BY JEFF FALK
Coaching and teaching are two pursuits that are closely related. But in no other sport is teaching such an integral part of coaching as it is in golf.
That’s what makes Mike Swisher the perfect fit for the Lebanon Valley College golf program. And the Lebanon Valley College golf program the perfect fit for Mike Swisher.
First and foremost, Swisher has always been – and always will be – a teacher. Swisher, the former head professional at the Lebanon County Club who’s recognized as one of the finest instructors of the game in Pennsylvania, is currently in his second spring as the Flying Dutchmen’s golf coach.
It is a marriage not of this earth.
“I love it,” said Swisher, recently from his mobile office, on the the fairway of the Lebanon County Club’s second hole. “It’s part of the game I like the most. And I enjoy teaching at all levels, from kids to touring pros. It’s a thrill working with beginners and accomplished players.
“I enjoy sports,” continued Swisher. “Sports as a kid growing up was my life. Golf is probably the most challenging game I’ve ever played. And it’s my nature to help people. You get to meet some of the finest people around the game of golf. And some of the prettiest places in the world are golf courses.”
Swisher became the coach at Lebanon Valley College quite by accident, at least the head coach.
Upon his retirement as LCC’s head pro, Swisher planned to assist then-Flying Dutchmen head coach Lou Sorrentino. But when Sorrentino passed away unexpectedly, Swisher slid into Sorrentino’s former role.
For years the Lebanon Country Club has served as Lebanon Valley College’s home course.
“Lou and I had been friends for a long time,” explained Swisher. “I told him that when I retired I’d help him out. We were going to do it and Lou became sick. I was fortunate enough to get the position, but it’s been a challenge.
“It’s nice. It’s kind of a part-time thing,” Swisher added. “Within the season, it keeps me busy for a while. I enjoy being around the kids. It keeps me young. And if I can help a student become a better person through golf, it’s all worth it.”
But while Swisher’s message is pure, the only way it can be processed is if it’s receivied. Being the good students that they are, the Flying Dutchmen rarely turn a deaf ear to their coach’s instruction.
“They’re very receptive,” said Swisher of his troops. “Reception isn’t the problem. Time is the problem. But it’s because of school. Their educations have to come first.
“They touch clubs in the summer,” Swisher continued. “But it’s casual, and not tournament golf, and that’s OK. Once they’re in school it’s difficult to spend a lot of time on it. But you’ve got to come here with some type of game.”
Golf is far from the most competitive sport at Lebanon Valley and the Flying Dutchmen golf team isn’t exactly a powerhouse within the Middle Atlatnic Conference. This season, LVC has routinely finished in the middle of the pack at conference tournaments.
“We’re about halfway through it (the season) and I’d say we’re struggling a little bit,” said Swisher. “We’re not going to be as good as last year. We definitely have some talent on the team, but we’ve got to work at it. By the time the weather gets decent we’re done.
“Our goal is to just become competitive and work on our games a little more,” added Swisher. “We’re not ready to win yet. The match that was played here (LCC) we finished in the middle of the pack, which is decent. Through recruiting and work, down the road we’re going to become competitive. It’s not easy. It’s tough to say we’re going to work on this and work on that because not all of them (the players) are all here anyhow.”
One of the challenges Swisher faces is his players’ demanding class schedules. With golf being more or less optional, the team has its priorities straight.
“Education is number one and golf is number two,” said Swisher. “This is fun. I really enjoy spending time with the kids and getting to know them. I get their grades sent to me so I kind of get to keep tabs on their educations. That’s the difference between giving someone a golf lesson and coaching, I get into their lives a little more.
“I probably don’t spend as much time teaching as I’d like to,” added Swisher. “Time is so short. I don’t have a whole lot of time with their games. You never know who’s going to come out to practice. But if they’re struggling one of the coaches is definitely going to help them with their games.”
But in the on-going development of the program, time is on Swisher and the Flying Dutchmen’s side.
“It’s slow. It’ll be slow,” said Swisher. “But we’re patient. We’re not going anywhere. Finding time is the tough part. I enjoy the challenge. If I see them improve a little bit I’d be happy. They understand that if they want to improve they have to work at it.
“Our goal is to play as good as we can,” Swisher concluded. “And just getting games to the level they’re happy with and we’re happy with. We’d like to shoot a team average of 85, which would be not too bad. We want to be competitive and play to the best of our abilities.”