Almost Famous

Published on Monday, June 20th, 2011 in Features

Jeff Coston’s shot at PGA Tour glory has likely come and gone — but what the Bellingham native has found in the meantime means so much more

By Tony Dear

Renowned golf instructor, mental coach and author Fred Shoemaker recently suggested to friend Jeff Coston that he write a letter to his 15-year-old self. It’s a tool Shoemaker often uses with his students to enable them to look back on their life and career without regrets. Coston found the exercise useful.

“I told me that I wouldn’t win several U.S. Opens but would be a positive influence on many peoples’ lives in other ways,” he says. “I said that while playing the PGA Tour might be the dream, it wouldn’t automatically make me a great person, good or even okay.”

Now running his eponymously-named teaching academy at the Semiahmoo Resort in Blaine, where he has been for 17 years, Coston says the teenage version of himself might have had a problem taking all that on board.

“I was pretty ambitious back then,” he says.

It’s possible — in fact, probable even — that the precocious youth might look at himself four decades on and be a little disappointed by what he would become, or rather not become. Hardly a world-famous golfer and without a single PGA Tour victory to his name, Coston the Younger might think his older incarnation hadn’t really amounted to anything much.

But how horribly, laughably, profoundly wrong he’d be.

For starters, the fact Coston played on the PGA Tour at all makes him one of the top half-percent of golfers ever to play the game. Far more important than that, however, is that Coston could not be any happier with where he’s at or who he has become. Married to Diane for 34 years, he says he’d marry his wife again tomorrow. He has three healthy kids who, he insists, like him. He absolutely loves his job and has become a highly acclaimed teacher while compiling one of the finest playing records in Pacific Northwest PGA Section history. And, as a devout Christian, Coston possesses an enviable peace that characterizes his every exchange.

The Seattle University alum made his living playing tournament golf from 1977 to 1994. He began on the mini-tours in Florida and the Dakotas, staying in National Park campsites with the likes of Mike Bender, Brian Mogg and Tom Lehman.

“Tom used to babysit our kids,” says Coston. “He’s a close family friend. He hired Tyler, my eldest son, as a caddy a few years ago and paid him $1,000 a round. He basically bought Tyler’s first car.”

After eight tough years in the mini-leagues living in a trailer, Coston won his PGA Tour card and made his Tour debut in February 1985 at the Isuzu Andy Williams San Diego Open at Torrey Pines, where he played the first 10 holes of the first round in six-under-par.

“I remember thinking, ‘This is the PGA Tour, it can’t be this easy,’” says Coston.

It wasn’t. Two-over the rest of the way, the 30-year-old eventually signed for a 68 – encouraging certainly, but not what it could have been. He was level par over the next 54 holes and finished the tournament on 284 – 15 shots behind winner Woody Blackburn, and tied for 60th. He won $876. Coston doesn’t remember that part so well, but does recall that a young lad by the name of Phil Mickelson carried his group’s scoreboard.

His next vivid memory comes from the Honda Classic two weeks later at TPC Eagle Trace in Coral Springs, Fla., where he played his only round with Jack Nicklaus.

“I was in awe the whole way ‘round,” says Coston. “Amazingly, I beat him 71 to 73, but I don’t think I made a cut for eight months after that.”

Actually, Coston made only 10 more cuts from 31 PGA Tour events over the next four years; his best finish a tie for seventh at the Anheuser-Busch Classic in Virginia in 1988. Demoted to the Ben Hogan Tour for the 1991 and ‘92 seasons, and the Nike Tour in ’93 and ’94, he did manage a win (1991 Shreveport Open), three seconds, and a total of 13 top-10 finishes. But, by the end of his fourth year on the ‘B’ tours, he was ready to settle down and take a regular job.

Besides his debut tournament on the PGA Tour, and playing with Nicklaus, Coston says his biggest thrill as a player was coming up the 72nd hole of the 2000 U.S. Open with Tyler on the bag.

“It was Father’s Day and as we walked towards the green Tyler said to me, ‘You and me, Pebble Beach, the U.S. Open.’ I stood over my 15-foot birdie putt, saw the head of my putter move through the ball, and then I heard it drop into the hole. I walked off the green with my son happier than if I had won the tournament.”

That wouldn’t make any sense to the 15-year-old Coston, of course, but by this time the old man was fully in tune with his calling.

“To be honest, though the competitive fire still burns bright and I still love playing in our sectional tournaments, I’m a better teacher than I am a player,” he says. “I don’t think I ever understood how to stop negative momentum. And I didn’t really know how to prepare properly. I was just thinking about making a good swing. The great players instinctively knew how to score well without necessarily playing their best.”

Coston now teaches PGA and LPGA Tour players, PGA professionals, college standouts, high school stars, high handicappers and total beginners. A look at the testimonials on his web site shows how highly he’s regarded.

“In my opinion, Jeff Coston is the best golf instructor in the Northwest,” says one college player, while another adds, “Jeff is an amazingly inspirational and hard-working instructor.”

Perhaps the most telling recommendation, though, comes from Tom Lehman, who says that Coston is one of the most talented golfers he’s ever met — which, coming from a major champion, is saying a lot.

“Beyond that,” Lehman adds, “he’s one of the nicest guys I know.”

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