UA Sports Hall of Honor:

O'Keefe resides in splendor's shadow

By: Bob Holt
Published: Saturday, September 16, 2017
Former Arkansas golfer Jack O'Keefe receives a plaque noting his induction into the UA Sports Hall of Honor during halftime of a football game against TCU on Saturday, Sept. 9, 2017, in Fayetteville.
Photo by Ben Goff
Former Arkansas golfer Jack O'Keefe receives a plaque noting his induction into the UA Sports Hall of Honor during halftime of a football game against TCU on Saturday, Sept. 9, 2017, in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE -- Imagine being a chocolate lover living in Hershey, Pa., and waking every day to the sweet aroma of candy bars.

Or being a baseball fanatic living in Cooperstown, N.Y., home to the national pastime's Hall of Fame.

Jack O'Keefe, 47, understands the feeling.

The former Arkansas Razorbacks golfer lives in Augusta, Ga., where The Masters Tournament has been held annually since 1934, except for a three-year break from 1943-1945, because of World War II.

O'Keefe, a four-time All-American at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville in 1989 and 1991-1993, is going into his fifth year at head golf coach at Augusta University.

"Golf is No. 1 in Augusta, so it's a unique place to live," said O'Keefe, who was inducted into the UA Sports Hall of Honor last weekend. "It's a great golf town with a lot of really nice courses, but Augusta National is the gem.

"The week the Masters is held, Augusta captures the attention of the golf world."

O'Keefe and his team play a round at Augusta National every February when the course is being prepared to host The Masters.

"It's a special treat," O'Keefe said. "They're starting to set up the stands and the scoreboards are going up."

The Augusta University golf team also attends a practice round at The Masters.

O'Keefe, who estimated he has played on thousands of courses in his life, including a professional career that took him to Australia and Japan as well being on the PGA, Hooters and Nike tours, said nothing compares to Augusta National.

"It's my favorite course because of the history and what's there," he said. "It's unbelievable with the rolling hills and all the natural beauty of the flowers and the creeks that run through there.

"It's truly magnificent. Seeing it on TV doesn't do it justice. You need to go there and see it for yourself."

Augusta University is O'Keefe's first head coaching job after being an assistant at the University of Central Arkansas and Ole Miss. He got into college coaching after his playing career ended.

O'Keefe spent nearly 10 years as a professional, with his pinnacle coming in 1996 when he made the cut at the U.S. Open at Oakland Hills (Mich.) Country Club. Later that year he earned his PGA Tour card by finishing 15th on the Nike Tour money list.

He never returned to the PGA Tour after finishing 175th on the official money list in 1997, and eventually became the head pro at the Hot Springs Country Club before going to UCA.

"Coaching is challenging, but you get to make a difference in these 18- to 22-year-old lives," O'Keefe said. "You can be that director to push them in the right areas and help them be a better person as well as a better golfer."

Augusta University won NCAA Division I championships in 2010 and 2011 under Coach Josh Gregory, who left to take the SMU job.

Kevin McPherson replaced Gregory, but left after the 2013 season --when the Jaguars didn't make the NCAA Tournament -- for Coastal Carolina.

The program went through a rebuilding season after O'Keefe was hired in December of 2013, but the Jaguars have won Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference championships and played in the NCAA Tournament the previous three years.

Last year Augusta University was ranked 50th nationally.

"We're bringing the program back," O'Keefe said. "The expectations are high having won two national championships, and it's our goal to add to that total."

O'Keefe attended Little Rock Fair High School and was the Arkansas State Golf Association Player of the Year in 1990, 1991 and 1992. His top college choices were Arkansas, Tulsa and the University of Texas-El Paso, which was the NCAA runner-up in 1987 when he was being recruited.

"It was good to see those other schools, but going to Arkansas was a pretty easy decision," O'Keefe said. "If I had it to do all over again, I'd still come to Arkansas.

"It's a special place, and being from Arkansas and growing up in Little Rock, I think you always want to be a Razorback."

O'Keefe said that during his college career he played several rounds with Frank Broyles, the Razorbacks' legendary head football coach and athletic director who died last month and was a longtime member of Augusta National.

"It was fun to play golf with Coach Broyles, but I was a little nervous at first because here I am a student-athlete and he's the athletic director," O'Keefe said. "I felt pressure to play well, and he was a good golfer, too.

"He always wanted tips. I gave him a tip one time on how to hit a buried bunker shot, and he tried it immediately and it worked. The very next thing he said to me was, 'What are you doing tomorrow? You want to play golf?' Of course, I said yes.

"Any time you got a chance to play golf with Coach Broyles, you always did. He was so passionate about golf, and that really carried over to everything he did. He was a special man."

O'Keefe, who was inducted into the Arkansas Golf Hall of Fame last year, said being a member of the UA Sports Hall of Honor is special as well.

"It was surprising and humbling," O'Keefe said. "To know that a smaller sport like golf gets recognized means a lot. You see all the sports are represented in the Hall of Honor. That shows the quality of people here at the University of Arkansas."

O'Keefe played at Arkansas for Coach Bill Woodley, who is now the coach at Schreiner University in Kerrville, Texas.

"Coach Woodley would push and challenge you," O'Keefe said. "He kind of put us on an island when we were out there playing. Some of those other coaches were hovering, and at first it was a little bit of challenge.

"You'd go, 'Hey, Coach, why aren't you helping us out there?' He'd go, 'You know how far you hit your clubs. I don't.' He was good in that respect and he made us grow up on the golf course and become our own player."

Sports on 09/16/2017

Discussion

Have a comment on this story? Join the discussion or start a new one on the Forums.