May 29, 2008
Seven years ago, Scott Hardy earned $5,000 per year in his part-time role as the men's golf coach at St. Mary's. Hardy took over a team in disarray: There had been no coach for one year, some players transferred away and the school's commitment to the program wavered, to put it mildly.
"We were really as low as you could get," Hardy said.
Not anymore. The Gaels, for the first time, will join traditional powers such as Stanford, USC and UCLA in next week's NCAA Championships in West Lafayette, Ind. They earned the spot Saturday, finishing seventh out of 27 teams in the West Regional in Bremerton, Wash.
That capped a long and ultimately satisfying odyssey for Hardy (St. Mary's class of '98) and his senior-laden crew. Chadd Cocco, Mike McRae and Josh Kelly are the core of this year's team, in part because of what happened in the spring of 2005.
Cocco was a sophomore then, and McRae and Kelly were freshmen. They helped the Gaels make the NCAA tournament for the first time (they failed to advance out of regionals). Hardy eventually convinced Cocco to redshirt during the 2006-07 season, so he could join McRae and Kelly as seniors this year and make another NCAA run.
The plan worked, but Joe Lanza also deserves some credit. Lanza started the momentum at St. Mary's: He was lightly recruited because of his size, but he blossomed into a star with the Gaels (anchoring the '05 team). That allowed Hardy to recruit better players - such as Cocco, McRae and Kelly - in recent years.
"These kids growing up on the West Coast want to go to USC, UCLA and Stanford, and that's never going to change," Hardy said. "You've got to position yourself right behind those guys, so when a kid realizes he's not going to those schools, then St. Mary's is right there."
Hardy's job, incidentally, is now full-time.