The Accidental Golfer
Noah Ratner ’13 concluded a brilliant career as a student-athlete at Guilford by earning first-team All-America honors and Old Dominion Athletic Conference Golfer of the Year honors for the third time.
In 2012, he became the first student-athlete at the College to win the Jack Nicklaus Award, honoring him as the top golfer in Division III of the NCAA.
Yet the Asheville, N.C., resident almost didn’t play college golf.
“(Guilford’s) Jack Jensen was the only coach who I talked to that was even remotely interested,” Noah says. “Without him I wouldn’t be playing college golf. I don’t even know where I’d be right now. Guilford’s been great. I’m very lucky to have been blessed to have met him and keep playing college golf. It really changed my life.”
The youngest of six children, Noah had an outstanding high school career. His hometown newspaper, the Asheville Citizen-Times, named him the Western North Carolina Golfer of the Year in 2009. Despite the accolades, he got very little attention from recruiters.
“People don’t think about golfers being from Asheville because the climate’s cold there,” says Marsha Jensen, Jack’s widow.
Jack, who died of a heart attack in the spring of Noah’s freshman year, coached at Guilford nearly half a century. He became golf coach in 1976 and led Quaker teams to four of the school’s five national championships – three in golf and one in men’s basketball. Marsha thinks her late husband’s decades on the job allowed him to see something in Noah that other coaches overlooked.
“He had 30 years of experience” as a golf recruiter, she says. “That’s something that makes a difference on being able to spot talent.”
Jack’s gamble paid off. In addition to winning three straight first team All-America and ODAC Golfer of the Year awards and the Nicklaus Award, Noah finished his senior season with a conference-leading 73.07 stroke average in 27 rounds. He ended his career second all-time at Guilford with a 73.435 stroke average in 108 rounds, the most in the Quakers’ NCAA Division III history. He also won five tournaments, including the 2013 ODAC Championship. He concluded his senior year by finishing 12th individually in the 2013 NCAA Championship, winning a five-man playoff for the chance to play the final 36 holes. He tied for 12th as a junior and tied for 11th as a sophomore.
A championship golf career was hardly a foregone conclusion for Noah, who earned a bachelor’s degree in sports management with a minor in business. His father is a rabbi, and he is the first member of his immediate family to play golf on a regular basis. But relatives in California introduced him to a Par 3 course when he was 13, and Noah was hooked.
“I was lucky enough to have some family friends who played,” he says. Asheville residents Debbie and Anthony Adams were standouts at The Ohio State University in the late 1980s, and they gave Noah free lessons. By 2009, he was good enough to join the Adams in competition at the Maccabiah Games in Israel, a Jewish version of the Olympics.
F or Noah, one of the peaks of his college career was a moment when his team failed to finish on top – but just barely. In 2010, Methodist University beat Guilford for the NCAA Division III national championship by a single stroke.
“That was just an incredible four days after losing Coach Jensen and all of us sticking it out. That last round was probably one of the most emotional rounds I’ve ever had in my life. I finished one under, which felt good, and it was one of those days you just knew everybody on your team was fighting as hard as they could.”
Guilford has continued to compete on the national stage under coach Corey Maggard, who took over after Jensen’s death and has led the team to multiple tournament championships.
“We got really lucky getting Corey,” says Noah, who aspires to play golf at a professional level. “He’s been great – he’s been a good friend, a good teacher.”
Story by Eddie Huffman. A version appeared in the winter 2013 issue of Guilford College Magazine.