Childhood coach inspires golfer to join Chapman team

Junior Brent Bjorndahl began golfing as a child with his father. When he joined the Tustin Ranch Golf Club at 10 years old, he was coached by Ming Lao, the current Chapman golf head coach. Photo by Jack Clendening

For junior Brent Bjorndahl, his most treasured childhood memories involve playing golf with his father in Palm Springs, California. They would always play the same 18 holes every year on his birthday at the Desert Princess Country Club, Bjorndahl said.

These early father-son golf outings served as Bjorndahl’s introduction to the sport. With time, his interest in golf deepened and at 10 years old, Bjorndahl, an Orange County native, started practicing and taking lessons at Tustin Ranch Golf Club.

His instructor at the club was Ming Lao, who is now the head coach of the men’s and women’s golf team at Chapman.

During Bjorndahl’s junior year of high school, he started talking with Lao about pursuing golf in college. Lao was already coaching golf at Chapman, so he encouraged Bjorndahl to apply.

For Bjorndahl, that “was a really big incentive” to go to Chapman.

“I’ve been around Brent and guiding him since he was 10 years old,” Lao said. “It’s been a long journey.”

Now a junior at Chapman, Bjorndahl juggles six classes, an on-campus job as an assistant to Sheryl Bourgeois, executive vice president of University Advancement and a hectic golf schedule, crediting Lao.

“Ming has done a really good job letting guys have their freedom and do their thing. The team is also very academic oriented,” Bjorndahl said. “If you have a big test or a project due and you need to miss something, you can. I never have to worry about my grades being in jeopardy.”

Throughout Lao’s years coaching him, Bjorndahl went from initially scoring in the 90s to scoring in the 70s or 60s. He was also named a Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC) Scholar Athlete in both his freshman and sophomore years at Chapman.
But being on the golf team has proved to be challenging at times, Bjorndahl said.

In a recent dual round match against California Lutheran University Feb. 12 at the Tierra Rejada Golf Club in Ventura County, Bjorndahl lost. Bjorndahl came in seventh place out of 17 at seven over par. Despite that, the team came back with a second place position at the Industry Hills Golf Club, playing a quad match Feb. 15 against Whittier College, Pomona-Pitzer College and University of La Verne. The team placed second.

Bjorndahl said joining the team was a learning curve for him. He used to get nervous before big matches, he said. Now, he makes time to practice, which helps him feel prepared.

Lao, proud of Bjorndahl, says his success comes from his work ethic. Bjorndahl is one of the hardest-working golfers on the team Lao said.

“The best players work the hardest. You need to out-work everyone else in order to be great,” Lao said. “Brent is the perfect example of a great teammate.”