Matt Ball has seen golf from all sides.
He’s played, he’s been a club professional, a teaching pro and he’s currently VCU's golf coach, a position he's held since 1999. In that job, all the skills he learned come into play – along with some new ones.
“What I really enjoy,” Ball said, “is seeing kids do better as a group than they thought they could do.”
That’s where Ball’s ability to multi-task comes into play. He calls himself “a dad, a sports psychologist, a counselor, a coach. You name it.”
Golf is unique in that it is an individual sport as well as a team sport. One player can be crowned champion in a tournament. If his teammates don’t do well, the team won’t finish well. Keeping an eye on individual and team progress is a trick Ball has to ingrain in his players.
“The big thing with golf is there’s too much time to think,” said Ball, who has won four conference Coach of the Year awards with VCU. “I like challenging the guys and trying to help them see things differently. I think in competition with most people, it is like their heads are in a vise. All they see is trying to get through the round in as few strokes as possible and they don’t see the risks and the rewards.
“I see things from a different perspective and I try to get them to learn to see things from a broader view – taking the whole thing into account rather than this one thing they have to pull off with this shot. You can’t worry about the ‘what ifs’ but you have to take into account the strategy and the percentage of pulling shots off. And you are playing for a team and not just yourself so if you make a mistake it does affect everybody. So make decisions accordingly. Come up with a good, solid round without too much risk but without being scared, either.”
Ball graduated cum laude from VCU in 1987 with a bachelor’s degree in marketing. He was named to the Golf Coaches Association of America’s Academic All-America team in 1987. He was good on the course, too, twice earning medalist honors.
He returned to his alma mater in 1999 to become the school’s first full-time golf coach. In between, he worked as a professional at several area clubs.
Ball’s first three teams won CAA Championships. He added an additional CAA title in 2009, followed by three straight Atlantic 10 titles from 2014-16. He’s coached the only two VCU individuals to qualify for the NCAA tournament (Reg Millage in 2000 and Ted Brown in 2003) and his 2002 team qualified for the NCAA Championships. Under his tutelage, VCU golfers have claimed three conference individual crowns, including Adam Ball in 2015 and 2016.
During his tenure, Ball has overseen enhancements of VCU's training facilities, equipment, travel and academics. The Rams now drive to most tournaments in an eight-seat, luxury Mercedes van that includes captain's chairs, television and Wi-Fi. In 2010, Ball was there to cut the ribbon on the William G. Reynolds Jr. Indoor Learning and Practice Golf Facility at First Tee of Richmond. In 2013-14, VCU posted a 3.53 team grade-point-average, the highest in school history.
In short, Ball has built a program that will contend annually in the classroom and for the A-10 title.
Ball says he's seen support for the program grow in recent years, and that helps his team “feel like we’re playing for more people and not just playing for ourselves and our parents. It just seems like there’s a lot more people who care.
“The bar is set a little higher. We have a very supportive athletic department.”
Regardless of the makeup of his roster, Ball will continue to focus on course management, mentally and physically. Most players come to him, he said, with well developed swings. Getting around the course and getting used to the highly competitive team aspect takes more work.
“By the time players get to this level, they have a golf swing that’s their own,” Ball said. “I try to work with their current instructors and work through them, using them to input my swing ideas and such. I try to work with players directly on course management and the short game a lot. I like to be out on the course with the guys, working on the game of golf.
“There’s no defense in golf. I say that all the time. It is basically you against the golf course. You need to come up with the total number at the end that is as efficient as possible without taking undue risk along the way.”
Ball also likes to keep his program involved off the course. The Rams are active participants with the Richmond First Tee that is part of a national program that increases children’s exposure to golf by making it more affordable and accessible. The team also works with local youngsters at a number of area clinics. Ball founded the Richmond Area Junior Interclub and, more recently, the Virginia Junior Golf Alliance that is aimed at putting programs in place to help competitive junior golfers develop at a faster pace.
A native of Fredericksburg, Va., Ball has two sons Matthew Jr., who played for the Rams from 2010-14, and Adam, who captured five individual tournament titles as a Ram from 2013-16 and owns program records for single-season and career scoring average.
• Two-time CAA Coach of the Year (2008, 2009); Two-time A-10 Coach of the Year (2014, 2015)
• Led Rams to seven conference championships: 2000, 2001, 2002, 2009 (CAA); 2014, 2015, 2016 (A-10)
• Has Guided VCU to eight NCAA Regionals (2000, 2001, 2002, 2009, 2010, 2014, 2015, 2016)
• Directed the Rams to the 2002 NCAA Championships.
• Coached three league Players of the Year (Reg Millage, 2000; Lanto Griffin, 2009, Adam Ball, 2015 & 2016)
• The Rams have collected 18 All-CAA and 11 All-Atlantic 10 citations under his watch.
• Has coached four Academic All-Americans.
Team Titles (19)
• CAA Championship (2000, 2001, 2002, 2009)
• Atlantic 10 Championship (2014, 2015, 2016)
• Birkdale Classic (March 11-12, 2000)
• Bradford Creek Intercollegiate (March 17-18, 2000)
• First Bank Intercollegiate (Sept. 25-26, 2000)
• Treasure Coast Classic (March 16-18, 2001)
• ODU/Seascape Invitational (Oct. 27-28, 2003)
• Raines Development Group Intercollegiate (Sept. 20-21, 2004)
• ODU/Seascape Invitational (Oct. 25-26, 2004)
• Argonaut Invitational (Feb. 26-27, 2007)
• Palmas Del Mar Intercollegiate (March 9-11, 2009)
• Palisades Intercollegiate (April 13-14, 2009)
• ODU/Outer Banks Intercollegiate (Oct. 20-22, 2013)
• Whiting Turner-Towson Invitational (April 1-2, 2014)