Nick Pumford aims for personal, professional goals

Competitive, dedicated, and strong willed are just a few words that could describe the Oakland University men’s golf head coach, Nick Pumford. Perhaps there’s another term, rather, a motto, that defines Pumford as well: “Raise the Standard.” 

“We always have what our standard is and we’re always trying to raise that and trying to get better,” said Pumford. “Hopefully, that’s what they would say how we’re known as.”

Since coming to Oakland University three years ago, Pumford has led the Golden Grizzlies to back-to-back runner-up finishes at the Horizon League Championship in 2017 and 2018, and was named the Horizon League Coach of the Year. His start at OU wouldn’t have happened without past experiences as a coach and as a player. 

As a kid, his summers were spent working at his family’s driving range on the farm. He spent his time picking up golf balls, washing them and mowing grass. It also gave him opportunities to play junior golf and further develop his golf game. 

He earned the attention of Division I schools, including the University of Michigan, and ultimately committed to the Wolverines. 

“They weren’t strong nationally, and so I viewed that as an opportunity to kind of rebuild the program and be a part of that rebuilding process,” he said. 

As a player at Michigan, Pumford helped the Wolverines return to NCAA postseason play after an eight year hiatus with back-to-back regional selections in 2008 and 2009. At Michigan, he was a part of the team that advanced to the NCAA championship for the first time in 12 years, winning over No. 3 seed USC.

“We changed what that culture was,” said Pumford. 

After graduating from Michigan, Pumford went on to play professionally for a short while, but had to withdraw due to a lack of financial backing. However, he was able to get back into the game when he took on an assistant coaching job at Georgia State University.

He left after a year and went back to his alma mater where he led Michigan to reach consecutive NCAA Regional appearances and posted their highest finish in six years at the Big Ten Championship. 

But transitioning from a Big Ten school to a mid-major school at OU gave him a new set of challenges to address. At a Power Five school like Michigan, resources are abundant, and top-ranked players are almost always guaranteed. However, this doesn’t stop Pumford from getting the most out of his players and motivating them to be the best that they can be. 

“While we may not have as many resources as them, golf is unique in the sense of like athleticism, size, all of it, really doesn’t matter at the end of the day,” Pumford said. “It’s who’s mentally the strongest and who wants it the most, and that’s the biggest thing that we’re learning from the program.”

With the last tournament of the season having just passed and the off-season underway, Pumford’s players keep up on their training by lifting weights throughout the week. Once school starts back up after the holidays, the team will often practice at Carl’s GolfLand, and also practice drills like wedge work in the Dome on campus. 

“We are a northern school and I think in a lot of people’s eyes, that hurts us, but honestly for me, I view it as a positive,” Pumford said. “By the time we get to Florida or South Carolina for spring break, our guys are pretty confident where their game is at.” 

Pumford’s ultimate goal as coach is for his players to succeed in life. 

“For me, it’s just helping the guys get better at every aspect in their life,” he said. “Hopefully, at the end of their four years, guys feel like they accomplished something on the course but more importantly off the course, like they have a sense of direction in their lives.”