Growing up in the small town of Corvallis, Oregon, Hogan Arey always assumed that playing college golf for Oregon State University was a foregone conclusion. The reasons were abundant.
The 400-acre Oregon State campus looms large over downtown Corvallis. Trysting Tree Golf Club, where Hogan learned to play has doubled as the Beavers practice facility since the club’s groundbreaking in 1988. Hogan’s father, Sean, is an Oregon State alum and played on the men’s golf team. He embarked on a golf teaching career after he graduated, learned the ropes at Longview Country Club in Washington before returning to Oregon where he has been the head pro at Trysting Tree ever since.
“It was my dream to play at Oregon State,” Hogan told me matter of factly. “My dad played there and my grandpa coached baseball there for 25 years. Even my girlfriend’s parents are gymnastic coaches there. So I was a full-blown Oregon State Beaver. But they never game me the opportunity to come play for them.”
Hogan was a natural all-around athlete, but very much undersized at five-foot-seven with a twig-like physique. There weren’t too many Division I college golf programs willing to risk an athletic scholarship on him, but an unlikely opportunity materialized some 2,000 miles away, at the University of Louisiana at Monroe.
Down in the Bayou flanked by Baton Rouge and New Orleans in the south and Shreveport from the west is ULM. It’s wet, muggy, stagnant and scorching hot for a good portion of the year there. It has nothing in common with the Pacific Northwest except perhaps for the amount of rainfall each region is famous for.
Moving away from Oregon was a challenge for Hogan. Not known for his length, he redshirted as a freshman and worked on getting longer off the tee. He appeared in just four tournaments the following year before asserting himself as one of the team’s better golfers this past season.
Because the game of golf is difficult, I’m not always going to execute my plan exactly. But I create that plan with the understanding that a miss is very common in golf. So where will my best miss be? That’s my mindset.
Over the phone, Hogan and I talked about how being on his own and not having his dad around every day to mentor him has made him more independent. We also talked about his development as a golfer, how he has spent the past three years learning how to chip and pitch on Bermuda after developing a short game better suited for rye grass and bent greens. But mostly we talked about his practice habits, the mental rigors of competition and why golf is such a crazy hard game.
It was a good time for Hogan to reflect on his season. The ULM golf team had just returned from a trip to Destin, Floria where they wrapped up their 2016 schedule at the Sun Belt Conference Championships. As a team, ULM finished 8th out of 11 teams, some 28 strokes behind the leader, Georgia State. As for Hogan, his individual record over three rounds was, by his own admission, a little underwhelming. Over 54 holes, Hogan carded nine birdies, but he also put up four doubles and a triple.
“I set out to play for a 66 day one, a lofty goal but very achievable,” Hogan recalled. “After being three under through six it was very much a possibility. Unfortunately two doubles on the par threes and then a closing triple bogey really broke my heart. I started my second round with six pars and had hopes of dropping a few birdies. Instead I made three dumb bogeys. I closed with a double in my final round, a frustrating way to end it. Many times it’s just a few simple mistakes that lead you to shoot a 74 instead of a 70 or 69.”
Hogan is often asked to describe what it takes to compete as a top-level golfer. To give you a glimpse into his life as a college golfer, I asked Hogan to recap his practice round at the Raven Golf Club at Sandestin. What follows is an incisive look into his tournament prep, from dawn to dusk.
6:00 AM, day before the Sun Belt Conference Tournament gets underway
It’s time to wake up and find a cup of coffee to get my day going. I need that caffeine to get me stimulated to play. As a golfer you have to learn to love mornings. College golf is a grind, mentally and physically. Tournaments are grueling 12 hour, 36 hole days, and once over, it’s time to hit the books and become a student-athlete again.
To me the most important day of a tournament is the practice round day. This is the day you get to know the layout of the course you are about to compete on.
The Sun Belt Conference Championship takes place at the Raven Golf Club. Hogan tells me that the course at Sandestin golf and beach resort used to host some Champions Tour events there. More specifically, the course was host to the Boeing Championship in 2006 and 2007. Bobby Wadkins (Lanny’s less famous younger brother) and Loren Roberts were the winners there. The course record, 62, is held by three players including Wadkins who beat out hall-of-famer Raymond Floyd by a single stroke for one his four Champions Tour wins.
The Raven is a 6,900-yard par 71 designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr. 16 years ago. It’s a typical high-end Floria course – lots of doglegs that wind their way through rows of luxury homes and condos, lots of water to avoid. The Division I men’s teams will play it at just over 6,800 yards. Hogan uses his practice day to take in the course and develop a strategy. “We get see the course and use our minds to take in information about how it needs to be played,” he says. “How does the architect want me to play it? Where did he design the bailout areas? Where did he design specific areas of difficulty?”
We usually meet at the van and leave the hotel around 6:30. Depending on the tournament we either eat at the hotel or have a buffet provided for us at the golf course. For me, nutrition is the part I struggle with the most. When I’m playing, I need to eat as much as possible but it’s challenging cause your mind is focused on so many different things that it doesn’t come across as being vital. But it is. When you’re out playing and competing you’re burning so much energy that you need to replenish it.
The warmup process begins. By this time, I’m usually finishing up my third cup of coffee. The range session is nothing more than an attempt to get loose. I have 18 holes to work on practicing specific shots I’ll need for competition.
I’m very relaxed when I get to a tournament; I would describe myself as very easy-going. I understand that I’m going to be putting a lot of pressure on myself once the tournament starts so the lighter my personality is during the practice round, the easier the thought process will be.
Balls are in the air. Practice rounds last about six hours on average. Tournament officials will usually give you pin locations. They’ll have a marked dot on the green to indicate where the hole will be cut on the day of the tournament. I usually take three to five balls to each green so I can really learn how the slopes push balls in certain directions.
I like to draw my own greens in my yardage books, indicating where the severe slopes are. I also take little notes around each hole location – how it’s going to break in certain ways, where I need to feed it from to get the best opportunity to make a putt. Now when I’m in the fairway from 145 yards out for instance, I know there’s a slope at 142 so if I land it here it will release down to the green. My whole approach really focuses on understanding where the main undulations of the greens are located.
When playing a practice round I try to identify the shots each hole calls for. From the tee I’m going to jot down carry distances to different landmarks so I know how far I need to carry a trap or a water hazard for instance. I also note distances that I could get myself into trouble with and where I will be safe – what I call key targets. Quite often on the tee I’ll pick out a target in the background – a tree, a bunker. It’s usually a really small target; the smaller the target I’m aiming for, the smaller the miss that I’m going to have. So if I’m aiming for a tree, missing five yards right of my line will still be perfect.
The work Hogan does during a practice round is an extension of his meticulously-planned practice regimen. Whereas most recreational players use their range time to beat balls without any specific targets in mind, Hogan prefers to find a green he can hit shots into and camp out there. At times he’ll bring out 50 balls and start hitting them specific wedge distances up to 120 yards.
“I track how many I can hit inside of 20 feet or less. And sometimes I’ll putt them out,” he says. “I’ll use an excel spreadsheet to track my practice sessions. Now I have a measurement of how many times I was successful to those distances that I can compare to previous sessions. It helps me get a better understanding of where I’m hitting the bulk of my shots to.”
Hogan also charts his shots on tournament days. He’ll use his pin sheet to note the club he used, the distance the ball traveled as well as the distance to the hole. Hogan says he has excel logs for everything. He’s a self-processed golf nerd that builds graphs from his stats so that he can analyze performance trends and adjust his playing strategies around the strengths of his game.
It’s time for lunch. After spending six hours walking the golf course I’m starving. I like to eat a large pasta meal to replenish the calories burnt that morning. I also use this time to rest. The practice round has drained every bit of energy I have and I know have to get back out there to practice.
Back to the course for a range session. This is my last opportunity to perfect my ball striking before I take it to competition. I rehearse the shots that I executed in the morning and make sure I have the swing to pull them off.
Back in high school I’d go to the first tee and I’d just hit it down the middle of the fairway. Now if I see a pin on the right side of the green I’ll position my tee shot towards the left side of the fairway, or at least try my best to. Because the game of golf is difficult, I’m not always going to execute my plan exactly. But I create that plan with the understanding that a miss is very common in golf. So where will my best miss be? That’s my mindset.
As for chipping, I’ll drop balls, five or 10, in places where I think I might miss and that way I can be familiar with how the ball is going to get up and down based on where I need to land it. I aim at pin locations that I think the course will have, put some tees in the ground and chip to there to get familiar with the structure of the green around those areas. I’m just trying to get comfortable so that I won’t face a chip shot that I haven’t already rehearsed a day before a tournament.
This is about the time we get back to the hotel. We have about an hour to get showered and ready to go to dinner as a team. You get very used to the hotel lifestyle while playing college golf.
The ULM golf team is comprised of 11 members, but only five players get chosen to travel every week based on each person’s performance. According to Hogan, the grind of having to qualify for the travel squad is often times more stressful than participating in the subsequent tournament. After all, you’re practicing and playing all week for a chance to compete. Who wants to be left behind on campus while a handful of your teammates hit the road?
The group you travel with – you become very close to them because you spend a lot of time with them. You do get to know them as if they were your brothers so it’s pretty cool that you get to experience different places. If there’s any time remaining after a practice round, we try to get some time away from the game. It’s crucial that you take your mind off the stress of competition.
Team dinner is always entertaining. As a college student I always look forward to that per diem money. Outback Steakhouse is a team favorite to eat at on road trips. These dinners are spent talking about shots we hit on the course and where we think can have success on the course we’re about to go play.
For scoring, I like to break down the course into three-hole segments so that I’m playing six three-hole rounds of golf. And if I can play each three-hole segment at even par or better than I’ve beat the course. For instance, I can play those six segments at one under a piece. Or I can play three of them at one under, three of them at even par; that will still get me under par for the round. With that in mind, I understand that not every hole is going to be an easy birdie look. But within those three holes there’s usually one hole that I know I can be aggressive and try to make birdie. But then there’s going to be one that I’m going to be fighting for par.
It’s time to study, or at least try to. Doing schoolwork on the road is very difficult. Your focus the entire week is on the golf course and your personal golf game. Taking two hours out of my night to redirect my focus elsewhere is challenging. It’s also extremely challenging when the hotel wifi signal is weak or non-existent. Most of my schoolwork can be completed online, but good wifi is a must.
Hogan wasn’t one of those golfing savants that picks up a club at an early age and makes a name for himself battling other promising youngsters at local and regional tournaments. But given his connections to Oregon State and his dad’s golfing background, Hogan was never far away from the game. He learned how to swing a club by observing his dad, and grooved his motion into something uniquely his own as he got older. More than anything else, he credits his father for teaching him how to play the right way, the old-school way, starting at the practice green and ending at the tee.
“I learned to play golf by developing my chipping and putting first,” says Hogan. “This gave me such a tremendous advantage in being able to get up and down and score irrespective of the long game. As my ability got better and my ball striking improved, the game got easier.”
He began taking the game more seriously and playing competitively at Corvallis High School where he earned first team all state honors each year and helped his team win two state championships.
When it came time to declare for college, the team he grew up idolizing and modeling his practice habits after looked elsewhere for their freshman recruits. Looking back on what transpired at the end of his senior year, Hogan says, “I took an opportunity that was given to me by ULM and I’ve made the most of it. And because I moved so far way from what I was accustomed to, it forced me to improve and broaden my understanding of the game. I feel like had I stayed in Oregon, my game wouldn’t have been as diverse, nor would I have as complete an understanding of who I am on the course.”
The team will meet with our coach and and discuss the yardage book. We share our personal notes on the course and try to create the best plan for the following day. Our coach gives us a “let’s go get it” speech and then it’s time to fall asleep. You have to rest your mind as much as possible the night before cause you’re about to push it to the furthest limits possible.
On a 36-hole day you’re out competing for 11 straight hours, no break. I can’t let so much as 15 seconds slip my mind when playing or else it will lead to a double bogey more often that not.
Hogan Arey played in nine tournaments this past season. He was the low player on his team on three separate occasions and his best finish was a tie for sixth at the Atchafalaya Intercollegiate in February. He has two more years left to play for the ULM Warhawks.