Director / Strategic Brand Engagement
CINCINNATI — The time has come for Cincinnati men’s golfer Sam Jean As he reaches the eve of the NCAA Regionals, a three-day showdown in Columbus.
Jean, who head coach Doug Martin calls the “consummate student-athlete,” boasts a 4.0 GPA in mechanical engineering, which calls for 2 am nights studying followed by 6 am wakeups for his golf preparation. One perk for this tournament, albeit the biggest one of the year, is that Jean says he feels it’s almost like a “free” one, despite approaching every single one with the same approach.
“I’m really excited for the opportunity to compete,” the Greenwood, Ind., native said. “I can just go out and play more free than I normally feel. I can compete on a bigger stage and I’m really excited. You really have to be disciplined (during the school year) and stay on top of it to put the time I want into (golf and academics). It’s a sacrifice on both ends and can be frustrating at times, but I have two weeks here with no classes or finals to worry about, and that’s real nice for a change.”
Another change of pace for Jean is that he feels this year he has improved his attitude the most, something he says has not been perfect, but way better than the past.
Martin assures it is one of the more positive traits he has seen in any of his many student-athletes over his lengthy career.
“He’s like every great player in that he’s a little stubborn, and that’s okay,” Martin said. “I don’t have a problem with that. As long as he’s hearing the message that we are saying, everything is great. I don’t know a great player I’ve ever had that didn’t have a little stubbornness. taking the info we are giving him and making it his own.
“I asked a lot of questions on the course of veteran players and took that and said ‘okay, how can I take what they told me and become a better player.’ I think Sam has done a nice job at that in his time here. We have coached him hard. He’s very into his game and wants to improve.”
Martin is certainly the person to speak on that, considering his successful eight-year run on the PGA Tour. He started at Cincinnati as an assistant in 2006-07 before becoming the head coach three years later. He remarked on how Jean was at peak performance for nine of 11 tournaments this season (five top-10 finishes, including the Badger Invitational title in September), with the exception of some swing battles in the spring.
“He drives the ball very well, a consistent driver,” Martin said. “I think he’s a very good iron player … week to week, month to month, he puts pressure on the iron game. His short game has evolved over the years like no other player I’ve had here. The one thing he needs to continue improving is on the greens. He’s not a tentative putter, but he needs to become more aggressive there.”
Jean agreed that part was a conscious effort of his as well.
“I need to be better at going deeper and not letting up,” he said. “It doesn’t sound hard, but when you have a good round going you feel like you don’t wanna lose it rather than wanting to play better.”
Jean, who has two years of eligibility thanks to the COVID clause, has carded nine rounds within the 60s this year, boasting a 71.45 stroke average that is the team’s best since 2019. His 73.05 career mark, which includes an improved score in each of his four years, ranks atop the school’s charts.
Now, on this monumental weekend of reflection, Jean has one thing on his mind.
“I’m so thankful,” he said. “I know there’s a quote by Bobby Jones that golf is the closest game to life. You get good breaks and bad breaks, but you have to play the ball as it lies.”
Jean’s bid marks the seventh-such appearance for the Bearcats on the NCAA stage. Austin Squires made it twice (2017 and 2019), while David Tepe made it in 2013 as the Big East champ for the first under Martin. Jon Nichols (1974), Geoff Hensley (1969) and George McManis (1965) were the other previous bids. In order to reach the national championship round in Scottsdale, Ariz. (May 27-June 1), the sixth-seeded Jean will need to be the top finisher out of the 10 individuals not on one of the team qualifiers.
He competed on the same OSU Golf Course last summer at the US Amateur Qualifier, and Tepe was there as well for his regional.