Big 12 Campus Correspondent
The 2009 NCAA National Golf Championship ring is hard to miss, sitting on top of Jordan Russell's finger. Big, slightly bulky and encrusted with diamonds around Texas A&M's logo, it serves as a reminder of what he and his teammates are trying to accomplish this year.
Russell's golf career began when he was seven years old when his parents would drop him and his brother off at the golf course, giving the boys something to do during the summer.
"As kids, we would get dropped off as soon as the sun came up and stay out there all day playing, every day of the summer just to have something to do," Russell said. "I didn't start playing seriously until about four years later."
It was then that Russell began taking lessons and played in a few tournaments, instantly finding the game he was meant to play.
"As soon as I started playing serious golf, I immediately knew it was something I had a passion for and was something that I really wanted to pursue," said the junior from College Station. "It was a unique thing, especially with my brothers playing other sports, it was unique for me."
He continued to play on through the high school level and decided then that he wanted to continue playing at the collegiate level.
"I wouldn't say that I was necessarily good enough to play college golf. I thought I was but it's more than just thinking that, you have to convince someone, like [A&M's head coach] Coach Higgins, that you are good enough to play. For me, it was kind of tough. I knew where I wanted to go to school and in order to be at the level to play here, you have to be one of the best golfers in the country. It was tougher for me but I think it actually panned out to help me because I learned that nothing was going to come easy."
Although it might not have come easy, Russell proved he belonged on the A&M squad and joined the team in 2007, redshirting his freshman year.
"I was fortunate that my freshman year, we had a really good team and had a couple of players that are now professional golfers," said Russell. "I was fortunate that I got to practice with those guys every single day."
Russell made his debut appearance that next year, as a redshirt freshman and played in only three tournaments. That year proved to be memorable, as the team claimed the National Championship.
"Getting that title really added a sense of confidence to everyone on the team. After that, everybody's game changed and we felt more comfortable knowing what to do in certain situations," Russell said. "I think it did nothing but bring good things to our entire team. Everyone's confidence was elevated a little bit because just carrying a Texas A&M bag, people will just notice.
"Going out on Kyle Field in front of 85,000 people was the coolest thing. We were out there and the ceremony is going on but all you can really focus on is how many people are around and it was just an unbelievable feeling," Russell said, all smiles recalling that fond memory.
Receiving that National Championship ring brought good things, especially for Russell as his golf game exploded into the spotlight last year, his sophomore season. Surprisingly, he only played in one tournament that fall at the Tucker Intercollegiate, shooting 221 (73-73-75), tying for 33rd place.
"In the fall, I only played one tournament. I knew I was playing really well and the team we had playing and going to tournaments kept doing really well and winning. I knew that in the offseason and in that winter break, I had to do something to get my game to a different level to start earning a spot," said a determined Russell. "I needed to be able to go to tournaments and be able to compete really well coming out of the gate.
"I think just the fact that our team was so good that fall and I was playing good golf but still couldn't make the lineup was what really pushed me. I worked hard during the off season and I didn't take a single day off. I knew I was good enough to play but you can't just think it in your head, you have to prove it every time you tee it up."
Russell came back that spring ready to claim a permanent spot on the traveling squad. He competed in 11 tournaments, finishing second on the squad with a 72.41 stroke average. He had 17 rounds of par or better and recorded a round of 66. He posted five top-10 finishes and four top-five finishes. His first career win came at the Aggie Invitational as he breezed through the Aggies' home golf course, Traditions, with a 10-under 206 (70-69-67).
He capped the year off being named an honorable mention All-American and being selected to PING's All-Region squad. Russell was dubbed Texas A&M's Most Improved Player for the second consecutive season and earned All-Big 12 honors from the league's coaches as well.
This year, Russell hasn't shown any signs of stopping as he has arguably had one of the best fall seasons in school history. He competed in five tournaments and led the team with a 71.2 stroke average. He has had three top-five finishes, including a first-place showing among American players at the Topy Cup of Japan. Russell also set a school record with a 9-under 63 in the second round of the Topy Cup and tied a school record as he finished the tournament with a 13-under 203 (68-63-72).
"Going to Japan was the coolest thing I have done so far at A&M. I had never left the country before and you go and are just thrown into this whole new world but you are with your teammates at the same time which makes it a whole lot easier," said Russell. "I think we realized the US has a lot of really good players but worldwide there are also some really great players. You respect the fact that there are a lot of good golfers out there and it motivates you to work harder."
Russell finished third in back-to-back tournaments at the U.S. Collegiate Championship, shooting a 6-under 210 (69-70-71) and at the Royal Oaks Intercollegiate, firing a 7-under 135 (65-70). He also sank his first career hole-in-one in the first round of the PING/Golfweek Preview and took part in the prestigious Western Refining College All-America Golf Classic, where he finished 23rd. Continuing on in his spring campaign, Russell has embraced his role as one of the leaders on the team, already knowing where he wants to take them.
"Having that one [National Championship] is really good but at the same time, it was two years ago. This year's team is totally different, we only have two guys that actually played in the National Championship and the rest of us are different, and everyone wants to win for the school," said Russell. "It's one thing to compete in the National Championship and another to know you actually have a chance to win one for the school.
"Along with that, we are trying our best to win a Big 12 Championship; we have never won one of those. One of our goals is to win the National Championship but about a month prior is the Big 12 Championship -- so that is our focus right now."