Kim Johnson didn’t know anything about Owen Rush when he became the interim coach for the Lansing Catholic boys golf team last March.
He’d been asked by the athletic director to transition from being the girls assistant coach to leading the boys for one season.
He didn’t know anything about anyone on the team he inherited. He only knew the Cougars were two-time defending Division 3 state champions under retired coach Charlie Furney.
“To be honest with you, what was going through my mind was I didn’t want to mess anything up,” Johnson said, laughing.
The blueprint was already in place. The Cougars would welcome back three senior starters from its championship run.
But, toward the end of the season, Johnson spiced things up and made Rush, a junior starter, the team’s captain after he continued to post top scores.
“I think he got to our No. 1 spot,” Johnson said.
He even took it a step further.
“He (Johnson) said, ‘If I’m not around, I want to name Owen honorary captain for next year,’” said Rush, who was a starter for the second title team and a reserve, as a freshman, for the first. “It was definitely a surprise. It was an honor from coach. He’s an unbelievable coach, unbelievable guy.”
Everybody won. The Cougars went on to capture their third consecutive state title, Johnson was permanently named both the boys and girls coach in June and Rush was named first team all-state.
Now, Rush is looking to lead Lansing Catholic back to the pinnacle for the fourth straight year.
“It would definitely be surreal,” Rush said of the opportunity to get four consecutive state titles. “Coming into high school, I never really played competitive golf – it was mostly just baseball.
“I just fell in love with it – the adrenaline, the pressure.”
Johnson calls Rush, who had an 18-hole event average of about 77 last season, “a master at scrambling and playing situational golf.” He said he doesn’t offer too much coaching unless Rush asks for it.
“He doesn’t hit every fairway in a round of golf, and of course being a coach I want him to hit as many fairways as possible, I want him to hit as many greens as possible,” said Johnson, who has incorporated a sports performance coach into the program to help with the mental aspect of the game. “I always look at work that needs to be improved, but then he comes around and shoots par or under par at the end of the round.
“It’s extremely amazing to watch how he maneuvers around the course. Even though he may not be hitting greens or fairways, he does an excellent job of course management. He’s confident in his shot.”
Expectations have hobbled the Cougars in the early stages of their pursuit of another championship. And as a senior captain, Rush senses his team is putting too much pressure on itself in April to succeed in June.
But he’s not too worried. Three championships can do that to you.
“We’ll peak at the right time,” Rush said. “Coach likes to say ‘Stay in the moment.’ And I like that, too. You can’t think too far ahead. You have to stay in the moment.”
Contact James L. Edwards III at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @JLEdwardsIII.