By KURT DUSTERBERG
Andrew Sapp could count on one repetitive question from recruits and their parents as golf coach at the University of Michigan.
“What do you guys do in the winter?” Sapp recites. “I can’t tell you how many players I’ve lost out on at Michigan who wanted to go farther south.”
After nine years in charge of the Wolverines, Sapp is taking over at his alma mater, the University of North Carolina.
“I won’t hear that question anymore,” he says with a bit of relief in his voice.
Sapp, who played for the Tar Heels from 1989-1993, replaces John Inman, who stepped down as coach after 13 years. Inman, a former PGA Tour player, left the cupboard well-stocked for Sapp.
“John’s a wonderful guy. It is hard to follow in his footsteps,” Sapp said. “But it’s exciting, too. A lot has happened to North Carolina golf under his watch, with the renovation to the golf course and the building of the new practice facility. He left me with a lot of great tools to utilize in my tenure.”
If Sapp’s most recent work is any indication, the North Carolina program won’t miss a beat. He led Michigan to a 10th-place finish this spring at the NCAA tournament. That result reflects a dramatic improvement over the course of his nine-year tenure.
“Our first year, we ranked 160th in country,” he says “We had to sell our program and university to recruits. Once you get some blue-chip recruits, it’s a lot easier to get some others to follow. We had some success recruiting the last five or six years. When you do that, it tends to keep building.”
Returning to a warm-weather climate should improve his odds of landing key recruits.
“My approach is to recruit the best players in the country. Fortunately, there are more of those types of players in the state of North Carolina than there were in the Midwest, so there will be a lot more options for me in my home state.”
Sapp plans to aggressively recruit the No. 1 player in the country every year, “until he tells me he is going somewhere else.” As for his statewide ambitions, they’re pretty clear.
“We want to get the best player out of North Carolina every single year.”
Once he assembles a team, he knows how to get the most out of his players. He likes to add competitive drills within team practices, so they “practice with a purpose.” And when it comes to people skills, Sapp makes sure to use a personal touch.
“You don’t have one unique style to instill like an offense for a football coach,” he says. “There are a 1,000 different ways to be successful in our sport. So you have to know what works well for each player.”
The 39-year-old coach earned a reputation in Ann Arbor that should go a long way at UNC. He graduated every player who came through his program.
“Michigan is a great academic school, and to say I graduated every player I coached is definitely a source of pride. North Carolina is extremely similar to Michigan academically, so that will be our goal as well. You want people to come to your university to get a degree. You want them to be strong academically coming in so they can handle the load of playing college golf and (an academic career).”
Sapp got the coaching bug sometime late in his college career. That’s when he went to his coach, Devon Brouse and said, “I like what you do.” That led to a five-year stint as the UNC assistant coach. He followed Brouse to Purdue for eight seasons before landing the Michigan job.
Sapp never had any illusions of making a living on the PGA Tour. First, he realized that his game wasn’t good enough, Then he got a first-hand look at how his former teammates pursued the dream.
“They had their Honda Civics, packed with every golf shirt they owned on a rack in the back seat, traveling from Mississippi to Virginia for mini-tour events. They would sleep on one of our couches so they had a free place to play and practice at Finley (Golf Course). I was like, ‘Man, that lifestyle does not appeal to me.”’
But coaching does. And coming back to the Triangle gives him a near-perfect set up.
“I love everything about it. My parents are here in Raleigh,” says Sapp, who is married with a 7-year old son. “I love the University of North Carolina. It’s a fantastic place to be — just walking out and looking at the tall pine trees and playing the types of courses we play in the Carolinas.”
And of course, the weather.
And by the way, what did those Michigan guys do in the winter?
“We would go to a local driving range that had double-decker, heated hitting bays, and we would hit balls out into the snow.”
One more Carolina perk, courtesy of Mother Nature.
“Obviously, I’m looking forward to January, February and March,” he says, with a laugh welling up in him. “My players will probably hate me because it will be 45 degrees outside and I’ll say, ‘This is great. Get out there and practice!'”