A leisurely round of weekday golf on Firethorn’s Championship Course turned into a day that Mike Coatman would never forget. A day in 2013 where Tiger Woods-style fist-pumps would have been allowed after each birdie, but Coatman stuck to his usual calm and collected self.
With temperatures holding steady at 80 degrees and the wind ceasing to exist on this sunny July morning, Coatman plowed through Firethorn’s challenging 18 holes in just 62 strokes, shattering the previous course record of 64.
“I ended up birdying number 12 to get to 9-under,” Coatman said. “Then at that time I thought to myself, ‘Oh, man, I’m right there.’”
Coatman, 32, now director of golf operations at Firethorn Golf Club and a former Nebraska student-athlete, holds the course record for over eight years. In perfecting his golf skills and staying positive in the face of adversity, Coatman found success in the game that he and his childhood self love. His passion only grew stronger as he progressed from local par-3 courses to prominent golf clubs such as Firethorn.
As one of over 100 golf courses in Nebraska, Firethorn is nationally recognized along the likes of Florida’s TPC Sawgrass and Wisconsin’s Whistling Straits. In fact, the Championship Course was designed by one of golf’s legendary course architects, Pete Dye.
On that record-breaking day, afternoon work shifts and slow playing groups ahead of them forced Coatman and his friend, Austin Zimmerman, to skip holes 10 through 13. After finding success on 14 through 18, the two drove back around to hit hole 10.
A string of four birdies on the back nine that day clinched Coatman’s place in Firethorn history with a 9-under-par score from the tips.
Athleticism is a consistent theme in the Coatman family as his father played college baseball and his mother played softball. However, his uncle, Jeff Pappas, introduced his nephew to the sport he would soon learn to love. The two spent their time together playing Jim Ager Memorial Golf Course, a local par-3, in Lincoln, Neb. These initial rounds pulled Coatman into the game of golf, and so did watching Tiger Woods dominate on the PGA Tour.
“When I was growing up, that was kind of peak Tiger Woods time,” Coatman said. “I would say watching him on TV probably got me and a million other kids going in golf.”
And something about having the fate of the game in his hands caught his eye.
“Golf teaches you a lot about attitude and sportsmanship because it’s just you out there,” Coatman said. “You are the only one making decisions, so it’s unique in that way and I think that’s why I liked it a lot.”
As Coatman’s game progressed, he transitioned to larger courses and eventually joined Firethorn as a junior member at age 14. With even more practice, he made the varsity golf team at Lincoln Southwest High School where his golfing career would begin to take off. Head Coach Jim Danson said he could see the abundance of skill in Coatman’s golf game from the start.
“He was everything that was advertised and had the total package,” Danson said. “He had the short game and the long game and was a well-versed golfer. To see him advance through high school, college and then as a professional did not surprise me at all.”
Coatman’s skills along with those of his teammates led Southwest in 2007 to its first golf state championship title in school history. Danson said the goals, dedication and determination of this team are still a large source of inspiration to him. But it is Coatman and his “it factor” who stands out as the key leader of the team.
Coatman, a phenomenal golfer, Danson said, shows consistency and works hard to progress his skills, which he displayed when he set Firethorn’s new course best.
“Firethorn really allows you to display the fullness of your golf swing and a golf mental toughness,” Danson said. “And to me, Mike had all of the above.”
Before his record-breaking round, he journeyed from high school about 6 miles away to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln for the next step in his golf career. Back then, Huskers teammate Trent Price immediately noticed two things about Coatman. First, he is quiet. Second, he is better than everyone else.
His quietness stems from his ability to stay calm and collected, Price said, even on some of the biggest stages.
“He was athletic, so pressure didn’t really get to him because he had played other sports,” Price said. “If you look at golfers on the PGA Tour right now, a lot of those guys played basketball and golf or baseball and golf, and those guys are on top of the world right now.”
Even when things start to turn sideways, Price said Coatman will not be seen throwing clubs or cursing. He maintains his even-keeled attitude and focuses on the next hole.
With a course like Firethorn, Coatman said if you’re a little off your game, things can start going downhill quickly. Both Coatman and Price said what makes this course difficult is its visual deception, intricate waterways and thick tall grasses.
“It’s really hard to go all 18 holes at Firethorn without one hiccup,” Price said. “One big number can happen quicker here than any other course in the state.”
Coatman’s single hiccup during his 2013 record-setting round occurred on hole seven with a drive that flew into the trees. This led to his only bogey of the day. As he drove the golf cart toward hole eight, the bogey disappeared from his mind.
After graduating college in 2011 as a four-year letter winner with 17 rounds under par, Coatman played professionally for three years and said the road to the PGA Tour was not easy.
For some golfers, this can be a long mental grind that most fans are not aware of.
“You see the top 200 guys on TV, but there are another 20,000 guys trying to get there,” Coatman said. “For those guys, playing in mini-tours for little money and living in your car is definitely not the glamour life that everybody sees on TV. I’d say it taught me a lot about mental toughness and trying to stay positive when things aren’t always positive.”
His wife, Stacie Coatman, said her husband’s laid-back attitude and mental toughness contributes to his success both on the course and at home.
“He has a higher patience tolerance than most people,” Stacie said. “Even though he might bogey a few holes, he can come back later and finish strong, whereas most people might continue playing poorly for the rest of the round.”
Holding the course record at Firethorn is something that Coatman said he will cherish forever. The rich history and tradition of the course only adds to the significance of his 62, and so does the number of great players who have walked the same fairways and putted the same greens.
“Just to know that I had shot a score that nobody else has ever done before is one of my proudest moments in the game.”