DURANT, Okla. — Zach James is the first Southeastern Oklahoma State golfer to earn All-America honors and the first to miss a season because of a punching bag.
James is a 22-year-old senior from Whitesboro who was named NCAA Division-II Ping All-America by the Golf Coaches Association of America following the 2017-18 campaign and now been recognized as the NCAA Division II’s top-ranked individual golfer. He has the nation’s lowest adjusted scoring average at 69.03 strokes per round with 10 of his 13 rounds in the 60s.
The only thing that has slowed him during his college career was a fractured wrist in October of 2016.
“We were two tournaments into the season,” James said, “and we had gone to the District at Choctaw Casino to unwind. We were trying to see who could hit a punching bag the hardest and I tied with a teammate. I added a little extra in the tiebreaker and fractured my wrist.
“That cost me the rest of the season. I didn’t get to play again until May of 2017.”
James started playing golf at age three with his dad teaching him. He played golf and basketball at Whitesboro, finally locking in on golf. Since he made that decision he has had lots of high times and low scores.
He considered East Central, Cameron and Missouri-St. Louis before coming to Southeastern. Why Southeastern?
“I was offered a good scholarship to join a strong golf team,” James said. “Also, Southeastern had the best business school and that’s what I wanted.”
After receiving a medical red-shirt due to the fractured wrist, this his is red-shirt senior season. In his career he has played 79 rounds — finishing at par or below 33 times — in 30 tournaments with the spring schedule remaining.
“Zach is a crucial part to this team. Not only is he our No. 1 player, but he’s also a captain,” Storm head coach Molly Franks said. “The other players listen and respect Zach’s opinion. He works hard and wants to be the best he can be not only for himself but also the team. Zach has said that breaking his wrist was one of the best things that happened to his golf game. It gave him new motivation and a better version of Zach came back to this golf team.”
James said the strongest part of his game was his mental approach. A bad shot doesn’t ruin his day.
“You’re going to have some of those bad shots,” he said. “I just forget about it and concentrate on the next shot. I think my irons and getting on the green are strong parts of my game.”
“The highlight of my Southeastern golf was winning the conference tournament last year. That’s when I was most proud of myself and my team.”
James’ goal is to play on the pro tour. It takes a ton of practice, playing on mini-tours, playing in qualifiers, getting good scores and exemptions to higher levels.
“I have met a lot of great people at Southeastern and I’ve enjoyed playing golf on the collegiate level,” James said. “My parents, Patricia Witt and Steven James, are my biggest supporters. They made it possible for me to have everything I needed and to play in summer tournaments and that makes a huge difference.”
First things first. The spring season remains. A GAC title is out there, along with another All-America honor.
He plans to stay away from punching bags.