Gazing out at the lush and very private Del Mar Country Club golf course, feeling the heat of the sun along with a slight Santa Ana wind, Tim Mickelson appears to be living the life. Unlike thousands of San Diegans stuck in traffic, this man — looking sporty in his Pebble Beach cap and wraparound sunglasses — is happy to be just where he is, even though it’s well before 8 a.m. on a Monday morning.
In truth, the 30-year-old is living the exact scenario he pitches to University of San Diego golf recruits as the school’s fifth-year head coach. “Weather and location are important and, obviously, at USD you’re going to get a great education. It also helps that the three major golf companies — Titleist, TaylorMade and Calloway — are 30 miles away, making it easier to get equipment faster. And our guys can get fit professionally at their test centers.”
The Toreros’ roster proves the effectiveness of those selling points. “We have kids here from all over the Pacific Northwest and one from England. We’re bringing in a kid from Hawaii and one from South Africa next year and possibly one from Finland. While we could just recruit locally, we’re very global with our recruiting.”
Going international at USD fits in well, especially with San Diego’s current golf scene. From June 12-15, Torrey Pines’ South Course in La Jolla will host Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and the world’s other top golfers in the U.S. Open. It’s the first time one of professional golf’s four major tournaments will be played in San Diego.
Torrey Pines also hosts the PGA Tour’s Buick Invitational, an annual event where Mickelson has continued a USD golf tradition started in the 1990s. Team members serve as locker room volunteers during the PGA event. “They clean golf shoes, deliver packages, pick up dry cleaning, take stuff to the players’ cars, basically anything the pros need for their day to go a little better.”
Dale Smith, a USD sophomore from England, is enthusiastic about the experience: “It’s a chance for us to see a little bit of what life is like on the PGA Tour. It’s definitely motivating to see the players. The type of lifestyle they lead shows that if you really want it, you have to go after it.”
Mickelson, a member of Arizona State’s 1996 NCAA national championship team, a record-setter at Oregon State where he graduated in 2000, and an assistant coach when San Diego State reached the 2003 NCAA Tournament, wants to get USD’s program to the top level. “My whole reason for coaching is to win a national championship. I would never take a job at a school unless I thought there was a chance of that happening.”
Winning conference titles without sacrificing academic integrity is a goal USD Director of Athletics Ky Snyder holds for all teams, but Mickelson’s desire to bring a national title to USD certainly also garners his approval. “Tim takes it one step further … he believes it can happen. Tim is still building the golf program but he has the ability to make that happen on this campus.”
Mickelson’s main priorities have been to get players more practice opportunities, better tournament competition and more money. Along with enlisting older brother and widely acclaimed pro golfer Phil to conduct an annual clinic, he ensures that the team has maximum number of scholarships allowed by the NCAA to recruit better student-athletes. His influence is making a difference. The program won its first West Coast Conference team title this year, earning an automatic berth into the NCAA Regional Tournament on May 15-17. Jake Yount, a junior, was the medalist (first place overall) in the WCC Tournament, winning a sudden-death playoff.
Since 2003, USD has also been WCC runner-up in 2007 and qualified for the 2006 NCAA West Regional. Darrin Hall qualified for the NCAA West Regional as an individual last year. Mickelson was 2005 co-WCC Coach of the Year, and his golfers have earned All-WCC honors for golf and academics.
Bucky Coe, who graduates this month, was part of Mickelson’s first recruiting class. The Encinitas resident credits Mickelson as one reason he chose to play for USD. “He makes you feel important. He’s a very personable guy. Once you know him, it’s hard not to want to come here because he’s a coach who truly cares. It’s not all about winning. It’s about trying to develop your game, help you become a better person and to be prepared after college.”