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Q&A with Nevada's Stephen Osborne, the nation's most interesting college golfer

Stephen Osborne
Nevada's Stephen Osborne had a stellar junior season and will turn pro. (NCAA photos)

Stephen Osborne might be the most interesting college golfer in the nation. The Bishop Manogue graduate, who won state prep titles in golf and skiing, began his post-high school career at Army where he was on the boxing team. But after a semester at West Point, he missed golf to the point he transferred, eventually landing back at Nevada. During his first two seasons with the Wolf Pack, Osborne competed in only four events, including just one last season in which he posted scores of 82, 84 and 80 in his lone tournament. Osborne dedicated himself to the game this season and became a strong contributor to Nevada, which just missed out on advancing to the NCAA Championships last week. Osborne finished tied for fourth individually in the Athens Regional, losing to Western Kentucky's Billy Tom Sargent on the third hole of a playoff for a spot at nationals. Osborne, who also has started a non-profit called Operation Athlete for underprivileged kids, has decided to turn pro with a degree in hand rather than return to Nevada for his senior season.

Osborne is Nevada Sports Net's Wolf Pack Athlete of the Month for May, an honor presented in sponsorship with Champion Chevrolet. Here is a portion of our interview with Osborne.

NSN: I was going to start by asking about your mustache but it looks like you have a full beard now.

Stephen Osborne: I told the guys if we went to nationals it would come back, and if we made it to match play I'd dye it blue. I think my mom's happy that didn't happen. I grew the beard out. My girlfriend likes the beard a little better than the mustache.

NSN: What's your first memory of golf?

SO: When I was born, my dad didn't really get to go out and play very much since he was looking after me. He came up with the idea when I could start walking that we'd go out together. I remember having a little three-club set. I grew up playing a bunch of different sports, but we'd go out late afternoon and hit balls. I had one driver, an iron and a putter. I'd run around and hit and go out with him a lot.

NSN: Which course?

SO: He joined up at Montreux before they had a course and then they built the course around it, so he's an original member there. We live up in that area.

NSN: You also won some state titles in skiing, right?

SO: We won three straight championships as a team and I had two individual titles. And I played soccer my senior year. Coming into college was the first time I only did golf. I was doing multiple sports all the way until I was 18 and then chose to focus on golf in college.

NSN: What made you focus on golf?

SO: I actually went to Army to start college. I did summer training at West Point and did the first semester. I missed it so much, I didn't think my heart would be in the military. I felt that being on a golf course was where I needed to be. I took part-time classes the semester after and (Coach Jacob Wilner) gave me the opportunity to come back here and gave me an offer and it was really exciting. I think being away from it for 5 or 6 months made me realize that's what I wanted to do. At the end of high school, I was a little burned out on a lot of things. Going in there and taking a step away made me appreciate it a lot more coming back.

NSN: Where you going to golf at Army?

SO: No. I actually made the boxing team there. It was a little different lifestyle than I have now.

NSN: How long were you at Army?

SO: It was 5 months and 21 days. I started to have to grind through it, so I started counting the days and remember them very specifically. I started there in June and they have an almost 2-month basic training over the summer, and then I went for a semester.

NSN: Was it hard giving up golf when you went to Army?

SO: At the beginning, during the summer, I thought it was awesome. I loved training, I loved shooting,I loved being outdoors. Then school started and I did boxing tryouts and made the team and it was good. Probably about halfway through the semester I realized I missed it way too much and I was a little confused on what I was going to do coming out of high school and being away from it made me really appreciate it. I had a lot of long phone conversations with friends and family and realized I love the sport too much to stop now. I just decided that's what I was going to do. That was a pretty big leap, too, because West Point is a phenomenal school and it just didn't work out for me to try and walk on there. It was a blessing in disguise I had to leave and come back here and go through everything I did. It turned out great and Coach gave me an awesome opportunity to come and play here.

NSN: Your brother, Ollie, is a freshman at SMU. Who's the better golfer?

SO: I was hoping to go to nationals and settle it. (Ollie qualified as part of SMU's team). We played head-to-head in match play this year and he beat me on the 18th hole. He beat me at Stanford. In the last two events, I beat him in both of those. It was two to two. I was hoping we'd get the fifth to break it. It's really back and forth. He's a really good player. We've always gone back and forth. He doesn't really look like my littler bother. He's a few inches taller than me. It's very competitive and very equally matched between the two of us.

NSN: Finishing runner-up for that individual spot at nationals, what will be your lasting memory from that week?

SO: I walked off the third playoff hole and had a lot of people come up trying to console me. I wasn't disappointed. I knew it took 57 holes for me to be done with that event. I knew I left everything out there. That last day we were tied for fifth (as a team with the top five qualifying for nationals) and I told myself I wasn't going to look at the leaderboard. I was just going to play hard all day and kind of see where that put us in the end. Coach gave me a few updates and he let me know where we were at and what we needed to do. I was just going to play hard, especially that back nine. Turning at 2 over and shooting a couple under on the back. I definitely wasn't disappointed. I knew I left everything out there. Hats off to Billy Tom. I've known him for a little while and he's a great player. All and all, it was a great week. I was a little more disappointed the team didn't get through than myself not getting through. We've all had each other's backs through the years and fought really hard and worked really hard.

NSN: It's really interesting looking at your Nevada career. Your first two years, you only played in three tournaments and only one last year.

SO: I played in three regular-season events and a match play event. Just getting acclimated to being in college was something I really underestimated. At Army, it's a really different social scene than at Nevada. I made a lot of really good friends and I think just balancing everything was really hard for me the first couple of years. Transferring and trying to get credits worked out and doing stuff in the classroom and trying to keep up with my friends because I'm from here and playing golf was all a big juggle. This year, I decided to focus a lot more on golf and myself because I knew that's what would make me happy and I found a better balance of working on school and playing.

NSN: What's one course you haven't played that you want to play?

SO: I think everybody wants to play Augusta. That's a dream. We were down in Georgia last week and I just love the area down there. All of the courses down there are just so awesome. The weather is amazing. But Augusta is on the bucket list.

NSN: What's your favorite hole to play in Reno?

SO: Sometimes when we go out and play for fun at Montreux we hit driver on 17, which is not the play but there's a little 20 by 20 yard fairway area over a creek that's like 370 yards away and it's straight downhill. All of my best memories are with my brothers and my teammates going out there late at night and hitting driver there and having fun coming down the stretch when the sun's going down.

NSN: What's your favorite club to hit?

SO: Driver is a big club for me. When my driver is rolling, I feel like my whole bag is just going to fall into the same place. When I'm swinging driver well, I feel like that's going to translate into my irons and wedges and it makes putting a lot easier when you're confident in how you're swinging.

NSN: What's your favorite on-course snack?

SO: Scooby Snacks, the fruit snacks. I told our assistant coach (Mike Paul) that you can't frown when you're having Scooby Snacks, so they're my happy snacks and no matter what I'll have a smile on my face.

NSN: What's the best shot you ever hit?

SO: That's a tough one. It might have been high school state my sophomore year. I hit a hole-in-one on the eighth hole and we ended up winning by a few shots. In a tournament, that's arguably the best shot I've hit.

NSN: Did you feel like there was a different bond with this year's team than the previous ones?

SO: It's interesting because I was the only one left from the squad that we had the first year I got here. Everybody around me was a completely different face. We had a ton of talent the last three years and this year us just having a closer bond with each other made us push each a little bit more. Last year's team was arguably a lot more talented than this year's team. But this year, I think for some reason when we got in situations to win tournaments, we all trusted each other and all saw the work we put in and ended up winning a few more tournaments than last year. I think it just came from us trusting each other and being around each other a lot. A lot of that had to do with a few of the guys coming in last year and being more comfortable and obviously Joey (Vrzich) and both Sams (Meek and Harned) were a really big part of that and Tony (Gil) and Trey (Davis) and Mitch (Abbott), who redshirted this year, was big. He pushed us pretty good in qualifying. It was really competitive and we're really close.

NSN: You've worked with the Special Olympics. Why is that cause important to you?

SO: I did a club drive in high school and I just feel like giving back is a really important part of the game for me. I've worked hard to give back to Special Olympics and my family and I started a non-profit to give back to less fortunate kids, not necessarily Special Olympic kids. I just feel like golf is such a life-changing place for me to be. Being out on the golf course has shaped me as a person and I don't want anyone to not have that opportunity to go out and try it.

NSN: Operation Athlete is the non-profit. What does that all entail?

SO: My sister took over when I left and I haven't been able to do as much in college. I'm hoping to do more in the future. Doing a club drive for Special Olympics was really cool. We got to give a lot of kids a lot of sets of clubs and the community out-poured a bunch of stuff from their garages. I thought, 'If we could help the Special Olympic kids, I'm sure there are a lot of really healthy, athletic kids who don't have the opportunity to play sports.' My goal with that is to give back to kids like that. I just think everybody should have an opportunity to play a sport they could enjoy, and it's a big part of growing up and shaping yourself as a person.

NSN: What are you majoring in and what do you want to do post-golf career?

SO: I'm graduating in business management this year. Post-college career I'm going to turn professional and no matter how long my professional career is, whether it's 10 years or 40 years, at the end of it I want to give back and help kids and coach golf whether at a college level or a teaching level. I just think it's been such an important sport and part of my life. I'd love to help people get better at it and enjoy it more.

NSN: What did this season mean to you cutting some things out of your life and becoming a big contributor to a really good team?

SO: This year, I secluded myself and moved home. I'm still really close with the guys on the team, but there was a lot less time spent on my phone and a lot less time doing anything else other than golf and school. I wanted to get good grades and I wanted to play the best golf I could. I trusted giving up a lot of social things would be better for me, and it was a giant learning process but it got better and better and getting better results this spring kind of showed that. It was kind of tough in the beginning because I didn't know if it was going to create good results if I focused a little more on my golf and did some meditation stuff and self-reflection and mental work with a sports psychologist. At first, it was really hard because I thought, 'What if I don't get any better doing it?' Seeing the results from doing that was huge for me and seeing a little progress in the fall and it was big to end the season the way I did.

NSN: So you moved back home with your parents?

SO: Yeah. I moved away from downtown and moved back home with my parents. My brother and sister are both away at college, so I pretty much had the downstairs to myself. I could go home and do my own thing, sleep in my own bed and just kind of focus on the right things and there's a gym close to there.

NSN: So what's next for you?

SO: I've decided to turn pro and not come back from my (senior) year. I'm going to graduate in the summer and one of my big goals this year was to get a degree. I'm going to do that this summer, which I'm really proud of myself. Anyone who gets a college degree kind of went through it and had some ups and downs. That was a big goal for me. I trust in my coach in Dallas and so I've decided the best plan moving forward is to go down there and work with him and get ready for Q School this fall."

Sports columnist Chris Murray provides insight on Northern Nevada sports. Contact him at crmurray@sbgtv.com or follow him on Twitter @MurrayNSN.

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