Courtesy of LA Tech Athletic Communications
It’s a simple two-hour drive from Ruston to the Texarkana Country Club.
Go due west on I-20 to Bossier City and then the route doglegs right, up I-49 to the century-old golf course, tucked away behind a peaceful residential neighborhood in southwest Arkansas (hit a handful of drivers down Forest Avenue and you’ll be in Texas).
Its towering pine trees, gentle elevation changes, abundant bunkers, sloping greens, plus a calm, vast lake on the front nine are some of the features experienced by the private members. And during the last week of April for the last nine years, they are experienced by the 50+ individuals who roll into town to compete in the Conference USA Men’s Golf Championship.
One of those golfers has been Louisiana Tech’s James Swash.
The fifth-year senior from Stockton On Tees, England has had a love-hate relationship with TCC. The love was at its peak in the second round of the 2022 C-USA Championship when he shot a career-best 6-under-par 66 to take a two-shot lead going into the final round of stroke play.
“I just played nice, clean, tidy golf,” Swash remembered.
Unfortunately, the hate part of the relationship came the very next day. After making just two total bogeys through the first 36 holes, Swash had three of them in round three. Painstakingly, he also had three double bogeys – one right before the turn on the ninth hole, then two more in the home stretch on 16 and 18.
“I remember clear as day that round,” said Swash. “I was one over going down nine and it was the same pin, the back right pin. I hit it in the right rough. Caught a bit of a jumper out of the rough and watched it hit the cart path and go out of bounds. I make six. I tried chasing it after that. Felt like I blew it. It took me a while to get over it.”
“It was something new to him he hadn’t seen,” said head coach Matt Terry, who recruited and coached Swash his whole collegiate career. “I think that double on nine gut punched him. Sometimes you don’t know how to react to that. You have to learn from it.”
His first real chance at winning a collegiate golf tournament had come and gone, but with an extra year of eligibility on the table (because the 2019-20 season was cut short due to COVID-19), Swash decided to put his Ping 430 driver, Mizuno JPX 923 irons, Cleveland wedges, and Ping putter into that Bulldog golf bag for another season.
His one-word summary of his extra regular season … decent.
He didn’t claim his first top-20 finish until LA Tech was four tournaments deep into the fall. Had a couple of hot flashes in the first two events of the spring, including an 8th-place finish at the Border Olympics.
After stepping away briefly to earn his PGA Tour Canada card, he ended the slate on a sour note, placing 82nd out of 100 golfers at the final event in Mississippi. “I had two okay rounds, but I shot 80 for the first time this year.”
Then came his fourth crack at the Texarkana Country Club, an 18-hole piece of land he knows backwards and forwards. Knows the green speeds. Where you can miss and where you can get in deep trouble. And how bipolar the weather can be with swirling winds and random spats of cold and rain, as was the case at the 2023 C-USA Championship.
The first round came and went. And while fellow teammate Lake Juban was atop the leaderboard at the end of the day with a 3-under-par 69, Swash clocked out with a 3-over-par 75.
“It should have been 72 or 71,” recalled Swash. “My chipping was kind of off. It was just a lack of execution around the greens. I wasn’t absolutely disgusted with any golf shots that day, I would just leave it short to a front pin, have an easy chip, and mess the chip up. Sloppy errors.”
Round two. He’s Even par going to the 15th hole. And then …
“I hit it in the right rough and then went back of the green,” explained Swash. “I went really aggressive with my chip, went behind the hole catching the slope. It ran down like 35 feet. It was a double breaker up and over a hill, hit it to like four feet, but I missed the putt for bogey. It set me off.”
With 21 holes left, Swash found himself tied for 26th and six shots back of the leader.
“He makes double on 15 and gets pissed off like he can do,” said Terry. “Instead of getting negative though, he flipped it into a positive. It lit a fire under him.”
“He was not in as bad of a mood as I expected,” said Lindsay Manning, stud LA Tech bowler, girlfriend of four-plus years, supporter/follower on the golf course who Swash can rant to if needed, and proud golf ball finder. “When we first met, he probably would have blamed external factors. He blamed himself and then he fixed it.”
Next up was the closing trio of holes (two of which he double bogeyed the previous year).
Par 5 | Hole 16 – Longest hole on the course at 560 yards. Straight off the tee with about 215 yards out. It doglegs right. Guarded heavily with cross bunkers and greenside bunkers. Multi-tiered green.
Par 4 | Hole 17 – Driveable at a smidge under 300 yards. Undulated, quick green. Pins strategically placed where if you make a slight mistake, you’ll pay for it.
Par 4 | Hole 18 – Doglegs 90-degrees hard left. Hybrid or 3-wood off the tee and then you’ll have 160-175 yards in. Or you can take an aggressive line, go over the trees to get to within wedge range. Go too far right and you are taking a drop out of the roots.
Birdie. Birdie. Birdie.
Swash goes into the clubhouse on a heater, having played himself back into contention with a 1-under-par 71 to suddenly be tied for fourth and just three shots back of the leader.
“He walks off that green on 18 thinking I got this. The light bulb comes on,” said Terry. “He flips it in a different direction this year as opposed to last year. He goes out the next day with a boatload of confidence. Sometimes with golf, something just clicks.”
Time for round three. First hole … birdie. Second hole … birdie. Third hole … par. Fourth hole … birdie.
Seven birdies in the span of eight holes. Swash was no longer the chaser. He was being chased.
“I hit it pretty close on one, thought I left the putt short,” said Swash. “Two with the front pin, it was always going to be a good birdie look. Four as well, if you hit the fairway you have a wedge into that green. Being 3-under through four, that put me at the top before the others had even teed off.”
Admittedly, Swash said that’s when he started thinking about winning the championship. “I thought if I could get close again, I’d like to think I could handle it better and get over the line.”
His only hiccup on the front nine was a bogey that came on the par 3 No. 6. He thought another setback was gonna happen on the ninth hole (remember the one he caught the cart path and double bogeyed a year prior).
“I had bogeyed that hole both days,” painful words spoke by Swash. “I thought I was going to bogey round three. I had mud on my ball and it stayed right. Had a fortunate bounce, about six feet away from the pin.”
It was the scariest hole to watch for Manning as well.
“Whenever anybody played it, it seemed like they kept hitting it over the green onto the practice putting green,” said a nervous-at-the-time Manning. “He birdied it, then told me, ‘I still haven’t parred nine.'”
Swash was in cruise control, but had a slight stumble on the par 3 No. 11 with a three-putt for bogey.
Walking to the tee box on 12, Manning told him, “You need to step it up.”
Wise words from his No. 1 fan. After a par on the 12th hole, he hit a quality 6-iron on the par 3 No. 13, a hole that accumulated just 11 birdies for the entire event. Swash’s was one of them in the final round.
Holding a slim 1-2 shot lead with golfers like Middle Tennessee’s Owen Stamper within striking distance and more holes to play, Swash approached the final three holes – 16, 17, and 18 – that can propel you or demoralize you.
A missed five foot birdie putt uphill on 16, but a par nonetheless. After his drive on the 17th hole though, he found himself in the trees with not a lot of options. A big number was staring him dead in the face.
“I decided to go with a bump-and-run 8-iron just hoping that it would find a way to take the slope on the green and get around flag high,” said Swash. “It ended up being a great shot. Easily could have gone into the bunker and made a five or higher.” Saved par with one hole to go.
Historically, Manning and Swash don’t talk much during rounds. “It definitely depends on how he is playing,” she said.
She’ll say good job after a made putt, give him words of encouragement if he is playing bad, or confirm his scores if she’s tracking them on live stats.
“He has made comments in the past on if he would have known he was leading or close to leading, he wished he would have known and could of maybe played different,” said Manning. “I was biting my tongue walking around all that day. Then walking off the green on 17, I rushed ahead and told him if you want a chance to win this, give me a birdie. Then I walked off.”
He took out his driver (the best part of his golf arsenal) on 18 and launched a perfect drive, taking the straight line over the trees. With 128 yards out, a pitching wedge and an aggressive line at the green resulted in his Srixon ball settling six feet from the pin.
Birdie. Hugs and high fives with teammates, coaches, and Manning. A nail-biting wait in the clubhouse waiting out the last group of golfers to come in.
Turns out, Swash didn’t even need the finishing birdie after all. His 4-under-par 68 was plenty good (two strokes good) to claim the title of 2023 C-USA Men’s Golf Championship individual medalist.
“That birdie was the cherry on top,” said Manning. “It was an exciting week watching him.”
“It’s not on a wish list for him anymore,” said Terry. “He got his college win. So proud of the way he was able to end his career like this and get some bonus golf by qualifying for the NCAA Regionals.”
“I Facetimed my parents,” said Swash who became the first conference individual champion since 1980 at LA Tech. “It’s a six-hour difference back home so they were still up. Showed them the trophy, sent pictures. They were thrilled. Don’t think my mom slept that night.
“I always knew I was good enough to do it. And I did it.”