Rafael Becker, Im told, plays the game of golf with some flair. Figures, since he comes from Brazil, which knows a thing or two about flair.
But if theres one golf coach in the country who I do not associated with flair, its Wichita State coach Grier Jones. Hes all about hard work, dedication, practice and devotion. Flair is way down on Jones list of golf attributes.
So when I made the mistake of using that word to describe Becker, Jones bristled.
I would discourage any flair, Jones deadpanned. I would say (Becker) has personality. You save the flair until the tournament is over.
Whatever Becker has, its working. He is the top golfer on another strong Wichita State mens golf team that will begin its pursuit of a Missouri Valley Conference tournament championship today and Tuesday at Hutchinsons Prairie Dunes.
Im never satisfied with my golf game, Becker said.
Those words are music to Jones ears. He often talks about how there is only so much he can do as a coach if a player is unwilling to put in the time to reach his potential.
Becker puts in the time.
Its a game of such detail that if youre not at it every day, wanting to get better, youre eventually going to fall behind, Becker said. If I want to be a PGA Tour player, I need to improve a lot. Im nowhere near even making it through Q school. There are so many details things, mental things, that I need to work on.
Becker, though, has made remarkable improvement during his three years at Wichita State. He is working on a string of five consecutive Top 10 finishes in tournaments, has been chosen Missouri Valley Conference golfer of the week four times and has a sub-70 stroke average in his last five tournaments.
Becker had only one round in the 60s during his freshman season, and shot rounds of 80 or higher six times.
This season, his highest 18-hole score is 79, he has been above 75 only three times and he has 13 rounds in the 60s. He has won two tournaments and been in the top five of four others.
Every player needs a push here or there, Jones said. But Rafes a smart guy. When hes not doing what hes supposed to be doing and you show it to him, he changes.
Becker grew up playing golf in Brazil, which is unusual because golf is not popular in that country. There is only one public course in the whole country, Becker said, and the game is played mostly by people with wealth.
My grandpa played and my dad played, Becker said. Thats really the only way people get started playing golf in Brazil.
There is only one Brazilian, Alexander Rocha, on the PGA Tour. Another former touring pro, Jaime Gonzalez, is currently the pro at the club Becker belongs to in Sao Paulo. Gonzalez played collegiately at Oklahoma State, which is where Jones was an All-American during the mid-1960s.
Gonzalez endorsed Jones coaching techniques and Becker, realizing he needed to play college golf as a springboard to a potential professional career, decided Wichita State was the best place to do so.
I was really close to my coach in Brazil and were great friends, Becker said. Its been very different here, but Coach Grier is always there for me. But youve got to work to play for him. Youve got to show him youre working. I think thats been great for my golf game because Im working so much harder and Im getting so much better.
Beckers style works great with Jones because Becker is not a huge hitter. He has to pay close attention to golfs details to be successful. So he practices shots others might not practice as much.
I give myself a lot of weird, awkward lies that you never expect to have but you always end up having them, Becker said. Ill put the balls in divots and I practice out of the bunker with plugged lies. I try to be a little creative when I practice.
Becker prides himself on being a shot-maker, but that doesnt come without hours and hours or practice.
In Jones formative golf years, he hit hundreds of golf shots every day at MacDonald Park or wherever he could find a practice area. He often started at sunup and kept going until sundown.
Its that kind of dedication Jones expects from his players. He doesnt understand why any golfer wouldnt do whatever it takes to get better.
But theres a human reaction that when you start to play well you back off a little bit, Jones said. You maybe take a little more time off. But Ive told these guys a thousand times that youre only as good as what youve done in the past six months.
Success in the game can be fleeting. There are no fool-proof ways to stay at a high level. But theres definitely a way not to stay there, Jones says. And thats to stop giving the game the attention it demands.
Becker gets it.
Hes got some ability and hes got experience, Jones said. Hes played all over the world and he listens to what you say. And he even tries some of the things you say. Somebody who works at this game and listens, thats a dangerous combination.