MARQUETTE - Following the retirement of 20-year head golf coach Dean Ellis, Northern Michigan University brings in a fresh perspective and a myriad of experience with the hiring of Kyle Wittenbach.
Following Wittenbach's collegiate golf career at Ferris State, where he was part of a GLIAC Championship team in 2010 and later an assistant coach, he played professionally for a year on the eGolf Tour in Charlotte, N.C.
"I learned a lot and made good connections, but quickly found out that that lifestyle isn't quite what I hoped it was going to be," Wittenbach said.
Professional golf meant instability for Wittenbach, never knowing if he would be able to pay the bills or what he would do if his sponsor were to drop him.
"It's almost one of those things where you have to get the bug out of your system," Wittenbach said. "Now I have no regrets and I know exactly what it would take and what kind of life I would have to live."
After one year of playing professionally and teaching at a nearby club, Wittenbach returned to the coaching path, which is what he went to school for.
At Ferris State, Wittenbach earned a bachelor's of science in professional golf management. As part of the program, he also graduated with a PGA of America certification, the highest level of accreditation that can be achieved as a PGA professional.
In addition to Wittenbach's degree and experience
coaching and playing, his wife is an amateur physique champion who keeps him involved in nutrition and fitness techniques.
"My coaching, fitness and teaching experience are all perfectly combined into the head coaching job, which is why I love it here so much," Wittenbach said.
While the on-campus job interview was Wittenbach's first time in Marquette, he is prepared for the frigid weather and, more importantly, training despite it.
"In the GLIAC, we're all on the same playing field in terms of weather conditions, so I don't feel that it's really any detriment to the program to have it located in Marquette," Wittenbach said.
In fact, the Wildcats have a resource not many competitors can compare to when the weather inevitably gets bad: the Superior Dome.
"When it comes to practicing, we have the Superior Dome where we can hit limited-fly golf balls the length of a football field," Wittenbach said. "There aren't many teams in the GLIAC that have access to facilities of that nature."
Finishing eighth of 14 teams at the GLIAC Championships last fall and 14 of 33 teams at the NCAA regionals, the 'Cats certainly have room for improvement.
"This program has such a huge and glaring, in my opinion, opportunity for success," Wittenbach said.
"The kids here just really want to be pushed and taken to the next level, and I feel like I can use all of my experiences and my education to build a strong program in Marquette. It's time."
In his first five years at NMU, Wittenbach hopes to build the program and compete for a GLIAC Championship. He is currently recruiting athletes throughout the United States and internationally, too.
Long-term, Wittenbach's goal for the team is to compete in the NCAA Super Regionals and eventually qualify for the National Championships.
"You have to walk before you can run," Wittenbach said. "But once we get that winning mentality and have some solid senior leadership, I think we'll be just fine."