Jonathan Grey is an English golfer with an American game.
Because Grey hits a typically towering ball, Georgia State coach Joe Inman had a hunch that Grey would like playing in the United States, where he wouldn’t have to contend with the winds that made shots with lower trajectories the better play in the United Kingdom.
Inman was right.
Playing his first year on Georgia State’s golf team, Grey won his first two tournaments, added another later, and is the top seed in the Baton Rouge, La., regional of the NCAA men’s tournament, which starts Thursday. Grey would have to finish as the top individual not on one of the teams advancing on the University Club of Baton Rouge course to make it to the NCAA finals, which will be held at the Capital City Club’s Crabapple course in Alpharetta.
“I’ve been in golf a long time,” said Inman, a veteran of the PGA and Champions tours. “This is a special kid.”
Still, Inman wasn’t sure what he would get when he began recruiting Grey. He hadn’t won much, but Inman liked him, liked his parents, liked his teachers and liked the fact that Grey’s demeanor never wavered, whether he was playing well or struggling.
Still, he couldn’t help but wonder why Grey wasn’t more successful.
He theorized that Grey, who is 6-foot-5, might be better suited for what is commonly called target golf in the United States, where you ask: “How far is it over that bunker?” instead of in the United Kingdom, where the question can be moot because keeping the ball out of the winds will result in lows shots that land in the bunker.
“Here, he can hit it over that bunker,” Inman said.
Living in the United States took some getting used to for Grey. He said the heat and humidity nearly floored him when he arrived in Atlanta in August.
“I thought I was dying,” he said.
But Grey began to enjoy the culture, from his first experience trying to navigate MARTA to becoming a fan of the Hawks, Falcons and Braves, though he acknowledged he’s still trying to figure out the scoring in baseball.
“I was assuming it would be a bit too much,” he said of the cultural adjustment. “I sort of embraced it and enjoyed it. It’s fun to get into with everybody.”
And as Inman predicted, Grey liked the courses and liked the courses’ greens, which rolled truer than those back home in Kent, England. Crediting the greens, he said putting has been the most-improved part of his game since enrolling at Georgia State.
Grey liked being an unknown and not knowing who the other players were. He said it reduced any pressure he might have felt.
Inman helped him make one other mental adjustment. Inman said Grey had a case of the “should-haves” when he arrived, as in “I should have made that birdie.” Inman helped Grey to look forward, and the results have worked. Grey has a 72.2 stroke average this year — sixth lowest in school history — with nine rounds in the 60s and 11 top-25 finishes, and he was named the Sun Belt Conference’s freshman of the year. One more tournament victory would set a career record at Georgia State.
To keep his good play going in Baton Rouge, Inman said Grey will have to drive the ball well during the regional, which will consist of three rounds. When Grey misses, it’s usually to the right as a power fade. Walking the course Wednesday morning, Inman said he liked how it sets up for Grey’s game.
Grey seems excited about the opportunity to continue a year that seems to have surprised everyone, even himself.
“Getting to nationals would be sweet,” he said. “That would be so good. I wasn’t really thinking about when I came.”
Download the new AJC app. More local news, more breaking news and in-depth journalism.