A unique mindset on the course

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JJ Anderson

Head coach Mitch Wilson looks on as freshman Riley Lynch tees off.

Wilson Sherman-Burton, Staff Writer

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It’s a classic February day in McMinnville, Oregon: overcast with a steady downpour. Practice starts at 3 p.m. but players start showing up in the parking lot by 2:45. Today, the men are practicing, but on the range by herself is junior women’s golfer Raegan Barr, the most senior player in the entire golf program. 

Mitch Wilson sneaks in the side door on the opposite side of the clubhouse from the putting green where his men’s team begins to gather. Wilson and his wife, Casey Bunn-Wilson, just had their second child. He arrives just in time, coming straight from a doctor’s appointment for the newborn. 

His players do not need him there to know what he expects. As they begin to roll in 3-footers, Wilson is busy looking in the back of the storage room making sure his assistant has the proper equipment for the short practice. 

Finally, he emerges with a small, orange gripped putter. Perfect for his toddler Rylan. The hope is the putter will take a smaller divot as Wilson explains there may have been some previous issues giving the free-swinging Rylan a wedge.

Despite the rain, Wilson and Rylan make their way out to the range. The men’s team is still out on the green, though more organized than before, as Wilson and Barr discuss minor swing adjustments that will help add some distance. 

A few mats away Rylan is teeing up the battered yellow range balls attempting to hit the net some 10 yards away. You can see the similarities in the way Wilson treats his first-born son and his players. He is always observing, but not always hands on. Help is available when needed but there is plenty of opportunity to figure it out on your own.  

It is something that does not go unnoticed by his players. 

“What separates him from others is two important things for me,” Sophomore golfer Ahron Abraham said. “As a person, he is the first coach I have had that I have ever felt I could come to with real life problems and as a coach, he doesn’t always try to fix the problems with my game right away. He likes to talk it out and hear what I think is going wrong instead of just telling me mistakes that he sees from me.” 

Wilson says this is not a position he ever thought he would be in. Three years ago, the previous women’s coach quit days before the season was to start. Linfield athletic director Garry Killgore called Wilson to ask if he would be interested in taking over. The two had a prior relationship as Wilson served as strength and conditioning coach in the athletic department and Killgore knew he also worked as golf operations manager at Linfield golf’s home course, Michelbook. 

Many of the upperclassmen had recently left the women’s golf team. The team found themselves at the minimum number of golfers required to qualify for tournament play and some of the underclassmen were close to leaving as well. 

“Honestly, I probably would have quit after all the seniors left had Mitch not joined the program,” said 2019 graduate Katy Mahr. “Mitch came at the perfect time for our team. I think we were all starting to get discouraged due to constant coaching changes and they did not invest in the program like Mitch did.”  

Despite growing up as a recreational golfer, golf was not Wilson’s first love. That was basketball, a sport that took him to play at Northwest Christian University. While the competitive drive needed to be a collegiate athlete remains the same, Wilson has had to stray away from the coaching he received.  

“Basketball is a team sport, where golf focuses on the individual,” Wilson said. “Our coach used to run us all the time. I cannot do that here.” 

Instead, Wilson tries to find ways to build mental toughness in his players, challenging them by putting them in difficult situations on the course.   

“As a coach Mitch is knowledgeable, organized, punctual, fun, and hard-working,” Sophomore Torbin Ardin said. “There is no slacking during practice. But Mitch is not just a coach to us players, he’s a friend, mentor, educator, and role model. I believe that Mitch’s commitment to really understanding us players as not just golfers but as the people we are, sets him apart from many other coaches.”

Fifteen minutes after practice officially starts Wilson finally makes his way over to his team. He grabs a few towels from players and sets them up a few feet behind each hole on the putting green for another drill. Rylan walks around to a few of the players and greets them with a closed fist, dapping them up like someone well beyond his years. Wilson begins pulling players away one by one to have a short meeting with them.  

The practice ends up being a short one. Some players leave right away and some stay to get some extra work in. Wilson takes food requests for the players so they won’t be hungry during their upcoming tournament. Everything he does is to help set his players up to succeed.  

“I can’t draw up a play or take a shot for them. I just want them to be ready when the opportunity is available,” Wilson said.   

Wilson and Rylan finally made their way up to the parking lot nearly a half-hour after practice ended. The rain has stopped by now but in its place are large puddles everywhere you look. Not even his pint-sized white Air Force One’s could stop Rylan from walking through the deepest point in every puddle.

After a couple half-hearted attempts to convince him to stop, Wilson just laughs.

This is who he is. The highs are never too high. The lows are never too low. The advice will be there, but it is up to the player, or son, to do with it what they choose.