RCW: Making the turn
With quite the task on his hands, Jamie Bermel has led the Jayhawks to new heights with the help of one of his first recruits as Kansas men’s golf head coach.
Many sports programs around the nation go through phases that can be described as rebuilding. A once-competitive program that has lost its edge is required to make changes in order to succeed again. Often this comes in the form of the hiring of new coaching personnel and recruiting new athletes. This exact case describes Kansas men’s golf in the recent years.
Jamie Bermel was named the new head coach of men’s golf in July of 2012. Bermel brought a resume with him that included taking the Colorado State Rams to six-straight NCAA regional appearances and an NCAA finals appearance. Now, at Kansas, he became the head coach of a team that had not made the NCAA regionals since 2007. He knew it was time for the program to make the turn.
Not on this journey alone, Bermel has been accompanied by one of the first student-athletes he recruited, senior Chase Hanna. The coach and pupil started their Jayhawk careers at the same time, and now three years later, Hanna stands as the lone senior on the team.
From early in his life, Hanna dreamt of playing golf at a high level. Although he played multiple sports growing up, golf was the one that he had a passion for at a young age.
“My grandpa got me into golf. My mom’s dad is from a little town in Illinois and whenever we would go up to visit he would take me out to play,” Hanna said. “I played basketball in high school all four years, which was a great experience. I played baseball growing up and I am a huge baseball fan. I started to focus on golf around middle school, but played a high level of basketball throughout. I knew I wanted to play college golf.”
A native of Leawood, Kansas, Hanna attended Shawnee Mission East, where he built a resume centered on winning. He won 12 tournaments in his prep career, including six in a single season as a senior.
After a tremendous high school career, Hanna knew that it was time to choose where to play in college. With his grandfather, father and uncle all KU alumni, Hanna was already familiar with the way of the Jayhawk.
“I grew up a huge KU fan,” Hanna said. “I went to the Final Four in 2003 in New Orleans. I went to the 2008 Final Four when we won it. My dad is a huge KU fan. My mom went to Iowa, but she is a huge KU fan. My dad’s dad went to KU. It was just in the family.”
Along with already being a fan of Kansas, Hanna had other significant reasons for attending KU. As he was recruited by Bermel, he knew that this was exactly where he would fit in.
“A lot of the reason that I wanted to come here is that I thought I had a good chance to play right away,” Hanna said. “When Coach was hired, I met with him and could tell where he wanted to take the program and I wanted to be a part of that. The program was not in a very good spot and I definitely wanted to turn it around. I could see that he wasn’t going to settle and he did didn’t want to be average. He wanted to be the best and he wanted to win and eventually get to the point where we are contending for national championships.”
From day one, Hanna bought in to the philosophy that Bermel brought with him. A philosophy that is based on hard work and pushing to be the best possible. The philosophy that would turn the program around.
“We are a no excuse program,” Bermel said. “We are going to work hard, work on our fundamentals and we are going to be mentally tough out there. I am going to push them as hard as I can. In the classroom, on the golf course and in the community. We are going to do everything as well as we can.”
“I think I was used to it from playing basketball,” Hanna said. “I don’t think it is anything new to me to have somebody pretty strict on your time and what you are doing. I wouldn’t say it is a real laid back atmosphere, which is something I don’t really like anyway. Like I don’t really enjoy going out to play with my friends. When I play golf I want to take it seriously and be competitive on the golf course.”
Now in the perfect system, Hanna knew it was time to play his role in turning the Kansas men’s golf program into one of the best in the nation. Without wasting any time, he got to work.
Playing in all 11 events his freshman year, Hanna managed to lead the Jayhawks in scoring in seven of them. He continued to work in Bermel’s system and came back his sophomore year to once again play in every event, leading the Jayhawks in 10 separate categories. As a junior, Hanna continued the theme of playing in every event and placed in the top-20 six times.
Each year, Hanna continued to mature and work within the system set up by the new head coach. As a key part of the rebuilding, it was important for Hanna to grow in order for the program to grow. One of the greatest advantages that Hanna has on his side is his experience and his maturity.
“I think something I struggled with during my first three years was being very score-oriented throughout the round,” Hanna said. “I mean thinking about the score instead of just letting it happen. Whatever you shoot you are much more at ease with at the end of the round if you are not focusing on what you shoot that day.”
In his final season as a Jayhawk, Hanna was able to use what he had developed on the golf course to get his first collegiate win in dramatic fashion, sinking birdie on the 17th and 18th holes to claim a share of the title at the Golfweek Conference Challenge.
“It is a matter of being at peace and letting everything go and just trying to perform at your best and not force the issue,” Hanna said. “You know when you’re in it. We don’t have leaderboards or anything out there but you know when you’re in it to an extent.
“I think in my first three years I might have tried to force the issue. I would have stepped up to the tee and thought, ‘I need to make birdie here.’ Now I have changed my mindset to just go out and hit quality shots. If you make birdie or bogey you can accept it as long as you aren’t constantly thinking score and outcome. Control the things you can control.”
It is obvious that Hanna has developed into a completely different player since he played his first tournament as a Jayhawk. While he recognizes how much progress he made, Bermel has been an eyewitness to what Hanna has been able to achieve.
“I think it’s his experience on the golf course and his maturity on the golf course,” Bermel said. “He finally understands what he does well and tries to perfect that. He didn’t have the chance to win his freshman year unless everything fell into place and now he does and he’s proved that. He is very mature out there. He typically makes a lot of good decisions and if he continues to do that he will continue to put himself in a position to win each week.”
“I love competing,” Hanna said. “I think that is what is what is fun about golf. It is just you. It is only you. You’re the one who controls what you shoot that day. You are the one who controls everything you do. Obviously, there are some outside factors. But the nature of the game is whatever the guy next to you does really doesn’t affect you.”
This competitive spirit is something that sets Hanna apart from the rest of the field. It is a trait that rubs off on his teammates, helping them reach their goals.
“He is as competitive as I have been around in a long time,” Bermel said. “His competitiveness rubs off on the other guys too. When they are out practicing he wants to beat them and they want to beat him. He’s raised the bar in many areas. In terms of competitiveness, he is at the top.”
Bermel’s system and way of coaching is one that proves to produce successful golfers. But not just any person can go through the system and come out successful. They have to buy in and they have to work hard. Constantly being a student of the game and continually improving as much as possible becomes crucial.
“You learn a lot of things from playing with good players,” Hanna said. “You see what they do and what works for them. We have had the chance to play with some pretty good players. We played with Gary Woodland and Chris Thompson and just seeing the things that they do helps. You pick up on what your teammates do well and figure out how to incorporate that into your game. Each of us have our own strength.”
A lot can change in just a few years, which has been proven by the men’s golf program. In the 2015-16 season, just four years under Bermel’s direction, the Jayhawks were able to make an NCAA regional appearance for the first time since 2007. They also set school records by placing in the top-five in nine out of 12 tournaments and claiming four team wins.
“It’s been really cool to see the development of the program from my first year until now,” Hanna said. “I was actually just talking to my roommate about how much better we are now compared to my freshman year.”
Collegiate golf is different than most sports, as it is both an individual and a team competition. There is a chance to win as a team but also as an individual. Regardless, teamwork must still be existent for successful golf. This is one of the major changes to happen in the few years since Bermel took over.
“I think that team chemistry is important in golf, in terms of getting along and not having any issues,” Hanna said. “You are with your teammates so much that it is important to just be positive and not bring anybody down. Being able to relate with teammates who are struggling with something and help them out. You are competing with them, but you want the best for them. I want to beat them, but I also want them to compete at a high level. If you’re constantly trying to beat your other teammates, good things will happen for the team.”
As a key part of the rebuilding process and the only senior on the team, Hanna has been given the task of being a leader, even if it hasn’t been said out loud.
“You know in golf being a vocal leader isn’t really a big thing,” Hanna said. “It is a sport that if you aren’t motivated to do things in golf then you just aren’t going to be very good. In terms of being a leader, I think that I try to lead by example. I try to have a good attitude and bring effort every day to practice. I don’t think, by any means, I’m a lot better than it than somebody else on the team. I think there are a lot of leaders on this team and I don’t feel I am the only one. They are certainly capable of doing what I am.”
Even though while he speaks he is humble, Hanna has in fact played a large role as a leader. He may not be the only one, but he may have the greatest impact.
“He is a good leader,” Bermel said. “He is a quiet leader, but he can be a vocal leader. He gets those guys in line. He makes sure that people know where they need to be and when they need to be there. I think that has really helped.”
It is obvious that there have been big changes in the short time that Hanna and Bermel have been at Kansas. Hanna has played a big role. Bermel has played a big role. But both acknowledge the reason for the program’s current success.
“I think first and foremost it is the players,” Bermel said. “They are my guys. They are our guys. They are guys that we recruited and from day one they got the message loud and clear on what we are trying to do and they have done a great job of buying in. I think they have done a great job of accepting where the program was and where we are trying to get to. I think sometimes that’s the difficult part. We know where we are at, now how do we get there? They bought in and have worked hard and I think the hard work is paying off.”
Hanna also realizes that the talent on the team from day one to his final season has made all of the difference.
“There are a lot of things that have changed,” Hanna said. “The talent level is obviously much higher. The talent level was pretty low my first year. Now I feel like we go to a tournament and if anybody on the team plays well then they have the chance to win, which I don’t think anybody had the chance to win my first year.”
All these things would not be possible without a mutual goal in mind between all parties involved. The respect that Hanna has for his head coach and the role that Bermel has played are significant.
“Coach has definitely been a huge influence in my life,” Hanna said. “I would say one of the most important things that he has taught me is to constantly be pushing. I think sometimes you can get satisfied with things and think it is good enough when it really isn’t. Just in terms of constantly pushing and pushing. He has raised the bar each year. I expect the same thing to continue to happen when I leave.”
While the respect from Hanna to his coach is expected, the same feelings are reciprocated by Bermel. As the tone in his voice changes and the mood changes, Bermel speaks about one of his first Kansas recruits.
“You kind of think back to the what-if’s. And what if he had said ‘no’ to Kansas,” Bermel said. “He was already being recruited when I got here and I honored what the other coaching staff offered. From day one he was our number one priority and thankfully we got him. In five years you may look back and say that could have been the kid who changed our program. I can’t believe it has already been four years. He is a winner. And that’s what I think is so cool.”
“I’m very proud,” Hanna said. “I came here my freshman year and realized that it may take a while to accomplish some things. It is really cool to see where we were my freshman year to where we are now. It is really cool to be a big part of that, but I think everybody is a big part of that.”
He has fulfilled a lifelong dream and will forever have an impact as a Jayhawk. Hanna is proud of what has been accomplished, but is not yet content.
“It is really cool to represent a school like this, a school that I always grew up being a fan of,” Hanna said. “It was always a dream of mine to play here. It is pretty cool to be able to compete at a pretty high level right now. Obviously, we have achieved some good things but I think that we have some even better things that we can accomplish down the road. It is something special and something that I am honored to do.”
While the team has already topped the leaderboard twice and Hanna managed to rack up his first collegiate victory, there is still half a season of golf to be played. There is no telling how far a team led by these two impactful figures can go.