Position: Head Coach
The 2020-21 season is Larry Penley’s 38th and final season as Clemson’s Head Golf Coach. In January of 2021, he announced his retirement effective at the end of the season.
Penley has earned just about every honor possible in his tenure. That includes induction into the Collegiate Golf Hall of Fame at the age of 44, winning an NCAA Championship (2003), coaching two Ben Hogan Award winners (D.J. Trahan and Kyle Stanley), three US Public Links Champions (Kevin Johnson, DJ Trahan, and Corbin Mills) and two US Amateur Champions (Chris Patton in 1989 and Doc Redman in 2017), and leading the Tigers to 25 Top 20 seasons, and 29 trips to the NCAA National Tournament, more than any coach in any sport in Clemson history.
The 2021 NCAA Tournament will mark 37 trips to the event in 37 possible tournaments, a Clemson mark for postseason play that likely will never be broken.
Penley enters the 2021 NCAA Tournament with 83 career wins, the most in league history. Remarkably, only two of the 83 wins were recorded on what would be considered Clemson’s home course. The wins have taken place in 16 different states, Puerto Rico and Japan. In addition to his 83 wins, his teams have recorded 86 second-place finishes in his 518 total tournaments as leader of the Clemson program.
Penley broke the record of 74 held by former Wake Forest coach Jesse Haddock. Current Georgia Tech coach Bruce Heppler is third on the ACC list with 65. The Tigers have won 18 tournaments over the last five years, a testament that Penley is not slowing on the backside of his career.
The ultimate example of his excellence over a long period of time took place in his final season when he was named ACC Coach of the Year. It was his ninth selection and the awards have taken place in five different decades. He is one of just two coaches in any sport (Karen Shelton, UNC field hockey) in ACC history to win ACC Coach of the Year in five different decades. He tied former Clemson men’s track coach Bob Pollock for the most ACC Coach of the Year honors in one sport. Pollock won the award nine times for men’s indoor track.
Penley’s final season has been remarkable in many respects. The fall portion of the season was taken away when the ACC opted to withhold its schools from competition due to COVID19. In the spring the Tigers have competed in seven events and won four, including four of the last five.
One of those victories took place at the 2021 ACC Tournament, which used a stroke play and match play formula for determining its champion for the first time. Clemson finished second to North Carolina in the stroke play qualifier, then won the championship with match play wins over NC State (3-1-1) and Florida State (3-2). Clemson never led the Florida State match until Zack Gordon made a 20-foot putt on the 21st hole of his match, the last match on the course.
It gave Penley his 10th ACC Championship, tied for the third-most for a Clemson coach in the same sport in school history.
As a result of this spring run, Clemson enters the NCAA Tournament third in the nation according to Golfstat and Golfweek and fourth in the College Golf Coaches poll. Clemson is the number-one seed in the Kingston Regional of the NCAA Tournament.
When he coached the 2019-20 season he broke the Clemson record for seasons served as head coach in any sport. Baseball coach Bill Wilhelm, a great friend of Penley, coached the Tigers for 36 years between 1958-93.
The Tigers were one of seven teams nationally that reached the NCAA National Tournament between 2015-19 and ranked in the top 14 of the Golfweek poll in 2020 when the season was ended due to the pandemic. Penley’s Tigers are the only ACC team on the list. The run included a tie for eighth place at the 2019 NCAA Tournament before losing in a playoff for the final spot in match play.
Bryson Nimmer had an All-America final season in 2018-19 under Penley’s guidance, as the native of Bluffton, S.C. set a school record for wins in a season with four and he was named the ACC Player of the Year. He set 27 Clemson records on a round, tournament, season, and career basis. That included a 69.73 stroke average, the first player in school history to average under 70.0 for a season.
In 2017-18, Penley was honored with his seventh selection as a Regional Coach of the Year by the Golf Coaches Association. It was the second year in a row he won the award. That team finished first or second six of seven tournaments in the spring, including second-place at the ACC Tournament and the NCAA Regional.
The Tigers finished that year with a No. 13 ranking at the NCAA National Tournament where Nimmer (7th) and Doc Redman (15th) both had top 15 finishes. Freshman Turk Pettit was named a first-team Freshman All-American as well.
In 2016-17, Clemson won a school record-tying six tournaments, including a school-record five in a row from November to April. The Tigers claimed victories in Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and South Carolina over the course of Penley’s 34th season. It was the most tournament wins for the Tigers since 2003 and tied the school record for wins in a season.
Redman, who finished 20th at the 2019 Open Championship at Royal Portrush, Northern Ireland, was named a third-team All-American, while Nimmer and senior Carson Young were honorable mention selections. The Tigers finished second at the NCAA regional.
In April of 2016, Penley led Clemson to the ACC Men’s Golf Championship in dominating fashion. The Tigers shot 25-under par for the three days, 11 shots better than runner-up Wake Forest. The margin of victory was the best for the Tigers at the ACC Championship in 28 years and the 25-under par score of 839 was the third-best for the Clemson program in its 63 appearances at the event.
All five Clemson golfers shot even-par-or-better and all five finished 16th or better, also firsts for the Clemson program. It was just the second time in 10 ACC Championships that Clemson won the tournament in wire-to-wire fashion.
Penley was named the ACC Coach of the Year in 2016, thanks in part to Stephen Behr who won the 2016 Byron Nelson Award, the first time a Clemson golfer had won the honor. Behr also won the Elite 90 Award as the student-athlete with the top career grade point average at the 2016 NCAA National Tournament. He was also an All-American on the course. Clemson had four of the 12 members on the All-ACC team for 2016, tied for the most in school history. Nimmer was one of the four and was named the ACC Freshman of the Year.
Since Penley took over the program in the fall of 1983, Clemson has had 27 top 25 finishes, tied for sixth-most in the country during that time, including 14 top 10 finishes, sixth-most in the nation during that time period.
In the summer of 2009, Penley watched former Tiger Lucas Glover win the 2009 United States Open, his first protégé to win a Major. Then, in August, it was announced that Penley was selected for the South Carolina Golf Hall of Fame. In December of 2009, it was announced Clemson’s new golf building would be named in his honor. That impressive structure was completed in 2011 and is one of the finest golf team facilities in the nation.
Clemson added women’s golf to its athletic landscape and the team began competition in the fall of 2013. Penley was named Director of Golf at Clemson and oversees that program that has made the NCAA Tournament in all but one of its seasons of competition.
Clemson has posted 27 top 25 finishes, 25 top 20 finishes, 21 top 15 finishes, 13 top 10s, and eight top-five finishes at the NCAA Championships, or Golfweek top 20s during his tenure. That includes a streak of seven straight top 10s from 1997-2003, the first Clemson athletic program to do that since the men’s tennis program had seven straight between 1980-86.
His 27 top 25 seasons and 25 top 20 seasons are a record for any coach in any sport in Clemson history. He had a streak of 19 straight top 25 finishes between 1986 and 2004, also a record for any Clemson coach in any sport.
His 13 top 10 finishes are second to former Clemson soccer coach Dr. I.M. Ibrahim, who had 14. One of those top 10 finishes came in 2003 when the Tigers won the national championship with a two-stroke victory over Oklahoma State on the Cowboys home course. It was Clemson’s first national championship in golf and the program’s first in any sport in 16 years. The Clemson football program has added two since then.
Penley’s Tigers also won the ACC Championship and the NCAA East Regional title in 2003, making Clemson the first program in NCAA history to win its conference, regional and national championship in the same year. It has been done just once since. Clemson won six team titles for the 2002-03 academic year and ranked number one in the nation by Golfweek/Sagarin and the Golf Coach’s Association for the entire season.
A summer of 2018 article in Golfweek ranked the 2003 Clemson team among the best in NCAA history. In 2019, Golf Channel televised a program featuring the top 10 teams in college golf history. That 2003 Clemson team ranked eighth overall, sixth among men’s programs.
As a result of these achievements, Penley was named the National Coach of the Year by Golfweek and the Golf Coaches Association for 2003. He also received coach of the year honors from the ACC and for the NCAA at the District level.
In January of 2004, the native of Dallas, NC was inducted into the Golf Coaches Association Hall of Fame, quite an accomplishment for someone just 44 years of age at the time. The victories continued in the spring of 2004 when he led the Tigers to the ACC Tournament and East Regional Championship, giving the program five consecutive “major” championships (conference or NCAA tournament wins).
Penley has led Clemson to an NCAA Region title seven times, including a pair of “three-peats”. No other college coach has won more than his seven NCAA regional championships. The regional format began in 1989.
Clemson players have flourished under Penley’s leadership. No less than seven of his former players participated in various PGA Tour events in 2020-21. That list includes Lucas Glover, Doc Redman, Bryson Nimmer, Kyle Stanley, Ben Martin, Jonathan Byrd, and D.J. Trahan.
A Clemson golfer won at least one PGA event every year between 2004-12, one of just three programs to have an alum win every one of those years (Arizona State and UNLV). Overall, seven of his former Clemson golfers have won 17 PGA events over the years.
Clemson had 12 players on the ACC 50-Year Anniversary team in 2002, and 11 of the 12 players were coached by Penley.
Individually, Clemson has had 18 Top 10 NCAA National Tournament finishes in Penley’s career, including Bryson Nimmer’s seventh-place finish in 2018. That also includes the NCAA Championship by Charles Warren in 1997 and his number-two finish in 1998. Kyle Stanley finished second in 2007 and 2009 and won the Ben Hogan Award in 2009.
Penley has to rank as the best combination player-coach in Clemson history next to the legendary Banks McFadden. In the 1930s McFadden was an All-American in football and basketball and coached the Clemson basketball team for nearly a decade. Penley was chosen All-ACC as a Tiger golfer and has led Clemson to 10 ACC titles as a coach. He is one of only two coaches in Clemson sports history to do this (former women’s track Wayne Coffman is the other).
In addition to the success of his former players on the PGA Tour, former Penley players have brought national distinction to the school in national amateur tournaments. Chris Patton won the 1989 United States Amateur, while Danny Ellis advanced to the finals in 1993. Doc Redman gave Penley two US Amateur Championships with his extra holes win in 2017 at Riviera.
Kevin Johnson, who was inducted into the Clemson Ring of Honor in 2017, won the US Public Links championship in 1987, and Trahan won the same event in 2000. Corbin Mills won the Public Links in 2011. Ben Martin was a finalist at the 2009 US Amateur and played in the 2010 Masters.
Over the years, Penley’s program has produced 62 All-America selections (including Nimmer in 2019 and Jacob Bridgeman in 2020). Stanley was a first-team selection in 2007 and 2009. Stephen Behr was named an All-American in 2016 and was a first-team academic All-American.
Penley has coached nine different players who have played in the Walker Cup. That includes Matt Hendrix who posted a 2-0-1 record in the 2003 event. In 2001, senior Lucas Glover and sophomore D.J. Trahan were both members of the 2001 United States Walker Cup team. Jonathan Byrd was a member of the United States Walker Cup team in 1999 and played on the Palmer Cup team in 1999 and 2000. Redman earned a spot on the championship 2017 Walker Cup team after winning the US Amateur.
Clemson dominated the Palmer Cup teams of 2000 and 2001 with three players each year. John Engler was a three-time selection to the United States Palmer Cup team. Trahan was the captain of the United States team in 2002, leading the US to victory at the event held in Ireland. Penley was honored with his selection as the 2004 Palmer Cup team coach.
Penley has had a high level of success since he first became Clemson’s head coach. After serving as an assistant on Clemson’s 1983 team that finished fifth in the nation, then the highest finish in school history, Penley took a young Clemson team to a 19th place finish in his first year. That club was paced by Dillard Pruitt, who earned All-America honors for a second time in his career before going on to a distinguished eight-year run on the PGA Tour.
Penley brought the Clemson program to another level in 1986-87, as he captured his first ACC title and the program’s second. Overall, Clemson won a then-record five events and finished second in three others behind a team that featured All-Americans Chris Patton and Kevin Johnson. Clemson finished 11th at the NCAA Tournament that season. Penley was named ACC and NCAA District Coach-of-the-Year for the first time.
In the 1988-89 season, Kevin Johnson and Chris Patton received All-America honors again and led the Tigers to a third-place finish at the NCAA Tournament, Clemson’s highest ranking ever at the time. Johnson ended his career as one of Clemson’s top golfers in history. He had won the United States Public Links (1987) and earned a spot on the Walker Cup team (1989) during his Clemson career.
In 1989-90, Penley’s Tigers won four tournaments including the ACC title and finished 12th at the NCAA tournament. For the second time ever the team was ranked number one going into the spring season. When Chris Patton won the 1989 U.S. Amateur the program received considerable attention. He was the low amateur at the 1990 Master’s when he finished 39th.
The 1996-97 academic year brought more national acclaim to the Clemson program as junior Charles Warren won the NCAA Championship at Conway Farms in Chicago. The thrilling one-shot win in a playoff over Brad Elder was captured on ESPN. Warren went on to earn first-team All-America honors along with senior Richard Coughlan, who shared ACC Player of the Year honors.
The 1997-98 season was the best on record in many respects. In addition to Clemson’s number-two NCAA finish and final ranking, the team set 11 school season records. That team had nine first or second-place finishes, also a record for one season at the time. The squad was 29-under par for the season, 104 strokes better than the previous school record.
Clemson continued the excellence in 1998-99 with five tournament titles to tie the single-season school mark, a number-one national ranking much of the year, and a number-eight finish at the NCAA Tournament. Only four opponents out of the 67 different teams the Tigers faced had a stroke and won-loss advantage against Clemson. Clemson had a 77.3 percent winning mark against those 67 teams, including a 71-37-4 record against the 29 other schools in the NCAA National tournament.
It seemed improbable that the records established by the 1997-98 team could be eclipsed. But that was the case in 1999-00, as the Tigers established a team stroke average record with a 71.32 mark. The team was 77-under-par for the year.
Four Tigers earned All-America honors, including Lucas Glover who was a first-team choice after a record-setting 71.24 stroke average for the year. Clemson won the ACC Tournament and the East Regional in the same year for the first time ever, then finished seventh at the NCAAs. Future PGA Tour players Lucas Glover, D.J. Trahan, and Jonathan Byrd all played on that team.
The 2000-01 season marked the end of the Lucas Glover and John Engler era at Clemson. Both were first-team All-Americans in their final seasons and led the Tigers to a second-place NCAA finish, just as they had in their freshman season.
A testimony to Penley’s ability to keep the Clemson program at a high level on a consistent basis was the 2001-02 season. Most college golf observers thought Penley’s success level would take a step backward in 2001-02. With the loss of first-team All-Americans Glover and Engler, the Tigers were ranked ninth in the preseason Precept Coach’s poll. But, the Tigers won the Ping Preview in the fall and quickly returned to the top five of the polls.
In addition to the win at the Ping Preview, Penley’s Tigers won the NCAA East Regional in a co-championship with #1 ranked Georgia Tech. The Tigers finished in the top five in 10 of their 12 tournaments that year, including seven top-three finishes. The Tigers concluded the campaign with a number-three finish at the NCAAs at Ohio State.
D.J. Trahan furthered Clemson’s tradition in 2002 by winning the Ben Hogan Award as the top college golfer in the nation. He had a 70.33 stroke average, second-best in the nation and eighth-best in NCAA history at the time. Trahan won three tournaments, the first Tiger to do that in one year, and had three other second-place finishes. He then led the Tigers to the national championship in 2003 and finished his career with five tournament victories, tied for the Clemson all-time record.
Producing such outstanding golfers is not a surprise when you look at Penley’s own career as a player. He started his golf career at North Gaston Senior High. There he earned high school All-America honors for two years, three years as all-conference, and Most Valuable Player for three years. In his junior and senior seasons, he was second in the state at the AAA level.
After high school, Penley came to Clemson bringing his talents with him and began to add on to his previous honors. Penley’s 1981 season was his senior year and his finest at Clemson. He was voted All-ACC. Penley finished with nine Top 10 finishes in his career. This includes winning the Iron Duke Classic and the Southeastern Invitational and finishing in the Top 10 in three other tournaments in 1981.
Penley went on to play in 15 mini-tour events on the FPCA after his four years at Clemson. He was offered the assistant golf coaching position at Clemson in 1982. He accepted it and was named the head coach after the 1983-84 season. He took the place of Athletic Director Bobby Robinson, who stepped down from the coaching position so he could put more effort into his position as the Associate Athletic Director.
In 1987 and 1988 Penley won the South Carolina state amateur. He tied a record in 1987 by shooting an 11-under-par 277, a record that was later broken by one of his Tigers, Lucas Glover, in 1999. In 1986 and 1989, Penley was also the runner-up. He has qualified for the U.S. Amateur many times also. During the summer of 1992, he won the Carolina Golf Association Mid-Amateur by five shots and was fourth in the South Carolina State Amateur. In 1990 he also won the South Carolina Mid-Amateur.
Penley is married to the former Heidi Grove, and they have three children, Andrew William, Mollie Ashton, and Kelsey Lou.
PENLEY QUICK FACTS
Birth: Born February 14, 1959, in Dallas, NC.
Family: Married the former Heidi Grove; The couple has two daughters, Kelsey Lou and Mollie Ashton, and a son, Andrew William (Drew). Grandchildren: Ellie, Mason, Mills, Maddox, and one more arriving in September.
Education: Earned Bachelors’s degree in administrative management from Clemson University in 1983.
Playing Experience: Member of Clemson team from 1977-78 through 1980-81; First-team All-ACC selection in 1980-81; Iron Duke Classic Champion in 1981; Southeastern Intercollegiate Champion in 1981; South Carolina Amateur Champion in 1987 and 1988; Carolinas Golf Association Mid-Amateur Champion in 1992; South Carolina Mid-Amateur Champion in 1990.
Assistant Coach Experience: Assistant Coach at Clemson under Bobby Robinson in 1982-83; Clemson finished fifth in the nation at the NCAA tournament.
Head Coach Experience: Clemson University, 1983-84 to present.
Major Honors: Dave Williams National Coach of the Year in 2003; Golfweek National Coach of the Year in 2003; ACC Coach of the Year in 1987, 1996, 1997, 1998, 2003, 2004, 2007, 2016, 2021.
Major Championships: National Champions in 2003; NCAA East Regional Champions in 1993, 1994, 1995, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2004; ACC Champions in 1987, 1988, 1990, 1997, 1998, 2000, 2003, 2004, 2016, 2021
PENLEY’S MAJOR COACHING ACCOMPLISHMENTS
Notes on Larry Penley’s 83 Wins at Clemson
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