BOB WEST ON GOLF: Bailey ranks among the best

Published 5:34 pm Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Baylor golf coach Mike McGraw professes to only mild surprise at the way his rising sophomore star, Braden Bailey, has skyrocketed up the World Amateur Golf Rankings since arriving in Waco last August. At the same time, McGraw concedes that how fast and how far the Port Neches-Groves ex has climbed might be unprecedented.

“The first time I laid eyes on him, and watched him swing the golf club, I knew I had inherited a really talented young man,” says the Bears’ second-year coach. “The thing is, he was kind of a well-kept secret. He didn’t have a big reputation. But he proved pretty quick that he’s a special player.”

How special is reflected in those WAGR ratings that are a joint effort of the R&A and the USGA. A year ago, Bailey was No. 4515 in those ratings. As of this past Monday, he was listed an eye-opening No. 66 in the world. Golfweek, in its ratings, have him even higher at No. 46. Among American amateurs, he’s No. 21.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Bailey’s remarkable ascent in the rankings was partially due to a freshman season that saw him lead Baylor with a 72.61 stroke average in 12 tournaments. Included were six top 10 finishes, with the most impressive showing a fifth at the NCAA Regional in Kohler, Wis.

It was his play in five summer amateur tournaments, however, that put Bailey into overdrive. He placed top 10 in all five, highlighted by a second in the Southwestern Amateur and a third in the Greystone Invitational. Up to No. 89 after after an eighth in the Trans-Miss, he jumped 25 more places with a sixth in the Western Amateur.

Now, with Bailey stronger and much longer off the tee than he was a year ago, McGraw contends the sky is truly the limit for the 5-foot-6, 160 pounder.

“What should make a big difference for Braden this year is he has started to realize how good he is,” said McGraw, who was part of national championship teams at Oklahoma State and Alabama. “I spent last year telling him I know what elite players are like and I know you are one.”

Bailey, the epitome of the term student-athlete, concedes that it took a while for McGraw’s message about him being an elite player to register.

“I think I am starting to believe in myself like Coach McGraw wanted,” he says. “I came to Baylor knowing I was going to get better, but I didn’t think it would happen so quickly. Coach wanted to get me into the mindset that no matter how good the field was I should expect to win.

“That started to happen this summer. What helped is that I have made so many improvements from a year ago — distance off the tee and really good wedge play, in particular. The results in those summer tournaments back up what I have been telling myself and believing.”

Bailey, nearly halfway to getting his degree with a 3.85 GPA and 64 credit hours, is, in McGraw’s estimation, pretty much the ideal person to build a program around.

“He’s a great player, an extremely hard worker and has all the leadership qualities you would want,” said the coach. “Our kids all want to be the No. 1 player, but I think they sense Braden is our best player. Plus, he takes care of business about as well as any student athlete I have ever coached.”

Bailey’s goals, now that he understands he’s capable of going head to head with pretty much anybody at the collegiate level, are lofty.

“I want to win,” he said. “I want to be an All-America. I want to get inside the top 50 in the world amateur ratings. I want to help our team win the Big 12 and qualify for the NCAA.”

One thing McGraw and No. 24 ranked Baylor won’t have to worry about is Bailey leaving school early to pursue his ultimate goal — a professionalcareer. Though he’s on track to graduate in three years, and his game could well be good enough to take that giant step ahead of schedule, he declares it won’t happen.

“I will stay no matter what,” he said. “I might decide to double major. Whatever it takes, I intend to play college golf for four years. I still have so much to learn and so much room to improve. There is no rush. I want to get all the experience I can.”

McGraw, who last winter asserted that Bailey was pound-for-pound the longest hitter he’s seen in college golf, had not even considered his gift from Baylor’s previous coach might think about an early exit.

“I realize there is a lot of money out there, but I know Braden well enough to know he has not even given that a thought,” McGraw said. “I like to tell my players there is no way to over-prepare for the PGA Tour. Braden is one who would definitely get that. He is committed to doing something great at Baylor and he’s on track to do it.”

The next step on that journey begins Sept. 16-18 when Baylor opens its fall season at the Fighting Illini Invitational in Chicago. Other fall tourneys are Sept. 23-25 in Scottsdale, Ariz., Oct. 3-4 in Birmingham and Oct. 24-25 at the Royal Oaks Intercollegiate in Dallas.

Don’t be at all surprised if Bailey has that first college win before the calendar flips over to November. McGraw certainly won’t be.


PN-G senior Karlei Hemler scored one of her biggest wins when she won a playoff in Girls 15-18 in the Texas Junior Golf Tour stop at Gleannlock Pines in Spring.

Hemler, playing through lightning and rain delays both days, shot rounds of 73-72 for a three-over par 145, then defeated Kenlie Barrett of The Woodlands in the first hole of a sudden death playoff. The win got her an exemption into future TJGT events. …

Donald White of Beaumont celebrated a double eagle/albatross last week at Babe Zaharias. White holed his second shot from 225 yards on the par-5, 10th hole. The shot was witnessed by Errol Wilridse.

It was White’s first albatross. …

In the Super Saturday Game at The Babe, the team of Adam Noel, Gene Rountree, Bill Hammond and Roger Koch won the front nine in minus-6. On the back, the threesome of Mark Lawson, Rick Pritchett and Scotty Ray prevailed at minus-4. …

The Friday two-ball game at Babe Zaharias, saw ties for first on both sides. On the front, the team of Gary Whitfill, Lee Bertrand, Roger Koch and David English tied at minus- 4 with the foursome of Randy Monk, Don MacNeil, Bob Briggs and Charlie Huckaby. The back was deadlocked at minus-4 between the team of Benny Sharpe, Jon Williams, Harry Green and Larry Reece and the team of James Shipley, Craig Fontenot and Earl Richard. …

The Thursday Senior Game at The Babe was played in a scramble format. Tying for first was the team of Gary Hanan, Pritchett, Harrell Guidry, Ray Trahan and Steadman Tahaney and the fivesome of Gerald Huebel, Richard, Bill Jones, Jess McPhillips and Harold Wilkinson.

Closest to the pin winners were Cap Hollier (No. 2), Bobby Wactor (No. 7), Huebel (No. 12) and Guidry (No. 15). …

The Babe Zaharias DogFight was won with 15 points by the team of Cricket Owen, Dwain Morvant, E.T. Robicheaux and Robert Lynch. Second with 14 points was the foursome of Pritchett, Ron

LaSalle, Jack Anderson and Jimmy Thompson. Closest to the pin winners were LaSalle (No. 2), Mike Hollier (No. 7), Whitfill (No. 12) and Pritchett (No. 15).

Golf news should be emailed to

About I.C. Murrell

I.C. Murrell was promoted to editor of The News, effective Oct. 14, 2019. He previously served as sports editor since August 2015 and has won or shared eight first-place awards from state newspaper associations and corporations. He was born in Memphis, Tennessee, grew up mostly in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and graduated from the University of Arkansas at Monticello.

email author More by I.C.