James Piot began his off season less than 24 hours after finishing 48th, shooting 11-over-par through three rounds at the NCAA championships. He took the red-eye back to East Lansing with Head Coach Casey Lubahn and was back on the golf course the next day to start his offseason training.
This level of dedication may seem crazy, but it is what has driven Piot to have a record-setting season for MSU golf and become one of the best college golfers in the country. The day after finishing as the top individual at the NCAA qualifiers in Tennessee, Piot was in the weight room at 6:30 a.m., Lubahn said.
“Most people, college kids, would rather just not touch a golf club for weeks after that, especially a bad week,” Piot said. “I was ready to go back into it. So, it's just motivational fuel for me, I guess, every day to just try to get better. And that's always my goal.”
The grueling hours and constant commitment is not a burden for Piot because he is playing the game he loves. Piot said it has been an outlet for him and loves every moment of being on the course no matter what he is doing.
“It's not so much of what he did before the season, it's what he's been doing for a lifetime,” Lubahn said. “He is in perpetual chase mode, and that never goes away. And with him, the intensity it's kind of like a drug, it's an addiction. The better he plays, the more he wants to work at it.”
That passion and love for the game resulted in tangible improvement for Piot, as he had one of the best seasons in MSU men’s golf history. Piot set the school record for scoring average of 71.3 and the first MSU individual golfer to reach the NCAA championship since 2002.
“It’s always been a big deal to me to try my best to improve every year, and when I do things like I did this year, it makes me feel like my game is moving in the right direction for the future,” Piot said in an email.
Piot will be returning next year as a fifth-year senior, exercising his extra year of eligibility granted by the NCAA due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He said he has the intention to return to the NCAA championship and cement himself as the best men's golfer in school history.
Piot has continued his offseason grind by focusing on his putting and staying mentally strong on the course during rounds. He is currently in Pinehurst, North Carolina working with a putting coach before he begins competing in summer tournaments.
“I’m trying to work on some things in my game that need improvement,” Piot said. “So, putting was kind of one thing that, you know, it's good, but it needs to get a little better to get to the next level. So, I’m just down here getting some work in on that.”
Lubahn said that the focus for Piot was to become “a little bit better” in all aspects of the game to be able to make the transition from elite college golfer to a PGA Tour-level golfer and to grow as a leader for the rest of the golfers on the team.
Piot will be playing in a summer circuit that includes nine tournaments against the top amateur competitions in the country including the Michigan Amateur Championship and the Western Amateur in Illinois.
Piot said that the summer tournaments are a good measuring stick for him before the season of where he needs to be because the competition at the summer tournaments rival or even surpass the level of competition in Big Ten golf.
The other area of focus for Piot this summer will be improving between the ears on the course and increasing his mental fortitude. Lubahn said that Piot has improved drastically in that area since coming to East Lansing, but still can play with too much fear which hinders him on the course.
“This battle is always going to be one in the brain,” Lubahn said. “And there's two ways to fight that. One is to work incredibly hard so your mechanics don't break down and two is to continue to put yourself in a situation and learn the lessons that he's learned. He's not a skip stepper. He is a guy who is very process-driven. So, we're just going to dig into the process and wait till that next big moment and he'll be ready.”
Piot said the next hurdle is to think more positively while putting. He said that he was too negative while on the green this year and needs to maintain his confidence and trust himself more to become a better putter.
“At the end of the day, you got to accept in your mind that bad shots are gonna happen and you just have to learn to overcome that,” Piot said. “But you know, when you have an eight-footer for birdie, you got to be thinking about making it, not the consequences if you miss while you're over the ball.”
Another focus for Piot is becoming a leader for the team on and off the course. He said that he wants to go back to the NCAA championship with the team, not as an individual next year.
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“I touch base with all the guys every day pretty much,” Piot said. “You are a tight group of guys as a golf team, so it's convenient. But I mean, just motivating guys to play tournament golf this summer is the big thing. Coach Lubahn has been doing a great job of talking to everyone about it. And at the end of the day, if you want to get better, you got to compete as much as you can.”
Lubahn said that Piot has broken the mold for Michigan State golf and provided his teammates with a blueprint on how to be successful at the college level. He said the next step is to become a vocal leader to push the team to the same level of success he experienced this year.
“He's a lead-by-example guy with his work ethic,” Lubahn said. “But, he is learning now to say, ‘Listen, this is awesome that I'm accomplishing some things I want to, but it means twice as more to me if we do it as a team.’”
Lubahn said that Piot’s work ethic rubs off on the other members of the team and could result in the best men’s golf team in school history if players begin to put in the same amount of work as him.
“These guys, the next team has the best chance of my 11 years not only to win a Big Ten, but to go deep in the NCAA tournament,” Lubahn said. “And you know, when you bring back one of the best players in the country, that's where your head has got to be.”
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