Sunday, 09 May 2021 21:37

COMMITTED: Rich follows love of the game to Coker

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Senior golfer Jonathan Rich has verbally committed to Coker University. Senior golfer Jonathan Rich has verbally committed to Coker University. Deon Cranford, Kyle Pillar — The Richmond Observer

ROCKINGHAM — Jonathan Rich had several options to choose from when making his final decision on what to do when he graduates high school in June. And the soon-to-be-graduate went with the game he’s loved his entire life.

Set to graduate from Richmond Senior High School in less than a month, Rich, a four-year member of the golf team, recently announced his verbal commitment to play at Coker University.

His decision to pursue golf came after he was named a finalist for the Morehead-Cain Scholarship and UNC Chapel Hill and the Park Scholarship at North Carolina State University. 

Though it was a tough decision, Rich said it was the best choice for him.

“Chapel Hill and State are both very pristine schools, and it was really hard to turn them down,” Rich explained. “But I figured if I do what makes me happy, that will pay off in the long run.

“I love golf so much, and when I was given the chance to play at Coker, I really committed to that dream.”

A staple of the Raider golf team the last four years, Rich qualified for the NCHSAA regional round during his freshman, sophomore and senior seasons. His junior campaign was cut short due to the pandemic.

This spring, Rich captained the Raiders to a 4A Midwest regional appearance and led the team with a 40.0 average per nine holes of golf. His best round of the season was 76 (+4) at the Sandhills Athletic Conference championship at Pinehurst No. 1.

Rich also had an offer from Belmont Abbey College, while schools like Mars Hill University and Methodist University also showed interest.

“It’s a big relief,” Rich said of committing. “I’ve been working a long time to get to this point, and it’s pretty surreal right now — it hasn’t really set in yet.

“It feels pretty good to have my decision picked and know where I’m going to school,” he added. “I’m excited to play, and I really love this game. I want to hopefully get to the next level, and Coker is a good place to do that.”

The Cobras, a Division II program that competes in the South Atlantic Conference, are coached by Sam Stark. Coker competed in 10 tournaments this spring.

Rich noted the recruitment process was tough during the pandemic, but it was Stark’s persistence to get him to join Coker’s team that helped him make his decision.

During the pandemic, the NCAA allowed for Division II coaches to continue recruitment. Rich visited Coker on September 18 and received his official offer from Stark on March 26.

After discussing his academic and athletic scholarship opportunities, Rich verbally committed on April 19. He added that Coker was “at the top of my list” following his visit.

“Coach Stark is very personable, and he spent three or four hours with me and my grandpa on campus,” Rich said. “He showed me all the golf gear I’d get, took us out to the course and then sat down and had a one-on-one conversation about campus life that really made me feel like he really cared.

“Hartsville (S.C.) is a small town that’s quiet, and that’s what I need,” he added. “It’s somewhere I can focus on golf and school, and continue to train for what I want to be good at.”

Aside from playing for the Raiders this year, Rich has continued to take private lessons with Eric Alpenfels at Pinehurst Golf Academy. He’s also played in a handful of tournaments across the state.

Alpenfels, who has been with Pinehurst since 1985, is the director of golf instruction and has been recognized as one of the “Top 100 Teachers in America” by Golf Magazine.

During his four years at Richmond, Rich said playing in the green and gold has better prepared him for the college circuit.

“Being a Raider really showed me what team golf was like,” Rich said. “I’ve enjoyed rooting for the guys. Golf can be really individual at times, but qualifying as a team for regionals is a lot more fun.

“Richmond taught me that, and it’s a fun aspect of the game,” he continued. “That will help me in college because that’s a big part of college golf.”

When he reports to Coker later this summer, Rich said his primary goal is to soak in as much experience and knowledge as he can. He believes his strongest elements are his tee-to-green play, adding his course management and work ethic will help the Cobras.

“I’m never satisfied with my game, and I try to grind every day to get better,” Rich closed. “As a freshman, I hope to travel with the team and qualify for as many tournaments as I can.”

Kyle Pillar

Nine-time N.C. Press Association award-winning sports editor. Indiana University of Pennsylvania communications media and journalism alumni. English teacher, Ninth Grade Academy.

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