Oliver Goss making his mark in Tennessee

BY Bruce Young | 18 May 2013

A win in a PGA Tour of Australasia event might well have immediately enticed many 18 year old amateurs into a professional career but it would not be the case for West Australian Oliver Goss.

Last October Goss defeated yet another West Australian talented youngster and amateur, Brady Watt, in a playoff to win the West Australian Open but the Royal Fremantle golfer was determined to take up a scholarship at the University of Tennessee (UOT) beginning in January of this year. Already that decision is paying off.

It is little wonder there had been interest sparked in Goss by colleges in the US. Even prior to committing to the University of Tennessee his performances to win the 2012 West Australian Amateur and to reach the Quarter Finals of the US Amateur Championship along with his powerful game had caught the eye of many.

Later in 2012 he would make the cut in the European Tour’s Perth International, win the West Australian Open, finish third behind Guan Tianlang at the Asia Pacific Amateur Championship in Thailand and then again make the cut at the Talisker Masters at Kingston Heath where he played the opening two rounds with Adam Scott and Graeme McDowell.

“I was always going to come to college so I really didn’t give it a second thought,” said Goss when asked this week, while playing the NCAA Regionals in Baton Rouge in Louisiana, if he had been tempted to jump straight into professional golf.

“Turning professional would perhaps have been nice but the win would only give one year’s exemption in Australia and I personally didn’t feel I was ready and I am still not ready. I am not sure when it will be but of course am working towards that eventual goal.

“Tennessee has been fantastic to me and I am just loving it. I started playing well at the start of the year then my putting let me down but we have sorted that out recently and I have begun to post some good numbers.”

Those good numbers include a win and two top five finishes in his first six events in collegiate golf as a now valued member of the Tennessee team. Goss has also earned a spot on the First Team All-SEC and Freshman All-SEC Team.

UOT Head Coach Jim Kelson was moved to say on the University’s website; “We are thrilled for Oliver. He has been a huge addition to our program. He has done a great job playing at such a high level. Those All-SEC teams are difficult to make, especially as a freshman. We are just extremely proud of his accomplishment.”

“The win came at the TPC Myrtle Beach for the General Hackler tournament,” added Goss. “That was a satisfying win as even though I shot only 1 under for the tournament it was a really tough course. Everything clicked that week. I really found something and managed to play conservatively and got the birdies when I could and not to make too many bogeys out there.”

When I spoke to Goss he was in Baton Rouge to play a NCAA Regional event which could determine how far the Vols (the team is called the Vols which is short for Volunteers, a name used to describe teams at the UOT) would advance this year. “If we finish in the top five this week we get to play the NCAA Final in Atlanta later in the month which is the big tournament for college golf here.”

So why Tennessee when a young man whose exploits and high quality game at such a young age suggested he could perhaps have had his choice of many colleges in the US?

“For me there were several factors but the practice facilities were very crucial in the decision. Everything is there for you and it is up to you to take advantage of it. Great coaches, a range where you can hit balls all day, Trackman available at all times, PuttLab etc. It is up to you and it is your responsibility to put the work in but the facilities are there for you to do it.

“Last May I came on a visit here (Tennessee) and to Iowa State but once I had seen the facilities here then it was so obvious to me that this was where I wanted to be.

“Brad James from Golf Australia has a big influence on and knowledge of the college golf system as he was involved in a successful programme at the University of Minnesota for several years. He helped me a lot in terms of the connections I developed and he talked about which colleges would be most suited to me and he also helped get my name out there for me.

“A number of colleges contacted me and I responded to the ones I felt most suited and it came down to Iowa State and Tennessee.

So where do the UOT sit in the pecking order of college golf?

“Over the years Tennessee has always been amongst the top thirty schools in the country amongst about 250 teams so they have great record and hopefully we can just keep getting better and better.”

Mind you his arrival at the College was a bit of a shock to the system for Goss who left a typically hot Perth summer and arrived in Knoxville in Tennessee in mid winter.

“It was freezing cold. They said it was the worst winter they had ever had and I arrived right in the thick of it. It snowed a few times but even though they do have a heated facility here we just played mainly in the freezing cold during those times.”

His coach at college is Casey Van Damme who works under the Head Coach Jim Kelson but Goss still works very closely with his long time coach at Melville Glades in Perth, Ritchie Smith, who amongst others also coaches the Australian Women’s Amateur Champion, Minjee Lee.

Goss, Smith and Van Damme regularly workshop by internet. “It works great and it is fantastic to have Ritchie involved as he has worked wonders with my game over the past couple of years,” added Goss.

So what about the academic side of things in which Goss is majoring in Kinesiology, the study of human movement? Goss had done a sports science class in high school for a couple of years and was keen to pursue it at college.

“I finished with a 3.4 GPA (Grade Point Average) in my first semester so it was good semester academic wise. I joined in halfway through the year so I could not get to choose the classes but I got through it ok.”

“I have not got anything written down on paper but I am keen to play college golf then once I, Ritchie and my team feel I am ready I will turn professional and we will see what happens after that,” said Goss when I asked about his long term plans.

“In the summer this year I will be trying to qualify for the US Open in early June and if I make it through then it will be the US Open in mid June, the Players Amateur, the Southern Amateur, then I have the Golf Australia Camp in Houston, the Western Amateur, then the US Amateur then it is back to school.

He also hopes to again play the Asia Pacific Amateur in October where a victory would result in a start at the Masters in 2014 but a start in that will be subject to his position in the World Amateur rankings. Given the way he is performing that should not be a problem.

A typical week for Goss when a college tournament is being played involves him attending class each morning Monday through Thursday, practicing in the afternoons, flying out to play a practice round Friday then the event on Saturday and Sunday then heading back to Knoxville on the Sunday night.

“Without an event in any given week you go to class through to lunchtime, go home have lunch and then practice till 6.00pm or for as long as you want then it is time for homework and study and occasionally the chance to hang out with friends.”

That social life includes a budding romance with a young lady he met in class soon after arriving in Knoxville and when he gets the opportunity Goss is enjoying the social side of University life.

“We don’t get a lot of time to socialise. We have class in the mornings and are practicing every day and most weekends we are playing a tournament but when I do get a chance the social life has been great and I am getting to meet a lot of people.”

So how much progress does Goss feel he has made in the time he has been at the UOT?

“I think being able to work that much harder and have the practice facilities so readily available has automatically improved me and my technique continues to improve as a result of being able to work longer hours than I did at home.”

Oliver Goss has already shown that he could develop into one of the next best things in Australian golf and his time at the University of Tennessee can only enhance his chances of that prediction becoming a reality.

Footnote – after two rounds of the NCAA Regional Final in Baton Rouge, Goss was in a share of 5th place, four from the lead of TJ Vogel of Florida State in the Individual rankings but his UOT team had slipped to a share of 7th position. He led the Tennessee scores by five shots after 36 holes.

Further footnote; Tennessee rallied back to grab 4th place at the NCAA Regional Finals and has advanced to the NCAA Championship Finals in late May. Goss finished in 5th place in the overall indvidual standings but eight shots clear of the next best Tennessee player, therefore making a huge contribution to his team’s performance.

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    About the Author: Bruce Young

    A multi-award winning golf journalist, Bruce's extensive knowledge of the game comes from several years caddying the tournament circuits of the world, marketing a successful golf course design company and as one of Australia's leading golf journalists and commentators.


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