Larry Penley is in his 32nd season as Clemson's Head Golf Coach. He has earned just about every honor possible in his tenure. That includes induction into the Collegiate Golf Hall of Fame at the age of 44, winning an NCAA Championship (2003), coaching two Ben Hogan Award winners (D.J. Trahan and Kyle Stanley), three US Public Links Champions (Kevin Johnson, DJ Trahan and Corbin Mills) and leading the Tigers to 21 Top 20 seasons, more than any coach in any sport in Clemson history.
In the summer of 2009 he watched former Tiger Lucas Glover win the 2009 United States Open, his first protégé to win a Major. Then, in August, it was announced that he was selected for the South Carolina Golf Hall of Fame. In December of 2009, it was announced Clemson's new golf building would be named in his honor. That impressive structure was completed in 2011 and is one of the finest golf team facilities in the nation.
Clemson added women's golf to its athletic landscape and the team began competition in the fall of 2013. The ladies first season ended with a spot in the NCAA Tournament, the only first-year program to reach the NCAAs in 2014. Penley was instrumental in the establishment of the program and the hiring of women's coach J.T. Horton. Penley carries the title of Director of Golf within the Clemson program.
Penley has been a model of consistency since he became head coach in the fall of 1983. All 31 of his previous Tiger teams have been selected for the NCAA Tournament, including 25 that have advanced to the national tournament.
Clemson has posted 23 top 25 finishes, 21 top 20 finishes, 17 top 15 finishes, 12 top 10s and eight top five finishes at the NCAA Championships during his tenure. That includes a streak of seven straight top 10s from 1997-2003, the first Clemson athletic program to do that since the men's tennis program had seven straight between 1980-86. His top 25 seasons and 21 top 20 seasons are a record for any coach in any sport in Clemson history.
His 11 top 10 finishes are second to former Clemson soccer coach Dr. I.M. Ibrahim, who had 14. Over the last 18 years, Clemson has nine top 10 national finishes. One of those top 10 finishes came in 2003 when the Tigers won the national championship with a two-stroke victory over Oklahoma State on the Cowboys home course. It was Clemson's first national championship in golf and the program's first in any sport in 16 years.
Penley's Tigers also won the ACC Championship and the NCAA East Regional title in 2003, making Clemson the first program in NCAA history to win its conference, regional and national championship in the same year. Clemson won a school-record six team titles for the academic year and ranked number-one in the nation by Golfweek/Sagarin and the Golf Coach's Association for the entire season.
As a result of these achievements, Penley was named the National Coach of the Year by Golfweek and the Golf Coach's Association for 2003. He also received coach of the year honors from the ACC and for the NCAA at the District level.
In January of 2004, he was inducted into the Golf Coaches Association Hall of Fame, quite an accomplishment for someone just 44 years of age at the time. The victories continued in the spring of 2004 when he led the Tigers to the ACC Tournament and East Regional Championship and finished with another top 20 finish at the NCAA Tournament.
Clemson has had three more top 16 finishes since the 2004 season with a seventh place at Sunriver, OR in 2006, the fifth place finish in 2008 at Purdue and a 16th place finish at The Honors Course in 2010.
Penley has led Clemson to the NCAA East Region title, seven times, including a pair of "three-peats". No other college coach has won more than his seven NCAA regional championships.
Entering the spring of 2015, Penley has won 65 tournaments as head coach of the Tigers, fourth in NCAA history for a coach at one school. He is third among active coaches with that total. He has won at least one tournament in 29 of his now 32 seasons (includes a win in fall of 2014) as Clemson head coach. He also has 69 second-place finishes, giving him 134 first or runner-up finishes in his career at Clemson in 390 tournaments entering the spring of 2015.
Clemson players have flourished under Penley's leadership. No less than 11 of his former players participated in various PGA or Nationwide Tour events in 2014. Three of his former players are full members of the PGA Tour in 2014-15 and three others have conditional status. Six of his former players had already played in a PGA Tour event entering late February of 2015.
A Clemson golfer won at least one PGA event every year between 2004-12, one of just three programs to have an alum win every one of those years (Arizona State and ULV). Overall, seven of his former Clemson golfers have won 16 PGA events over the years. That includes a Fall 2014 victory in Las Vegas by former Tiger Ben Martin.
Clemson had 12 players on the ACC 50-Year Anniversary team in 2002, and 11 of the 12 players were coached by Penley.
Individually, Clemson has had 17 Top 10 NCAA National Tournament finishes in Penley's career. That includes the NCAA Championship by Charles Warren in 1997, and his number-two finish in 1998. Kyle Stanley finished second in 2007 and 2009 and won the Ben Hogan Award in 2009. Ben Martin finished ninth in 2010.
Penley has been honored for his success in the ACC, winning the ACC Coach-of-the-Year honors six times overall. He was the first coach in ACC history to win this award three consecutive years (1996-97-98). He has eight ACC championships to his credit, second on the all-time list of ACC mentors.
Penley has to rank as the best combination player-coach in Clemson history next to the legendary Banks McFadden. In the 1930s McFadden was an All-American in football and basketball and coached the Clemson basketball team for nearly a decade. Penley was chosen All-ACC as a Tiger golfer and has led Clemson to eight ACC titles as a coach. He is one of only two coaches in Clemson sports history to do this (former women's track Wayne Coffman is the other). He has played for and coached Clemson in the NCAA tournament.
In addition to the success of his former players on the PGA Tour, former Penley players have brought national distinction to the school in national amateur tournaments. Chris Patton won the 1989 United States Amateur, while Danny Ellis advanced to the finals in 1993. Johnson won the US Public Links championship in 1987, and Trahan won the same event in 2000. Corbin Mills won the Public Links in 2011. Ben Martin was a finalist at the 2009 US Amateur and played in the 2010 Masters.
Over the years, Penley's program has produced 53 All-America selections, including at least two in nine of the last 18 years. Kyle Stanley was a first-team selection in 2007 and 2009. Corbin Mills was a third-team selection in 2012.
Penley has coached eight different players who have played in the Walker Cup. That includes Matt Hendrix who posted a 2-0-1 record in the 2003 event. In 2001, senior Lucas Glover and sophomore D.J. Trahan were both members of the 2001 United States Walker Cup team. Jonathan Byrd was a member of the United States Walker Cup team in 1999 and played on the Palmer Cup team in 1999 and 2000.
Clemson dominated the Palmer Cup teams of 2000 and 2001 with three players each year. John Engler was a three-time selection to the United States Palmer Cup team. Trahan was the captain of the United States team in 2002, leading the US to victory at the event held in Ireland. Penley was honored with his selection as the 2004 Palmer Cup team coach.
Penley has had a high level of success since he first became Clemson head coach. After serving as an assistant on Clemson's 1983 team that finished fifth in the nation, then the highest finish in school history, Penley took a young Clemson team to a 19th place finish in his first year. That club was paced by Dillard Pruitt, who earned All-America honors for a second time in his career before going on to a distinguished eight-year run on the PGA Tour.
Penley brought the Clemson program to another level in 1986-87, as he captured his first ACC title and the program's second. Overall, Clemson won a then record five events and finished second in three others behind a team that featured All-Americans Chris Patton and Kevin Johnson. Clemson finished 11th at the NCAA Tournament that season. Penley was named ACC and NCAA District Coach-of-the-Year for the first time.
In the 1988-89 season, Kevin Johnson and Chris Patton received All-America honors again and led the Tigers to a third-place finish at the NCAA Tournament, Clemson's highest ranking ever at the time. In every tournament the Tigers entered they finished in the top five and the team had a 72.61 stroke average, best in school history at the time. Johnson ended his career as one of Clemson's top golfers in history. He had won the United States Public Links (1987) and earned a spot on the Walker Cup team (1989) during his Clemson career.
In 1989-90, Penley's Tigers won four tournaments including the ACC title, and finished 12th at the NCAA tournament. For the second time ever the team was ranked number-one going into the spring season. When Chris Patton won the 1989 U.S. Amateur the program received considerable. He was the low amateur at the 1990 Master's.
Many thought the program would decline a bit after Patton's graduation, but three freshmen made an impact in 1990 and continued to bring the Tigers to new levels of consistency over the next three years. Danny Ellis, Bobby Doolittle and Nicky Goetze kept Clemson's NCAA Tournament top 15 streak in tack, including a fourth place finish in 1992-93. The 1993 team actually had five players earn some type of All-America honors, a first in Clemson history. That team also won Penley's first NCAA Regional title.
Despite being a young team, in 1994 Clemson finished ninth in the NCAA tournament. Mark Swygert, a senior on the Clemson team, finished third and 11-under-par in the tournament. Swygert broke four Clemson individual records in NCAA play with that performance. He had an overall score of 277 (-11), which beat the previous best of Dillard Pruitt by 10 strokes. Swygert's third round is still the best ever by a Tiger in the NCAA Tournament vs. par (65) (-7).
The 1996-97 academic year brought more national acclaim to the Clemson program as junior Charles Warren won the NCAA Championship at Conway Farms in Chicago. The thrilling one-shot win in a playoff over Brad Elder was captured on ESPN. Warren went on to earn first-team All-America honors along with senior Richard Coughlan, who shared ACC Player of the Year honors.
The 1997-98 season was the best on record in many respects. In addition to Clemson's number-two NCAA finish and final ranking, the team set 11 school season records. That team had nine first or second-place finishes, also a record for one season. All five starting players averaged under 73.0, also a first for a Clemson team. The squad was 29-under par for the season, 104 strokes better than the previous school record.
Clemson continued the excellence in 1998-99 with five tournament titles to tie the single season school mark, a number-one national ranking much of the year and a number-eight finish at the NCAA Tournament. Only four opponents out of the 67 different teams the Tigers faced had a stroke and won-loss advantage against Clemson. Clemson had a 77.3 percent winning mark against those 67 teams, including a 71-37-4 record against the 29 other schools in the NCAA National tournament.
It seemed improbable that the records established by the 1997-98 team could be eclipsed. But that was the case in 1999-00, as the Tigers established a team stroke average record with a 71.32 mark. The team was 77-under-par for the year.
Four Tigers earned All-America honors, including Lucas Glover who was a first-team choice after a record setting 71.24 stroke average for the year. Clemson won the ACC Tournament and the East Regional in the same year for the first time ever, then finished seventh at the NCAAs. Future PGA Tour players Lucas Glover, D.J. Trahan and Jonathan Byrd all played on that team.
The 2000-01 season marked the end of the Lucas Glover and John Engler era at Clemson. Both were first-team All-Americans in their final seasons and led the Tigers to a second place NCAA finish, just as they had in their freshman season.
A testimony to Penley's ability to keep the Clemson program at a high level on a consistent basis was the 2001-02 season. Most college golf observers thought Penley's success level would take a step backwards in 2001-02. With the loss of first-team All-Americans Glover and Engler, the Tigers were ranked ninth in the preseason Precept Coach's poll. But, the Tigers won the Ping Preview in the fall and quickly returned to the top five of the polls.
In addition to the win at the Ping Preview, Penley's Tigers won the NCAA East Regional in a co-championship with #1 ranked Georgia Tech. The Tigers finished in the top five in 10 of their 12 tournaments that year, including seven top three finishes. The Tigers concluded the campaign with a number-three finish at the NCAAs at Ohio State.
Trahan furthered Clemson's tradition in 2002 by winning the Ben Hogan Award as the top college golfer in the nation. He had a 70.33 stroke average, second best in the nation and eighth best in NCAA history at the time. Trahan won three tournaments, the first Tiger to do that in one year, and had three other second-place finishes. He then led the Tigers to the national championship in 2003 and finished his career with five tournament victories, tied for the Clemson all-time record.
Producing such outstanding golfers is not a surprise when you look at Penley's own career as a player. The native of Dallas, NC started his golf career at North Gaston Senior High. There he earned high school All-America honors for two years, three years as all-conference, and Most Valuable Player for three years. In his junior and senior seasons he was second in the state at the AAA level.
After high school, Penley came to Clemson bringing his talents with him and began to add on to his previous honors. Penley's 1981 season was his senior year and his finest at Clemson. He was voted All-ACC, and had a spring stroke average of 72.66, which still ranks as one of the best 10 spring figures in Clemson history. Penley finished with a total of nine Top 10 finishes in his career. This includes winning the Iron Duke Classic and the Southeastern Invitational and finishing in the Top 10 in three other tournaments in 1981.
Penley went on to play in 15 mini-tour events on the FPCA after his four years at Clemson. He was offered the assistant golf coaching position at Clemson in 1982. He accepted it and was named the head coach after the 1983 season. He took the place of Athletic Director Bobby Robinson, who stepped down from the coaching position so he could put more efforts into his position as the Associate Athletic Director. Ever since Penley took over in 1983-84, all of his squads have finished their seasons at the NCAA Tournament.
In 1987 and 1988 Penley won the South Carolina state amateur. He tied a record in 1987 by shooting an 11-under-par 277, a record that has since been broken by one of his Tigers, Lucas Glover, in 1999. In 1986 and 1989, Penley was also the runner-up. He has qualified for the U.S. Amateur many times also. During the summer of 1992 he won the Carolina Golf Association Mid-Amateur by five shots, and was fourth in the South Carolina State Amateur. In 1990 he also won the South Carolina Mid-Amateur.
Penley is married to the former Heidi Grove, and they have three children, Andrew William, Mollie Ashton, and Kelsey Lou.
PENLEY QUICK FACTS
Birth: Born February 14, 1959 in Dallas, NC.
Family: Married the former Heidi Grove; The couple has two daughters, Kelsey Lou and Mollie Ashton and a son, Andrew William (Drew).
Education: Earned Bachelors degree in administrative management from Clemson University in 1983.
Playing Experience: Member of Clemson team from 1977-78 through 1980-81; First-team All-ACC selection in 1980-81; Iron Duke Classic Champion in 1981; Southeastern Intercollegiate Champion in 1981; South Carolina Amateur Champion in 1987 and 1988; Carolinas Golf Association Mid-Amateur Champion in 1992; South Carolina Mid-Amateur Champion in 1990.
Assistant Coach Experience: Assistant Coach at Clemson under Bobby Robinson in 1982-83; Clemson finished fifth in the nation at the NCAA tournament.
Head Coach Experience: Clemson University, 1983-84 to present.
Major Honors: Dave Williams National Coach of the Year in 2003; Golfweek National Coach of the Year in 2003; ACC Coach of the Year in 1987, 1996, 1997, 1998, 2003, 2004.
Major Championships: National Champions in 2003; NCAA East Regional Champions in 1993, 1994, 1995, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2004; ACC Champions in 1987, 1988, 1990, 1997, 1998, 2000, 2003, 2004.
PENLEY'S MAJOR COACHING ACCOMPLISHMENTS