A Regal start

Coach sets course for golf programs

Jeff Lindgren, the longest tenured coach at CLU, helps Emily Hnath with her swing during a practice round at the Tierra Rejada Golf Club in Moorpark.

Photo: David Yamamoto/ Special to the Star

It's a trivia question that even the most loyal Cal Lutheran sports fans may struggle to answer.

Which head coach at CLU has been on the job the longest?

In his 22nd season at CLU, Jeff Lindgren isn't the first name that usually comes to mind.

But the CLU golf coach has been a stable presence in the athletic department, presiding over a program with a history of success.

"Golf is a little bit different in that we are the only off-campus sport, so we don't get a lot of people coming out to watch like you would basketball and football," Lindgren said. "We probably don't get as much recognition, but that doesn't really bother me. I just love being at CLU and being a part of this university."

Lindgren is pulling double duty this season by coaching the men's and women's golf teams.

The women's program is in its first year of existence. CLU announced its addition last March.

The Regals are one of five women's golf programs competing in the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Association.

"We have been pushing it for several years and Cal Lutheran was really I think the first one to get the ball rolling," Lindgren said. "Cal Lutheran really pushed the buttons and helped put the process in motion at other schools. Ultimately, the conference jumped in and adopted it as an official sport."

Lindgren, 46, is lifelong Ventura County resident who graduated from Newbury Park High and Cal Lutheran.

He played two years of golf at CLU before becoming a certified PGA instructor. Once he started teaching golf and earning money at Simi Hills Golf Course, he lost his amateur status and could no longer play college golf.

Lindgren was named the CLU men's head coach two years after graduating from the school.

He lives only a mile away from campus with his wife, Kathy, who is also a CLU graduate, and their two children - daughter Jahna and son Kameron.

Lindgren's longevity at CLU stems from a deep loyalty to the university, its staff and his players.

"I have a passion for the game of golf and I have a passion for the school," he said. "We've had a lot of success in our program and a lot of great kids come and go who I am still in contact with on a regular basis. That is the great part. I am not just coaching on a day-to-day basis. I am coaching for the long term."

Once CLU decided to add women's golf, CLU athletic director Dan Kuntz never hesitated in naming Lindgren as the coach.

"Jeff is an amazing kind of unsaid fixture here at CLU, and he has been in a leadership role in the SCIAC for years," Kuntz said. "He has put his footprint on the organization and has so much experience in so many areas. I am not even sure many in our athletic department realize how long he has been here and how much he has done."

Although coaching both teams at the simultaneously presents challenges, Lindgren and his assistants have made it work seamlessly.

The teams practice at the same time at the same courses, and if matches or tournaments conflict, the coaching staff splits duties.

"So far it has worked out great," Lindgren said. "I can walk back and forth between the groups at practice and do my thing and spend time with every player."

Because the women's program was added so late, Lindgren didn't have as much time as usual to recruit.

The roster largely consists of students who were already on campus, plus a few freshmen Lindgren managed to reach before classes started.

"Next year it will be a lot different because I will have had a chance to get on the phone and bring some kids on campus," he said. "I really anticipate having five to seven new girls for the fall of 2012. It will add a nice element to the program bringing in some new talent."

Freshman Brenna Callero heard rumors CLU might be fielding a golf team while she was still attending Thousand Oaks High. Once it became official, Callero's college choice became clear.

"It definitely helped influence my decision to go there. I feel like if they didn't create the team, the school would have been lacking a little bit with positive energy," Callero said. "It's one thing to play in high school, but having that college experience is so fascinating. I feel so much more of a connection now."

For that, Callero can partially thank her teammates Emily Hnath and Emily Bullen. They helped push CLU to start the program by speaking with Lindgren and other university officials.

Hnath, a senior from Minnesota, knew it was her last chance to participate in college sports before leaving for graduate school.

"It's really exciting to have it finally happen and for us to be playing," Hnath said. "This is a nice accomplishment for myself and Emily to have helped get it started. It will be great to see everyone else keep it going in the future and watch it grow."

Although it's only the first season, Lindgren isn't putting any limits on what the CLU women can achieve.

"I am sure there will be some bumps in the road and some ups and downs, but I think we will keep getting better one step at a time," he said. "They want to do well and are competitive and want to represent the school well."

--- Published in the Ventura County Star on Feb. 8, 2012