How The UMKC Golf Coach Tapped A French Connection To Revive His Team During COVID-19
As the coronavirus pandemic forced UMKC to suspend some of its athletic programs, golf coach J.W. VanDenBorn turned to private donors to raise money to keep his team on the greens.
The records show a fourth-place finish for the UMKC men’s golf team in the 2021 Summit League tournament, a three-day event that concluded Monday in Newton, Kansas. But the fact that the Kangaroos even competed this spring was a win.
Kangaroos coach J.W. VanDenBorn, in his 19th season, made it happen with a little help from his French connections, so to speak.
Dating back to last fall and with the ‘Roos athletic department feeling financial repercussions from the pandemic, men’s golf was among five sports suspended by UMKC. Women’s golf had been previously eliminated.
“There’s a lot of schools, particularly the mid-major non-football playing schools that are taking hits in their budget,” athletics director Brandon Martin told KCUR on Nov. 6.
VanDenBorn was left staggering by the initial shock of the announcement, but there was no time to sulk. He turned to his players to gauge their feelings.
“Obviously, our first priority was just managing our players and seeing what they wanted to do,” VanDenBorn said. “Their futures were paramount for us.”
Three players on the current ‘Roos roster are natives of France and were a long way from home. So after determining that they and the rest of the team somehow wanted to salvage a season, VanDenBorn figured that he needed to raise a chunk of money himself.
“We just went to work,” he said.
The news of UMKC’s suspensions coincided with the surging success of Antoine Rozner on the PGA European Tour, a native of France who turned pro after he finished at UMKC in 2016. Rozner, 28, won an event in Dubai last December and again in March at the Qatar Masters.
Before his latest European tour stop in the Canary Islands last week, Rozner was asked about his reaction to last fall’s developments. He responded, “I was very sad. Very sad, especially for J.W. because he gave so much for that program the last 20 years.”
Rozner himself contributed an undisclosed sum to revive golf at UMKC this spring.
“I thought about it, I wouldn’t be here where I am today without UMKC, so I just felt like it was the right thing to do,” he said.
For travel and uniforms alone, expenses for men’s golf at UMKC in the fiscal year that ended in 2020 amounted to $62,636 according to records obtained by KCUR through the University of Missouri system. VanDenBorn wouldn’t say how much he needed to revive the program.
After the program’s reinstatement, VanDenBorn diverted himself from the ‘Roos schedule to briefly travel to Austin, Texas, where Rozner, fresh from his win in Qatar, experienced his biggest moment on U.S. soil. Rozner shocked the golf world in match play at the World Golf Championship with a win over defending U.S. Open champion Bryson DeChambeau.
“I think to share that moment with him (VanDenBorn) was really cool because it was the biggest moment of my career,” said Rozner who returns to the U.S. to begin play in the PGA Championship, his first U.S. major, on May 20.
Meanwhile, the UMKC athletic department is regrouping.
The four other sports UMKC suspended were men’s and women’s cross country and men’s and women’s track and field. On April 22, the university announced that men’s and women’s cross country will be reinstated this fall. Track and field remains suspended.
Vandenborn said, "I've said this to our athletic department when this was all occurring, too. I think we're in a good spot because our tournament schedule was very favorable for what we were trying to do."
This year’s UMKC roster has three players from France, so Rozner is glad they’ve been back on the golf course.
"I'm really glad we found a way to get that golf program back on track so that they can play this semester. It's good for them," Rozner added.