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New hope alive to save Furman golf program

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After two weeks of anger, sadness and uncertainty, the Furman men’s golf program finally has reasons for optimism.

This week, six Furman alumni, including 1983 graduate and eight-time PGA Tour winner Brad Faxon, sent an email to fellow alums, family and friends detailing how the men’s team could be saved not just in the short term, but indefinitely as well.

The proposal, which would need final approval from the Board of Trustees, calls for the group to raise $285,000 in the next few months (likely by July 1), which would cover the operating expenses for the next two years.

Additionally, by the end of the calendar year 2015, they would need to fund an endowment with “no less” than $2 million that would keep the program afloat for the foreseeable future. As part of the plan, the university would need to cover all costs associated with scholarships.

“As a result of the outpouring of support and the hard work of many, Furman University is willing to consider a strategic plan to save the men’s golf program,” the former players wrote in the email, which was obtained by GolfChannel.com.

“At this point, there is no assurance that Furman will reverse its course; however, the Board of Trustees has assured us that a unified, well-supported plan for addressing the financial needs of the men’s golf program will result in the program being continued.”

If the proposal is approved, the men’s team is still unlikely to operate at full capacity – a few scholarships would be reduced, and they’d have to pinch pennies. Of course, that scenario is nothing new to 18-year head coach Todd Satterfield – he has won conference championships with an operating budget that was in the bottom third of the Southern Conference.

“Just having a chance to compete,” he said by phone Thursday morning, “that’s all we really want.”

On Feb. 6, Satterfield was blindsided when he learned that his men’s team – which has 13 conference titles, more than any other school, but has slipped to No. 127 in Golfstat’s team rankings – would be discontinued following the spring semester. The school was in a dire financial situation, estimated to lose about $6.3 million in the fiscal 2014-15 year, and there would need to be substantial cuts across campus, including in athletics.

What surprised many, including Satterfield, was that the university had singled out men’s golf, which has a budget – including salaries, travel and scholarships – of about $400,000, among the smallest of the sports at Furman.

“That’s like an eyedropper in a bucket full of water,” Satterfield said in an interview last week.

In announcing the move, the school’s interim president said that it had conducted an “extensive evaluation of criteria, including public visibility, attendance, competitiveness and overall costs.”

It didn’t take long for the devastating news to spread to some of the team’s most vocal supporters. T.J. Blandford, who played for Satterfield and graduated in 2006, started an online petition that, as of this writing, has 2,450 signees. He is one of the six names on the proposal, along with Faxon, Frank Ford (1974), Cordes Ford (1998), Jeff DeLoach (1999) and Rob Langley (2005). Those interested in helping can email savefurmangolf@gmail.com.

When reached last week, Satterfield said that he held out hope that the decision would be reversed but, he admitted, “I’m not totally optimistic.”

Six days later, he struck a decidedly more upbeat tone about the program’s future.

“At this point, I am very optimistic that, at least in the short run, it’s going to happen,” he said. “Of the people I’ve talked to, they feel very confident the initial funds ($285,000) can be raised.”

Obviously, the earlier that the funds roll in, the better. That would show the school its level of commitment in keeping the program running, and it would send a strong signal to both current players and fall signees who might be unsure whether to remain with the private, liberal-arts school in Greenville, S.C.

When asked what he has learned during this emotional, two-week ordeal, Satterfield paused and said: “That there is a lot of people supporting us, and that’s a testament to the kind of guys who have come through here and the quality of people we have. Our results have been a little mixed, certainly recently, but it does give you hope that there’s a lot of support behind you.”

At the end of our call, Satterfield was about to sit down and write his players an email. Everyone has heard the bits and pieces, the rumors, the speculation. He wanted to set the record straight, to make sure everyone was on the same page.

After all, this weekend, the Paladins are heading to Jacksonville for their spring opener.

Suddenly, incredibly, it appears as though it won’t be their last.