By Zac Ellis
On campus in Nashville – Not long after Vanderbilt hired Scott Limbaugh as its new men’s golf coach in June 2012, the Commodores’ fresh leader hopped on a plane and jetted to Europe. The purpose of Limbaugh’s trip was to visit Matthias Schwab, a teenage golfer in Rohrmoos, Austria who had been recruited by Vanderbilt’s previous coaching staff. Limbaugh wanted to show Schwab, in person, that the Commodores still wanted him on West End.
Limbaugh spent his time in Austria watching Schwab compete in the Austrian Open, and the coach made an in-home visit to mingle with Schwab’s family. Limbaugh viewed the Austrian prospect as a potential cornerstone for a new era of Vanderbilt golf. That potential was reason enough for a trip across the pond.
“I went over there and told him my vision for the program,” Limbaugh said. “I hoped he would see in me somebody who would help him chase his dreams.”
Almost five years later, Schwab has evolved into a First Team All-American, a top-10 player in college golf and a senior on a Vanderbilt roster that could vie for a national championship. The Commodores finished the 2016 fall season ranked No. 1 overall GolfStat.com’s national rankings, the first No. 1 ranking in program history and just the fourth Vanderbilt team in any sport to reach the top spot overall.
Now, as Vanderbilt prepares to kick off its spring season this Friday at the All-American Intercollegiate Tournament in Houston, Schwab still remembers Limbaugh’s pitch back in his childhood living room – and the journey that began.
“The fact that he showed up at my house made a huge difference,” Schwab said. “I really liked the thought of being part of something that we can all build together, something that we can make great instead of just joining a great team.”
That path has been a winding one for Schwab, whose Vanderbilt career has seen its share of obstacles. Stress fractures in his back caused Schwab to miss portions of his freshman and sophomore seasons. He even made trips back to Austria to focus on physical therapy and exercise.
But through hard work, Schwab has rebounded to become one of the best players in college golf. He finished in the top 10 in three tournaments last fall and, alongside sophomore Patrick Martin, landed on the 2017 Ben Hogan Award Watch list last week, an honor given to the top men’s college golfer. Meanwhile, Golfweek.com tabs Schwab as the 10th-ranked college player in the country.
Schwab is less concerned with personal accolades than Vanderbilt’s championship aspirations, but his career has undeniably coincided with the evolution of Limbaugh’s program. The ‘Dores capped the coach’s first season in 2012-13 ranked 45th nationally in the Golfweek/Sagarin ratings; last season, they finished sixth. In 2015 Vanderbilt won four tournaments, the most in a single season in program history, and three of VU’s six trip to the NCAA Championships have come under Limbaugh.
Now Schwab feels he can help Vanderbilt take that next step to an NCAA title. “With my injury and all that stuff, it was a slow start, but we took it one step at a time,” Schwab said. “Each year, we’ve gotten better.”
Limbaugh said Schwab’s steady presence had been a guiding force for the Commodores. The coach said the senior has dramatically improved his short game, which was a relative weakness when he arrived on campus. That work ethic – and a resiliency in the face of adversity -- has made Schwab a truly rare talent on West End.
“Had Matthias not suffered the injury, he would have gone down as one of the best golfers in Vanderbilt history, if not the best,” Limbaugh said. “He’s just that good.”
Schwab and Vanderbilt haven’t hit the course for competitive play since November, which is why the senior is more than ready to venture to Houston this weekend. With a little luck, Schwab could help the Commodores reach new heights, a fitting end to a journey that began in his living room in Austria.
“I’m really excited to get going,” Schwab said. “We have a lot of potential, and I think we can achieve great things.”