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The Quinnipiac Chronicle

The Student News Site of Quinnipiac University

The Quinnipiac Chronicle

The Student News Site of Quinnipiac University

The Quinnipiac Chronicle

Fairway to success: John O’Connor’s coaching career on par for greatness

Quinnipiac Athletics

John O’Connor isn’t your ordinary golf coach. 

Quinnipiac golf’s head man has been at the helm for 18 seasons, boasting five MAAC conference titles. He’s a three-time conference coach of the year winner: once in the NEC (2013) and twice in the MAAC (2016-17), with a program-record 23 tournament wins. 

But if you were to ask his teenage self, tournament wins weren’t on his mind. In fact, neither was golf. 

“When I was younger, I wound up swimming in high school and in college,” O’Connor said. “I was the captain of my high school football team. Football … was the most important thing to me for much of my life.” 

In his early life, O’Connor swam at the now-abandoned Twin Lakes Swim and Tennis Club in Stamford, Connecticut, as a sprinter — specializing in short-distance races ranging from 50-meter to the 100-meter freestyle — while playing wide receiver and free safety on the gridiron. 

O’Connor chose the sub-30-second, 50-meter freestyle instead of the two-to-three-hour playtime over 18 holes. He opted for scoring touchdowns on the 100-yard field, rather than chasing birdies on 1,000- yard courses. 

So how does a coach who didn’t grow up loving the sport end up with 23 tournament wins and five conference titles? It’s the skills he learned from being a sprinter. 

“You don’t have the opportunity to talk to people about what you’re doing during a meet. It’s all just you,” O’Connor said. “I think it has given me the ability to read athletes and know which ones are going to be competitive. So much of what I see in coaching is the kids with more desire (to) succeed.” 

That focus and desire has translated to his players. They see how his commitment to other sports — while not being conventional for a top-ranked golf coach — has made him a better leader. 

“Because he played so many sports, he knows what it takes to be a good athlete,” graduate student Leeyen Peralta said. “He knows the work that it takes and the grit and the determination and I think he does a good job in relaying that message.” 

Though O’Connor may not be a PGA professional or a former college player like many coaches, one thing he does have is an eye for talent. 

O’Connor doesn’t recruit just from his own backyard. He seeks players outside of Connecticut, from California to China. 

The top three finishers in last year’s MAAC Championship — Peralta, graduate student Kaylee Sakoda and junior Fuge Zhang — all are from the west coast or overseas. 

“I used to go down to the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, and I brought in some good golfers from there,” O’Connor said. “I brought in a golfer from Bolivia. I brought in girls from Venezuela at that time, and then at some point I started going out to California. They’ve got so many great golfers.” 

Hailing from California, Peralta has been with the program for five years, garnering eight individual wins — with a program-record four tournaments wins this season — and the 2021-22 MAAC Golfer of the Year award. She came to Quinnipiac after O’Connor’s pursuit at her senior showcase. From then on, Peralta was destined to grace the navy and gold. 

“I knew that he was the coach I wanted to play for just because of the way he supported me and the way he interacted with me and my dad,” Peralta said. “I knew that he would be somebody that I wanted to be a part of a team and work with.” 

The ability to recruit Peralta, Sakoda and Zhang happened because of the news that changed O’Connor’s golfing tenure at Quinnipiac. 

Starting in July 2006, he took the reins of the men’s golf team from former head coach Todd Howes. In O’Connor’s three seasons as the men’s coach, he didn’t finish higher than eighth in the NEC championships. 

During the middle of his third season, on March 4, 2009, O’Connor found out that his men’s golf team was being cut for budgetary reasons. In response to this on July 21, 2010, Quinnipiac announced its plans to add women’s golf in compliance with Title IX. 

O’Connor (right) stands with graduate student Leeyen Peralta after winning the
Quinnipiac Classic on Oct. 10. (Colin Kennedy)

The university brought along women’s golf after the volleyball team filed a lawsuit against the school, citing that it was looking to replace volleyball for competitive cheer. This was until a decision of U.S. District Judge Stefan R. Underhill where he ruled competitive cheer not a varsity sport. 

As a result, the aforementioned golf program and rugby were brought onto campus. 

O’Connor took the role of women’s golf head coach in its inaugural 2010-11 season. In 18 years, O’Connor has claimed a program-record 23 tournament wins. He won his first career tournament at the Quinnipiac Classic in 2012, and went on to take the classic again in 2021 and 2023. 

“He really emphasizes self-discipline, and then he also tries to foster a lot of supportive and collaborative opportunities within the team,” senior Aimee Uchida said. “So that at least motivates us, especially on the course we always cheer each other and support each other.” 

O’Connor decided to also teach a new group of players. 

The Orange, Connecticut, native extends his expertise by offering a one-credit class called Beginning Golf at the Sleeping Giant Golf Course. This unique opportunity allows students to delve into the fundamentals of golf under his guidance. 

“I do enjoy introducing new people to golf,” O’Connor said. “I spend time on the driving range and Sleeping Giant with the beginners, just getting them comfortable enough that they can go into the pro shop and say, ‘I’d like to play nine.’” 

O’Connor has come a long way from the sprinter who also played on the gridiron to teaching a course at Quinnipiac about the basics of golf. 

For somebody who said he’s “not a PGA professional,” O’Connor has Quinnipiac one tournament win away from a four-peat, which hasn’t been accomplished since Siena won 11 straight from 2001-2012. 

Not bad for a swimmer. 

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About the Contributors
Ryan Johanson
Ryan Johanson, Associate Sports Editor
Colin Kennedy
Colin Kennedy, Managing Editor

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