Hall of Fame Clemson’s men’s golf coach Larry Penley announced Thursday he will retire at the conclusion of the 2021 spring season. Penley has been the head coach of the Tigers since the 1983-84 academic year, with this year marking his 38th leading the program, the longest tenure by a Clemson head coach in any sport.
“I can’t thank Clemson University enough for allowing me to live a dream,” said Penley. “Being part of the Clemson Golf program as a player, assistant coach and head coach since 1977 has been special to say the least. Thanks also to all of our past student-athletes and their families. It has been an honor to serve as their coach. I am proud of the way they have represented Clemson in competition and off the course, when they were student-athletes and in their careers.
“I know I speak for my predecessors Terry Don Phillips and Bobby Robinson in wishing he and his wife Heidi a wonderful retirement,” said Director of Athletics Dan Radakovich. “I am grateful to have had the opportunity to work with Larry for the past eight years and appreciate his service to Clemson Athletics and countless student-athletes. His record on and off the course speaks for itself. We all look forward to celebrating Larry this season.”
Coaching longevity is just one of the areas he has established Clemson athletic department standards. The number-14 finish for the Tigers in the Sagarin/Golfweek ranking in 2019-20 was his 25th Top 20 season, six more than any other coach in school history regardless of sport. His 13 Top 10 finishes are second to Dr. I.M. Ibrahim’s 14 as the men’s soccer coach between 1967-93.
Penley has taken Clemson to the NCAA Tournament all 36 seasons in which a tournament was held since taking over the program from Bobby Robinson, also a Clemson athletics record for team appearances by a head coach by a wide margin.
“Thanks to all the administrators, in the athletic department and across campus, who have worked so hard to make this an elite program,” said Penley. “We’ve had an amazing journey together. I’ve thought a lot about retirement over the past few years and believe the time is right. I am proud of what we have accomplished over the last four decades, but we have unfinished work ahead this spring. I can’t wait to see what this team can accomplish. We have a chance to be very special.”
The highlight of Penley’s career so far took place in 2003 when Clemson won the National Championship, at the time, just the fourth national team championship in Clemson athletics history. The Tigers were one of the most dominant teams in college golf history that year, winning six times, including the ACC, NCAA Regional and NCAA Championship tournaments. Clemson was the first team in college golf history to win all three of those postseason tournaments in the same year.
The national championship was also memorable because the tournament was held at the home course of second-ranked and multiple-time national champion Oklahoma State. Clemson was number-one in the nation in the preseason and in every poll throughout that season in posting an incredible 183-8-3 record against the opposition over the course of the season.
A former All-ACC golfer at Clemson between 1977-81, Penley was inducted into the Golf Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2004 at the age of 44, one of the youngest inductees in history. The induction took place less than a year after he led the Tigers to the National Championship, and was named National Coach of the Year by every service. He was inducted into the South Carolina Golf Hall of Fame in 2009.
In addition to that National Coach of the Year selection in 2003, Penley has been the ACC Coach of the Year seven times, including as recently as 2016. He is just the fourth coach in any league sport to be named ACC Coach of the Year in four different decades. Penley has been named the NCAA District Coach of the Year seven times as well, including as recently as 2017 and 2018.
Entering the spring of 2021, Penley has 79 career victories, second in ACC history behind the 83 won by Jesse Haddock when he was the head coach at Wake Forest. Among those victories are nine ACC Tournaments and seven NCAA Regionals. The seven regional titles are more than any other coach in NCAA Division I history.
Between 1982-2004, Clemson reached the NCAA National Tournament every year. That 23-year streak is the third-longest in college golf history. Penley was the head coach for 21 of the 23 years in that streak. Overall, Penley has taken Clemson to the national championship tournament 29 times, including each of the last five years there has been a tournament.
Players have flourished under Penley’s guidance. Fifteen of his former players have had status on the PGA Tour, including current players Jonathan Byrd, Lucas Glover, D.J. Trahan, Ben Martin, Doc Redman, and Kyle Stanley. His former players have combined to win 15 PGA Tour events, including Lucas Glover, who won the 2009 United States Open.
Thirty-one of Penley’s players have been honored as All-Americans, including D.J. Trahan and Kyle Stanley, who both won the Ben Hogan Award. Trahan won the Jack Nicklaus Award as the national player of the year in 2002. Three of his players (Kevin Johnson, Trahan, Corbin Mills) won the United States Public Links Championship, while Chris Patton and Doc Redman won the United States Amateur. Charles Warren won the NCAA Tournament in 1997, then won the Dave Williams Award as the Senior Player of the Year in 1998.
Penley’s teams have excelled academically as well. Fifteen times one of his players has been named a Golf Coaches Association Academic Scholar, including Stephen Behr, who won the Elite 90 Award as the top student-athlete at the 2016 NCAA Championship. He also won the Byron Nelson Award that year, the honor that goes to the top graduating senior who demonstrates high academics, level of play, as well as good character and integrity throughout his entire collegiate career. Three times his program has been recognized for its top 10 percent ranking in terms of APR scores among Division I golf programs.
Clemson begins its spring season this Sunday at the Camp Creek Seminole Invitational in Watersound, Florida.
—courtesy of Clemson Athletics