her, so don't worry about it, at which point Wigger got even more nervous.
If it's not about her, what could it be?
"I was shocked, really," said Wigger upon hearing the news. "I always expected her at least to be there a year or two after the [seniors] had left."
Multiply Wigger's reaction by nine, and you can imagine the emotional scene that took place when Mann told the rest of the team inside the clubhouse at Birdwood GC after the Monday qualifier. "Are you serious?" blurted one stunned player, between sniffles and tear drops.
"It was," said Mann, weepy-eyed herself, "one of the hardest things I had to do."
While numerous coaches have their exit strategies written out for them on pink slips, Mann had the luxury of making her decision on her own terms. Since arriving in Charlottesville, Va., in the summer of 2002 after eight years coaching the women's team at UNC Wilmington, she had exceeded all expectations. In 2005 she took her team to the NCAA Championship in just its second year of existence. Led by its first senior class (Wigger, Ashley Mayo, Kira Mayo, Lindsay Robinson, Sally Shonk and Rachel Smith), this season's squad captured the school's first team title -- last October's Landfall Tradition in Wilmington -- and ranks No. 8 in the most recent Golf World coaches' poll as its heads to Tucson for the Arizona Wildcat Invitational later this month.
"I truly feel like out team next year is going to be our strongest ever," Mann noted. "It's just there have been a lot of things that have told me that this was the right time."
Actually, it was four things in particular -- her grandsons, living in North Carolina, each at an age where missed moments are lost forever -- that ultimately swayed Mann to finally take up a long-standing offer from a family friend. Like her husband John, Mann will join Brax Ltd., back in Wilmington to work with universities and athletic departments on fund-raising beginning later this year.
Mann's decision was influenced by past experiences in which the increasingly hectic lifestyle of coaching college golf at the Division I level caused her to miss opportunities to spend time with her father, whom she was particularly close to before his death in a sailing accident two years ago. "Even before I was at Virginia, he would call me up and say, 'I'm going to do this, come with me,' or 'I'm getting ready to go do this, come join me,'" Mann recalled. "And I would often times, more than I'd like to admit, say 'Dad, I can't.' I don't want to have that regret with my family."
So she began making plans for the future during the winter break, approaching Virginia athletic director Craig Littlepage last month and choosing to make the official announcement of her pending departure now, prior to the start of the spring schedule, so her replacement could be found early and the impact of her departure could be absorbed more easily by the current players.
Intended or otherwise, Mann's move -- and more importantly her motive -- sent a message to the college golf world. "It's been wonderful that coaches have called me and e-mailed me, congratulating me," Mann said. "Everybody understands and wished they could spend more time with their family in coaching. I don't encourage them all to quit, but I do encourage them to spend more time with their family."
Recently, discussions began in earnest among men's and women's coaches as to whether potential limitations on summer recruiting, in part to help reverse the continued increase in the number of days they are on the road during the offseason, are needed. As the debate continues, it won't go unnoticed that one of the game's best and brightest coaches, a woman who was the head of the NCAA Division I women's golf committee and has achieved much in her profession, has registered her opinion with her actions.
That same point isn't lost on her players, either. "It will help us keep things in perspective," Wigger says. "If we have a bad round, we'll be like, 'You know, it doesn't matter because there are bigger things in life than a bad round of golf.' You know family is more important."
Meanwhile, Mann's departure will be a rallying point for the Cavaliers this spring. "We have something to play for," Wigger said. "Not to put pressure on ourselves, but it will be more meaningful. We're going to try to make every moment on the golf course and off the golf course, any time together, a very special moment."
For as special a person as Mann is, and as noteworthy a stand as she's taken, you would expect nothing less.
The Fab Five
The top five teams right now in the country:
Claimed win No. 4 at University of Hawaii-Hilo Invitational, beating Oklahoma on a tiebreaker. Four players post top-10s. Just how good are the Cardinal? Freshman standout Jordan Cox can't play his way into the lineup.
2. Oklahoma State
The good news: Jonathan Moore returned to form with a victory at the U-H Hilo Invitational, posting a nifty little 62 in the second round and a 15-under 195 total. The better news: Trent Leon posted a top-five finish at Waikoloa Village, his best finish this season. Get rematch with Stanford in less than two weeks.
Manuel Villegas has a ways to catch brother, Camilo, in the Gator record book, but his first college victory at last week's Gator Invitational sure was sweet.
Task of staying atop the rankings wasn't made any easier by the early spring success of Stanford, Oklahoma State and Florida. Time for the Crimson Tide to show just how hungry they are.
Do you hear that Bruins? It's the sound of Georgia nipping on your heels.
Expected high temperature Thursday in Athens, Ga.: 47 degrees. Expected high in San Juan, P.R.: 85 degrees. So who's ready to finally get the spring season rolling?
Entering her final college semester, senior Anna Grzebien needs to forget about the so-so spring performances from last year and recall how she closed out her sophomore season (2nd at ACC; 1st at East Regional; 1st at NCAAs).
3. Arizona State
Good start to the spring with a second-place finish at the Northrup Grumman Regional Challenge. And it would have been four shots closer if not for two-shot penalties on Anna Nordqvist and Liisa Kelo.
The Lady Commodores have the best final-round scoring average -- 73.35 -- of any team in the country.
Do you hear that Tigers? It's the sound of Pepperdine crashing on your shore.
Stat of the Week
42Number of players, out of a field of 94, who broke par for 54 holes at the University of Hawaii-Hilo Invitational at Waikoloa Village GC (only 22 last year; 79 two years ago).
What to Watch For
• What's the harm in requiring teams have a .500 record against other Division I schools to be considered for at-large berths into the NCAA regionals? We're about to find out as the NCAA Championships/Competition Cabinet approved last week the ".500 Rule" for use in the 2007-08 men's season. In a poll taken at last month's Golf Coaches Association of America convention, more than 70 percent of members agreed with the proposal, but those in the minority were coaches at primarily top 50 programs who suggested it would cause them to add tournaments to their schedule with "weaker" fields to secure a winning record. (Conversely, lower-ranked schools welcome the opportunity, they say, to "finally play against the big boys.") "This will have a trickle-down effect," says a coach at a perennial top-10 school. "To hold an event, you need a sponsor. To get the sponsor, you need a quality field. Now I'm going to struggle to get the field because teams will be afraid to play in events with too many ranked teams. It's going to drive away sponsors." We'll find out soon enough; many schools already have started scheduling for next season.
• With the Pepperdine women playing only three tournaments this past fall, it was hard to get a read on just how good the 10th-ranked Waves might be. Yet after their nine-shot victory over Arizona State last Wednesday at the Northrup Grumman Regional Challenge (their third time taking the team title at Palos Verdes), it's a safe bet to say that the folks in Malibu are for real. Fans of the program have been touting freshman Misun Cho, a South Korean who lived in Australia and dominated the amateur scene there the past few years, and she delivered with her first individual college title. Cho started the final round in 10th place, seven shots back of teammate Jayvie Agojo, only to shoot a two-under 69 to win by one.
Tournament to Watch
Men: John Burns Intercollegiate
When: Feb. 21-23
Where: Leilehua GC, Wahiawa, Hawaii
Defending champion: SMU (41-over 823); Brandon DeStefano, SMU (14-under 202)
Skinny: DeStefano beat Auburn's Jay Moseley on the second hole of a sudden-death playoff last year to claim the title.
Women: Central District Invitational
When: Monday to Wednesday
Where: River Wilderness CC, Parrish, Fla.
Field: Arkansas, Baylor, LSU, Michigan, Michigan State, Missouri, Nebraska, Northwestern, Notre Dame, Ohio State, SMU, TCU, Texas, Texas A&M, Tulsa
Defending champion: Baylor (32-over 896); Lacey Jones, SMU (one-under 215)
Skinny: With winter weather blanketing the Midwest, several of the regions top squads migrate to the south for this seven-year-old spring event hosted by Michigan State. While northern schools have struggled of late to claim the team title (LSU, 2004; Missouri, 2005; Baylor, 2006), medalist honors have gone to players from Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State in four of six playings.
For more reporting on college golf from Golf World senior writer Ryan Herrington, visit his Campus Insider blog.