Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

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October 4, 2022

Failing makes greatness: How setbacks made Texas men’s golf coach John Fields great

Courtesy of Texas Athletics

He decided he wanted to go pro. Take the leap. Be one of the greats. A small town kid from Las Cruces, New Mexico, having just graduated from the University of New Mexico, John Fields set out to go across the globe through The Professional Golfers’ Association European Tour, and, with no money to pay for a caddy, his wife, Pearl, agreed to carry his bag.

Fields would go on to finish seventh in the qualifiers for the PGA European Tour school, earning his professional card and allowing him to play on the official 1983 European Tour. In all, he participated in 27 tournaments in nine different countries but saw no success.

His professional career ended after one year after failing to make enough money in winnings to keep up with the sport. With nowhere to go, he turned to a caddy who went by “Silly Billy” for advice. When Billy asked Fields what he would like to do, Fields said he wanted to give kids better opportunities to play than he had. Fields wasn’t supposed to coach golf. He was supposed to just play it. Now, he enters the 2023 season with his Longhorns ranked No. 9 in the country. 

“It was how he approached failure (that) allowed him to be successful,” Texas athletic director Chris Del Conte said.

Under Fields’ reign, the team has had two national championships, in 2012 and 2022, and 20 NCAA championship appearances, including second-place finishes in 2016 and 2019. He has contributed to the development of some of the finest golfers to play, including Jordan Spieth, Scottie Scheffler and Dylan Frittelli. He won National Coach of the Year in 2012, 2016 and 2022, Big 12 Coach of the Year nine times, most recently in 2022, and has eight Big 12 championship titles.

“The great coaches have no ego about themselves,” Del Conte said. “It’s about the institution, and that’s what makes him great.” 

Fields started his coaching career in New Mexico, his home state. He led the Lobos of Albuquerque to three first place finishes in the WAC and tied for a sixth place finish in 1996 across the entirety of NCAA Division I men’s golf.

After 10 years coaching New Mexico, Fields took the head coaching job at Texas in August 1997, ready to adapt to a bigger school with a bigger culture. 

“I bought into the identity of Texas Athletics right off the bat,” Fields said.

He started off hot, winning the Big 12 three times in his first eight seasons and tying for third in the NCAA rankings in 2002, but he eventually cooled off. From 2005 to 2011, not one of his teams finished first in the Big 12. Fields couldn’t crack a top ten finish in the national rankings. He found himself at risk of losing his job and the pressure was tremendous as he battled that familiar feeling of potential failure.

“We had ridiculous pressure, my family, myself,” Fields said. “It was a very difficult time in my life.” 

Luckily for Fields, he had a solid recruit in future Masters Tournament winner Jordan Spieth, who joined the Longhorns in 2012. 

“When he got Jordan Spieth to commit, he said it was a game-changer for the program,” Steve Burkowski, GOLF channel reporter and host, said. “And he wasn’t wrong.”

Things were looking up for the team, but with the expectations so high and his job on the line, Fields didn’t necessarily enjoy the season.

“We had the number one team in the country, but my contract had run out, and they had allowed it to run out,” Fields said. “So I was under a significant amount of pressure.”

Fortunately for Fields and Longhorn golf fans, the team won its first title in 40 years and Fields’ first championship as a head golf coach. 

“I saw coach and just gave him a big old hug,” said Dylan Frittelli, now PGA pro, who sank the match-winning putt in that 2012 championship round. 

Since then, Fields put the trajectory of the program on an upward course, as they have accomplished another championship and two runner up finishes. 

“Nobody goes unscathed in anything you do,” Fields said. “You’re going to go up. You’re going to go down.”

It is a fate that Fields could hardly have imagined while going through the worst of his failures, but, as it turned out, those experiences taught him the lessons he needed to become a championship golf coach. Fields has left his mark on the world of golf and will continue to do so in the 2023 season and beyond. He may have had his ups and downs, but there’s no doubt Fields has contributed in a major way to college golf, and there’s no skepticism to his success.

“I wouldn’t trade the path I’ve been on for anything,” Fields said. “It’s been a blessing and a privilege to be at Texas, I can tell you that.”

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