Winston-Salem native Sam Puryear Jr. remembers the days when he accompanied his father to Winston Lake and other local public golf courses. For the younger Puryear, those trips ignited a lasting love affair for the game which has never diminished.
Over the past seven years, Puryear, a graduate of Tennessee State and former director of the Atlanta-based East Lake Junior Golf Academy, has enjoyed much success as a college golf coach. As the men’s assistant at Stanford, he was instrumental in helping the Cardinals win the NCAA championship in 2007. The following year, he became the first African American to be a head coach at a major Division I school when he took charge of the men’s program at Michigan State. Under Puryear’s guidance, the Spartans won the Big Ten Conference title in 2008.
The Michigan State stint ended when Puryear resigned to locate to North Carolina to be closer to his mother-in-law, who lives in Winston-Salem, after she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Since 2011, he has served as director of Golf Operations at Queens University of Charlotte.
Since Puryear’s arrival, the Royals have fared well in the Conference Carolinas. The men’s team won the league title last year and the women have won back-to-back conference championships.
Puryear recently talked with The Chronicle about his career in golf.
Q: What are some of the big challenges you encounter in your efforts to elevate Queens University golf?
A: It’s not that much different than what I’d be doing if I were somewhere else. It’s a continuous challenge to build the brand of the golf program and the school. I don’t put any emphasis on our program being in Division II. We compete against UNC, Duke, NC State and Wake Forest for the best players in North Carolina. We’re positioning ourselves as a school that’s strong in academics and strong in golf.
Q: When you first came to Queens University, did you make any major changes?
A: The first thing I had to do was change the culture of the program. To do that, I had to cut some people. I’m no different than any other coach in any other sport. You want your team to be the best it can be. Early on, I told everybody that if they were more interested in frats and sororities and partying, then they were in the wrong place. The kids let me know that they wanted that discipline, and I’m so thankful for that.
Q: You hired an assistant to work with the women’s team. How has that worked out?
A: The women have won back-to-back conference titles, so that says a lot. It helps a great deal that Nancy Capps played on the LPGA Tour for 13 years. She knows the game and knows what it takes to consistently compete at the highest levels.
Q: You made history as the first African American to be the head coach of a golf team for a major Division I college. Do you ever think about that?
A: Right now, I haven’t really given it much thought. I have gotten a lot of phone calls from minorities who want to know how they can begin to pursue a career in college coaching. More than anything, it shows that folks are recognizing that it can be done. They feel like that if I can do this, then maybe they can do the same, and that’s always very encouraging.
Q: How is it that you’ve been able to maximize the talent that you’ve had at every school that you’ve coached?
A: I believe in having lots of competition in practice. We do a lot of work on the short game with a big emphasis on chipping and wedge work. I’m not a coach who’s very big on seniority. For example, if a freshman outplays a senior, then it’s the freshman who gets to travel and play. I want our best players on the course when it’s time to play.
Q: You’ve coached at the college level for seven years. How do you summarize what’s happened in your career up to this point?
A: God has truly blessed me. I have five championship rings, so as far as I’m concerned, it’s a home run. But I also know that even with what I’ve been able to accomplish, that nothing is given. You have to work for it.