Monday May 6, 2013Bastel a Steady Influence and Rookie Head Coach Rolled Into One for Gators
Gators golf coach Emily Bastel, left, and senior Isabelle Lendl.
Gators golf coach Emily Bastel, left, and senior Isabelle Lendl.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Sometimes when the Gators women’s golf team is on the road and someone is trying to figure out which one is the head coach, they have to ask around. Emily Bastel doesn’t look much older than her players.
If Bastel wears a cap and sunglasses like she did Monday afternoon prior to the Gators’ departure for the NCAA Central Region Tournament, good luck not mistaking her for a player about to go out for a practice round.
It was the same way -- but even more pronounced -- at Bastel’s first coaching job.
Bastel was fresh out of Michigan State as reigning Big Ten Player of the Year in 2002 when she got her first coaching job. She was trying to decide her next move when the stars briefly aligned. A spot on Spartans coach Stacy Slobodnick-Stoll’s staff opened as Bastel contemplated her future.
In a right-place-right-time opportunity, Bastel took the job and went from teammate to assistant coach with a few strokes of a pen.
Dave Bastel, Emily’s father and longtime teaching pro at Lincoln Hills Golf Club in Upper Sandusky, Ohio, was confident his daughter would be fine despite her youthful age.
“She has always been pretty level-headed and grounded,’’ Dave said Monday from the pro shop at Lincoln Hills. “She really enjoyed it, you could tell. After that I knew she would be a good head coach and be stable and someone the kids could rely on.”
Bastel put her coaching career on hiatus after that one season at her alma mater to play professionally. For the next six years Bastel split her time between the LPGA and Futures tours. She earned Futures Tour Player of the Year honors in 2007 and accumulated more than $176,000 in career earnings.
Still, a career spent trying to make the cut and make the trip worth it was not in her long-term plans. One week you’re in Minnesota, then Arkansas, then Ohio.
The beat goes on and on and Bastel was ready for another tune.
“I was lucky that all the years I played that I never lost any money,’’ Bastel said Monday. “That’s actually probably an accomplishment.”
Bastel retired as a touring pro and took a job as an assistant coach at Duke in 2009. She moved to Florida the next year to work as a golf instructor in Jacksonville. A year later she joined former Gators coach Jan Dowling’s staff in July 2011.
And then 11 months ago Bastel was named Florida’s head coach when Dowling moved on.
Bastel said she learns something new “every day” as a 32-year-old head coach who could still pass for 22 on a good day.
“I probably underestimated all the things I would learn,’’ Bastel said. “There’s so much more than just working on golf swings and short games. But it’s been super fun. I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else.”
Bastel expected to have a good team after getting to know the players – their personalities and their games – during her season as an assistant. Still, she couldn’t have scripted her career as a head coach starting any better.
In the first tournament of the fall, the Gators won the Cougar Classic in South Carolina against a very good field. They finished second in the next tournament and won the Betsy Rawls Invitational in October and the two-day Florida Challenge in late January.
The Gators played steady for most of the spring until a disappointing 13th-place finish in the SEC Tournament April 19-21 at a difficult Greystone Golf & Country Club in Birmingham, Ala.
All five Gators in the lineup – sophomore Camilla Hedberg, senior Mia Piccio, junior Elcin Ulu, senior Isabelle Lendl and freshman Ursa Orehek – posted season-high scores during the three-day event. The No. 5-ranked Gators finished 53 shots behind winner Alabama and came home to regroup with two weeks to prepare for the region tournament later this week at Jimmie Austin Golf Course in Norman, Okla.
If she has any concern the Gators’ lackluster performance at the SEC Tournament might bleed into the region trip – the top eight teams qualify for the NCAA Championships later this month – Bastel isn’t showing it.
She was her usual upbeat self Monday as the team packed a van to head to Jacksonville for a practice round prior to departing for Oklahoma.
“We really hadn’t struggled much all year,’’ Bastel said. “I think we learned as a team a few things we were lacking. Sometimes it takes something like the SECs to show that to everybody. It was a huge learning experience for me and the team. I think they are just going to be fine. This tournament couldn’t come fast enough for us.”
Lendl said Bastel’s steady outlook isn’t an act. In good times or bad, the first-year Gators coach serves as a constant rock to lean on, whether it’s during a forgettable round, a casual lesson on the putting green or in preparation for the season’s biggest tournament.
“Her golf IQ is very high. She is very rational and very practical about how to get the ball in the hole,’’ Lendl said. “She knows that there are many ways to do it. I think that’s very important because golf is a very cyclical sport and it’s very fickle. She points out little things that make her a really good coach. She is very consistent.
“I relate to her very well because we are both from very small towns and we are both from up North, kind of two Yankees down in the South. I really like the way she was taught to play golf. It’s very simple and more like the way I’ve been taught.”
Much of Bastel’s approach to the game originates from Dave, who first taught her the game on the nine-hole course in Upper Sandusky (population less than 7,000) that has been in the family since the 1930s. A former golfer at Bowling Green University, Dave Bastel didn’t push the game onto Emily or her younger brother, Ben, who played at Miami (Ohio) University and is now an assistant teaching pro.
He let them dictate the pace and when it was time, he taught them some of the tricks left in his golf bag.
“He had a very sort of no-nonsense approach,’’ Emily said. “I was sort of a blue-collar player growing up. He instilled those values in me and there is no doubt I find myself saying things that I’ve heard from him over the years.”
They still discuss many of those values when they talk on the phone, the game often taking over their conversations.
“It’s a big, big part of our lives,’’ Dave said. “It always has been. It always comes up.”
What has been Emily’s main message to the Gators in her first season as head coach?
“Ultimately, all we really tried to hammer home to the girls is the process,’’ she said. “Golf is so different that if you really start thinking about the big picture, you can get way ahead of yourself. If we do that well, the rest will sort of happen for us.”
That is what she is looking for starting Thursday in the region tournament. Sounds like something her dad probably once told her.