Jeff Quinney’s love of golf has brought his life full circle. The game has taken him all over the world, and allowed him to play with and compete against a pantheon of names like Woods, Mickelson, and Garcia.
He has played on tours where there is just a smattering of people in the gallery, and also in events featuring raucous supporters stuffed in amongst 30-row-high grandstands.
Earlier this month Quinney was named the newest Pac-12 men’s golf assistant coach for Casey Martin’s staff at Oregon. For the man born in Eugene, Oregon, who later became one of the best Arizona State golfers in recent memory, golf has brought him home.
“I grew up a Duck fan, I’ll always be a Sun Devil, but I kind of have both teams always at heart,” Quinney said. “It was just a unique opportunity that I couldn’t pass on, golf is what I know, and hopefully I can pass some knowledge onto these kids.”
Most of ‘these kids’ were not even born when Quinney was playing his own college career. It was a shining time in the storied history of the Sun Devil program as the team featured future PGA Tour regulars like Paul Casey and Matt Jones.
Maybe a few of them are golf historians. Maybe some did a quick internet search on Quinney when they learned he was their new assistant coach. Maybe their head coach Martin introduced him as such, but by the end of the year, everyone on the team will know of the time Coach Quinney reached the pinnacle of amateur golf in the 2000 U.S. Amateur.
In one late summer week at Baltusrol Golf Club in northeast New Jersey, he experienced all the emotions the game could throw at him. The lessons he learned on his way etching his name amongst golfing titans will both consciously and unconsciously seep through into the advice he gives to his pupils at Oregon.
It was the summer in between his junior and senior years at Arizona State, and Quinney was on a hot streak.
“I had a great year my junior year at ASU,” Quinney recalled. “So I was just kind of peaking as far as the best golf of my life.”
The path to the final was arduous, and his side of the draw was as tough as it has been for any future champion.
He faced six men over six grueling rounds of match play. Their names? Matt Weibring, Lucas Glover, Ben Curtis, Hunter Mahan, David Eger, and James Driscoll. Their accomplishments afterwards? Two majors, belonging to Glover and Curtis, and 14 PGA Tour victories; Mahan has six in his career and was once the fourth-ranked player in the world in 2012.
Perhaps even more impressive was that Quinney nearly buried himself in qualifying for the match play portion with a disastrous 42 on his opening nine holes in medal play.
“It was one of those shocking moments where you thought maybe you’re packing your bags and heading home,” said Quinney. “I thought, ‘I’m not going to make match play,’ this is going to be a quick trip across the country.
In the final match against Driscoll, Quinney looked unflappable. On the 16th tee, the 34th of the customary 36 holes in a U.S. Amateur Final, he appeared well on his way to a coronating waltz with the trophy with a three-up lead with three holes to play.
But as the sun set at the end of a sweltering August day, the wheels fell off. Quinney lost the 16th and 17th holes to Driscoll and clung to a one-up lead as the pair stood on the 18th tee.
“It was just a complete meltdown on my part,” Quinney said. “The momentum was definitely on his side.”
A rattled Quinney once again had a putt to win the match on the 18th, but came up woefully short, and made bogey to Driscoll’s par. The match would go to extra holes.
Then, a storm closed in on Baltusrol. Two extra holes were played, including one where Quinney nearly holed-out a green side bunker shot to secure an improbable, and relieving, victory. But as the stalemate turned to a third sudden-death hole, darkness was declared the victor of the day.
It was a break for Quinney, but he was restless with the prospect of the do-or-die tee shot that awaited him the next morning. The scene at his hotel was flooded with tension.
“Basically that night was no sleep, silent dinner with my family. My mom and dad were there, my brother, my college coach (ASU head coach Randy Lein) had flown in on a red-eye just to be there for that final match.”
In the restless hours of the night, Quinney thought ahead to the early morning start, and reflected on his path to the doorstep of golfing history.
When he arrived in Tempe, Quinney wasn’t even sure he had a future in golf.
He played basketball all four years in high school and found success in a national title win with his AAU team as a junior. He was a decorated golfer as well, and that sport appeared to be his path forward in athletics, but schools weren’t tripping over each other to sign him.
“I was a little bit scared going to the ASU team, because they were so strong,” said Quinney. “But the timing of it with Scott Johnson, Chris Hanell had just graduated, Pat Perez left the team, Joey Snyder had just graduated, so four of the five guys had just left as I’m stepping in as a freshman.”
So, Quinney began to play immediately, instead of redshirting as was previously planned. Results soon followed, and by his junior year, he was running away with tournaments. Everything had culminated toward this opportunity, with golfing fans watching all over on the world on network television.
The next morning arrived at Baltursol. In contrast to the previous day, it was damp and chill. Quinney would follow Driscoll’s tee shot at the Par-3 3rd. Driscoll had actually played a few holes to warmup, something Quinney admitted he did not know was allowed at the time.
Maybe the warmup got the adrenaline going too much for Driscoll, as his five-iron sailed the green. Quinney, clad in a candy red polo and tan shorts, had his moment next. The previous night’s emotions rushed to him again.
“Please, don’t choke this. You had this won,” Quinney laughed as he recalled his internal monologue.
But he was as cool as Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca on the outside. A calm backswing, a four-iron strike, a club twirl, and he was on the putting surface. Less than five minutes later, while just trying to lag his 30-foot birdie putt, Quinney jarred it for the win.
He played all four major championships the next year, including a practice round at Augusta with Arnold Palmer. He missed the cut in all four events, and didn’t get his PGA Tour card until six years later. His name appears on the first page of the final leaderboard in both the 2007 and 2008 Players Championships, but he never experienced much professional success, in part due to injuries suffered just as he was rediscovering his game.
Quinney doesn’t have a profile photo on the University of Oregon website, or a school email address like Martin does. At some point he will, but what is currently there on the page underscores who Jeff Quinney is, and who he isn’t.
In spite of his accomplishments, his talent, and the connections he made through a lifetime of playing golf, Quinney is someone who doesn’t mind flying under the radar. He will not bring his U.S. Amateur trophy to the first day of practice as some sort of performance of pathos, although undoubtedly someone will surely inquire about its whereabouts by season’s end.
He will just enjoy being their coach, as well as the reactivation of the competitive juices that have flowed through him since he first touched a club.
“They don’t know who I am. They don’t know what I did,” Quinney said. “But hopefully they will respect me, and we can work together and I can make them better.”
Quinney is back in college golf, and if life continues to come full circle for him, maybe he will one day board the red-eye flight toward a U.S. Amateur as a coach in support of his own players.