GCU men’s golf changes direction as Purtzer steps away

The Paul Purtzer experiment has officially ended for the Grand Canyon University  golf program.

Purtzer, a local golf celebrity, was hired in September of 2010 to take over the men’s program at the small private college in northwest Phoenix.  In addition to being the men’s head coach, he was supposed to direct new efforts in golf instruction, course-management, and the development of a new academic program.

That direction has changed course again, as the college announced last month that the program is being re-organized after two years.

“Going forward, we’ve re-structured responsibilities of the (director of golf) position, returning to a more traditional role of coaching only,” explained GCU Athletic Director Keith Baker.

According the the school, Purtzer decided not to continue in the re-structured role and opted instead to return to his golf teaching career and work with the Purtzer Golf Academy.

Purtzer, who was a collegiate All-American at Arizona State from 1968 to 1970 and went on to spend nine years as a tour professional, is just one of the big-name coaches GCU has pulled into its sports programs to help the school build a higher profile on the national stage.

Russ Pennell stepped in to take over the men’s basketball team in 2009 after leading the University of Arizona to a Sweet 16 appearance in the NCAA Tournament.  He, too, had developed a local reputation after nine years as an assistant on the Arizona State basketball staff, but taking over the Wildcats’ program when Lute Olson suddenly retired elevated him to national prominence.

Then, in April of 2011, the school named a former Major League player and coach to take over the baseball program.  Andy Stankiewicz, who also put in a couple of years at ASU, played seven years of pro ball for three different teams, managed a New York Yankees minor-league team, and was the minor league field coordinator for the Seattle Mariners when GCU came calling.

The golf hire was the next step in the process.  But the Purtzer Project was just getting off the ground when it ended rather abruptly.

Purtzer took the Antelopes to a second-place finish in the Pacific West Conference his first year, and then captured the school’s fourth men’s conference title in six years this year, winning the title with a dominating performance.  The team posted a 16-stroke victory at the event in Hilo, Hawaii.

The ‘Lopes capped off the season with their first NCAA Division II Championship appearance since the 2008-09 season, ultimately finishing in 16th place.  The ‘Lopes were the only PacWest team to make it to the national championship tournament, a trip they earned by posting a fifth-place finish at the NCAA West/Central Regional Championship.

When Purtzer was hired two years ago, Baker said he was “excited about the opportunity to bring NCAA National Championships to Arizona.”

That may still happen, but it will have to be on someone else’s watch.  The search for a new coach is underway.

(Photo: GCU Athletics/ Tim Koors)