Daily Egyptian: Golf is different than most other sports because it has both a spring and fall season. Do you coach the seasons differently?
Leroy Newton: In the fall, we are trying to figure out who our best five players will be for the final tournaments in the spring, especially the Missouri Valley Conference tournament. Sometimes we will add a kid to the lineup just to see what he can do under tournament conditions. But in the spring, we’re going to try to take the best five qualifiers to each tournament to make sure that they are ready at the end.
DE: This year’s team is largely dominated by seniors. Is a strong senior class something that you try to have every year?
LN: You hope that if you have a senior he will have been in your program for at least two or three or four years and that he has learned more than a freshman coming in. If the seniors have done their work and improved, they are going to be a little bit better at the end. We expect the seniors to be better than the freshmen, but there are times when a younger player is going to mature quickly and become one of the better players.
DE: You’ve been coaching golf at SIU for 17 years. What factors have kept you coaching here for so long?
LN: It keeps me young. It keeps me wanting to do different things. The banter between myself and the kids is refreshing. With me staying around for 17 years, at my age, I get a lot out of the interaction with the kids. I like to play rounds with the team, and when I play I want to be competitive because that’s our sport: Be the best that you can.
DE: You didn’t start playing golf until your late 20s. Why the late start? What drew you to the game?
LN: I started that late because truthfully I wasn’t around golf. I was raised on a farm, and if we had that land, we would have plowed it up and planted corn or soybeans on it (instead of playing golf on it). I played other sports in school like basketball, baseball and track and field. In fact, we didn’t even have football or I would have played that, too. A friend of mine was on the golf team at Southern, and he took me out to play and I became addicted. I picked it up pretty quick and loved the game. Not many former football players can go out on the football field and play with the kids, but I can still play golf with my team.
DE: You have served as a high school principal and basketball official throughout your career, along with coaching golf at the high school and college level. Is that a testament to your drive of helping young athletes improve?
LN: I started playing sports in fourth grade. I was on sports teams all throughout school. As I got older I became the golf coach at Carterville High School and then John A. Logan College, and now I’m here. As my wife would say, “What are you going to do when you aren’t messing around with kids?” I realized I’d never thought about it because it seems like I’m always going to be involved some way or another.