Don’t confuse Tommy Baker’s easy-going approach to golf, to academics – to life, really – for anything approaching indifference. That would be just flat-out wrong.
Baker’s ever-calm demeanor conceals a coach who is passionate about achieving success and seeing his student-athletes reach their utmost potential. Whether they are taking medalist honors in a tournament or simply making that 20-foot putt on a downhill break that has proven elusive in the past, Baker takes pride in seeing his players constantly surpass their previous achievements and maybe even their own expectations.
Academically, this son of a university dean doesn’t tolerate anything short of his student-athletes’ best effort in the classroom. Period.
Tommy Baker is the consummate fiery coach with uncompromising standards – but that’s all on the inside.
What his players see every day in practice, and every other week in competition, is the combination of teaching instincts and a love of golf that have allowed this seemingly laid-back North Carolinian to mentor Saint Leo women’s golf to unprecedented success in just three years at the program’s helm.
The just-completed 2015-16 season, Baker’s third at Saint Leo since getting tabbed for the job in August 2013 as the fourth head coach in program history, ended with the Lions making their first appearance at the NCAA Division II Women’s Golf Championship. A final round push allowed Saint Leo to claim a fourth-place tie on the team leaderboard at the 2016 championship at the CommonGround Golf Course in Aurora, Colo.
Saint Leo’s NCAA championship berth capped a post-season stretch that began with the Lions finishing third at the 2016 Sunshine State Conference Championship, and junior Marie Coors earning medalist honors for the second time in three seasons. The run continued with a third-place finish at the NCAA South Region Championship, sending the Lions on to the national championship for the first time in program history.
Other honors punctuated the 2015-16 season: the program’s first First Team Academic All-American and three WGCA All-America awards – more than had been earned in the program’s prior history.
The success of 2015-16 was just the most recent chapter in what has been the unceasing maturation of Saint Leo women’s golf under head coach Tommy Baker.
Under Baker's tutelage, the Lions finished fifth at the 2015 NCAA South Region Tournament, improving upon the previous season's finish. Senior Clare Connolly was tied for seventh on the individual leaderboard at the NCAA regional event, carding a three-round total of 221, and becoming Saint Leo's first four-time NCAA regional participant.
Connolly ended the year as a WGCA All-South Region selection – the second in as many years coached by Baker – and, as a sophomore, was the program's first Capital One Academic All-American. This year, Coors also received WGCA All-American Scholar recognition, after finishing among the top 15 at the NCAA South Region event.
The Lions finished among the top 10 in all their events during Baker's second season at Saint Leo, including a tournament championship at the Lander University Lady Bearcat Invitational, and a second-place finish at the Mimosa Hills Intercollegiate in Morganton, N.C.
In his first season with the Green and Gold, Baker led the Lions to instant success.
The program saw two regular-season tournament first-place team finishes, landing in the top 10 for all eleven tournaments. This success also carried over to crucial end-of-the-year tournaments, including the Lions finishing fifth at the Sunshine State Conference Tournament and earning a selection to the NCAA South Region Tournament, where they finished sixth. At the SSC Championship, golfer Marie Coors finished in first place for the Lions, marking the first time a Saint Leo women’s golfer has won the tournament. The guidance of Baker assisted in the placement of Marie Coors at the NCAA DII National Championship, where she finished tied for eighth.
In total, the Lions earned sixteen top-10 individual tournament finishes, and numerous accolades were awarded throughout the season, including one WGCA All-South Region selection, one WGCA Second Team All-American, one Second Team All-SSC second team honoree, and one SSC Women’s Golfer of the Week award winner.
At Coker College
Baker, a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Pembroke, made his way to Saint Leo after serving as the head men’s and women’s golf coach at Coker College in Hartsville, S.C.
Under Baker’s tutelage at Coker, the women’s golf program was transformed into a regional competitor. During the 2012-13 season alone, the Cobras had three top-5 finishes and they completed eight of nine events in the top-15. In addition to the women’s success, Baker guided his men’s program to 12 total tournament victories. The men’s team also captured the 2012 Conference Carolinas Championship.
In his five years with the Coker Cobras, Baker helped to produce more than 70 Conference Carolinas Presidential Honor Roll Recipients, 32 All-Tournament Team Selections, 17 All-Conference Team Selections, 11 team tournament victories, and 10 individual medalist honors. In addition, he led six Golf Coaches Association of America (GCAA) All-Region Selections, two GCAA All-Freshman Team selections, one Conference Carolinas Player of the Year, one Conference Carolinas Freshman of the Year, and one PING First Team All-America selection.
Along with numerous awards, Baker’s teams spent 29 consecutive weeks ranked in the Golf World / Nike Coaches’ Poll in 2012-13. He also led the Cobras to six NCAA Regional Appearances and one NCAA National Championship appearance. In 2012, his women’s golf team also won the Conference Carolinas Team Sportsmanship Award. Adding to his resume, Baker was named the Conference Carolinas Coach of the year in 2009.
At UNC Pembroke
Prior to his success with the Cobras, Baker was an assistant men’s and women’s golf coach at his alma mater, UNC Pembroke, for two years.
As a member of the UNC Pembroke golf team from 2002-06, Baker was a four-time letterman as well as a four-time Peach Belt Conference Honor Roll Selection. He received a B.S. with honors in exercise in sport science, as well as his master’s in sports administration.
Baker and his wife, Jessica, are the parents of three children: Caden (9), Brooks (5), and Charlotte (1).