By Zac Ellis
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Scott Limbaugh arrived as head golf coach at Vanderbilt in 2012 after five seasons as an assistant at Alabama. The native of Childersburg, Ala. didn't lack experience as a head coach; he'd previously led the golf program at D-III Huntingdon College from 2004-07.
But as Limbaugh soon realized when he met with his new team in Nashville, the Vanderbilt job could become a humbling experience.
"I look back on that first team meeting, and I really didn't know what I was getting into," Limbaugh said. "I was just a young guy just trying to build something special."
Mission accomplished, Coach.
On Tuesday, Vanderbilt fell to Oregon in the Final Four of the NCAA Men's Golf Championships in Sugar Grove, Ill. Yet the Commodores' finish couldn't erase what was an otherwise remarkable campaign in Limbaugh's fifth season. The program won its first SEC Championship, won the stroke play of NCAAs for the first time in history and ascended to Vanderbilt's first-ever Final Four. The Dores also spent much of the season ranked No. 1 in the country.
Individually, Limbaugh was named SEC Coach of the Year in 2017, a first for Vanderbilt men's golf. Four Commodores also garnered All-America recognition, including senior Matthias Schwab and sophomore Patrick Martin on the first team. Now three of the only four players to earn First-Team All-America honors at Vanderbilt have come on Limbaugh's watch.
Those accolades mattered less to Limbaugh this week, when the coach watched his Commodores falls short of a national championship at Rich Harvest Farms. But Vanderbilt's program remains on an upward trajectory after another season of firsts.
"I know we will look back on this year knowing it was special," Limbaugh said. "Moments like this are tough because it means so much to so many people... This team played awesome and has so much to be proud of. This team changed Vanderbilt golf forever, and for that all is can do is say thank you."
Vanderbilt golf has reversed its fortunes with Limbaugh as head coach. The `Dores capped the coach's first season in 2012-13 ranked 45th nationally in the Golfweek/Sagarin ratings. Last October, Vanderbilt reached a No. 1 overall ranking at Golfstat.com for the first time -- just the fourth Commodore program to do so -- and finished the 2017 regular season No. 1 in the Bushnell Golfweek Coaches Poll. Under Limbaugh, Vanderbilt has won 12 team tournaments, the most of any head coach in program history.
Vanderbilt's evolution began with the recruitment of elite talent. Upon arriving in Nashville prior to the 2012 season, Limbaugh immediately hopped on a plane to Austria and convinced touted European prospect Matthias Schwab to stick to his Commodore commitment. Limbaugh had little more than a dream to sell Schwab; now the senior has closed his career as the fifth-ranked amateur in the world with First Team All-America honors in tow.
More players followed suit. This season Martin became a First-Team All-American as just a sophomore. John Augenstein earned SEC Freshman of the Year honors at the end of the regular season. The common thread is Limbaugh, who has proven himself a talent evaluator, developer and mentor.
"Coach Limbaugh is one of a kind, in a really good way," Schwab said. "He's really intense, really committed and disciplined. He has a plan and he sticks to it no matter what. Plus, the relationship he has with most of us is not just a coach-player relationship. It's more than that. We have a really personal relationship."
Now Vanderbilt has blossomed into a perennial power atop in college golf. Limbaugh, too, has matured along the way. With the help of trusty assistant Dusty Smith, who this week accepted the head coaching job at Mississippi State, Limbaugh gradually honed the ability to coach to his players' strengths.
Perhaps Limbaugh didn't recognize the challenge he took on during that first Vanderbilt team meeting in 2012. But now, the fruits of that labor have begun to sprout on West End, and beyond.
"I try not to be a guy who's just set in his ways too much," Limbaugh said. "You've got to change a little bit because every player can't be coached the same way. Will Gordon doesn't get coached the exact same way as Patrick Martin. They're different human beings with different motors with different skillsets.
"We want to coach them to be the best players they can be, but all we talk about is our team. We don't ever talk about individual awards. That's just a byproduct of setting out to do what you've got to do to make our team better."
Zac Ellis is the Writer and Digital Media Editor for Vanderbilt Athletics. Check out his story archive and follow him on Twitter here.