The Art of Coaching: Whithaus’ Positive Influence on the Duke Golf Community -

The Art of Coaching: Whithaus’ Positive Influence on the Duke Golf Community

By Charlotte Tannenbaum, Duke Communications Student Assistant


“A good coach can change a game. A great coach can change a life.”

Sometimes, players are lucky enough to work with somebody who can do both. Jon Whithaus is one of these special coaches. Whithaus has been a staple in the Duke golf program for years now. The current women’s associate head coach, Whithaus previously worked the same position on the men’s team. Whithaus was a successful college golfer himself, playing his four years at Ohio Wesleyan where he also began his coaching career. His transition to coaching was a natural one.

“I really love helping motivated people learn to get to where they want to be,” said Whithaus. “Help them to be more efficient, help them to get clarity on what they’re doing, and get the excess stuff out of their way so they can get after their goals.”

Whithaus served as the head coach at his alma mater for 12 seasons before joining the Duke program, where he worked for three years as an associate head coach on the men’s team before joining the women’s program. For Whithaus, the move from coaching men to women was fairly effortless.

“Maybe it’s because I have a wife and I have three daughters. Or maybe it’s because I’ve kind of always operated under the rules of coaching one person at a time instead of as a group.”

NCAA Champions

Whithaus attests to the importance of teaching to the individual (regardless of gender): “Everyone’s got their style and what they respond to.”

His methods are certainly effective – his former players continue to praise his coaching style long after leaving Duke.

“Coach Whithaus has a gift when it comes to helping people raise the level of their game and reach their full potential,” said Brinson Paolini, a former Blue Devil who played for Duke from 2009-12. The alum, who went on to play professionally after graduation, notes that Whithaus’ influence extends far beyond the game.

“He continues to help me mature and grow into the kind and life-giving person that he is. I am so grateful to call him a mentor, coach, and friend,” said Paolini.

Whithaus’ good work is recognized not only by the players who have benefited from it, but also by the greater golf community. This past year, Whithaus was recognized as the Women’s Golf Coaches Association (WGCA) National Assistant Coach of the Year.

“I say this to our players a lot: it’s definitely an honor to be recognized by people in our industry,” said Whithaus.  “But the awards, the honors, the trophies and things are just side effects of the clarity that you have of doing all the little pieces of your job or your sport well.”

What Whithaus finds most rewarding about his job is not the accolades, but something else entirely.

Gina Kim, Jon Whithaus, Erica Shepherd

“Watching a player succeed at something that didn’t come easy for them – when they really have to plan things out and work through it – those are the really special moments.”

As rewarding a job as coaching can be, it is also incredibly demanding. For Whithaus, being surrounded by encouraging and understanding people has been key.

“The only way to make this work is to have a lot of great support from your family, and my family has been tremendous through all of this,” he said.

In his seven years working for the women’s program, Whithaus has worked closely with Hall of Fame head coach Dan Brooks.

Jon Whithaus, Dan Brooks

“Our Duke women’s success definitely stems from Dan Brooks and his awareness and ability to connect with players, understand what they are striving for, and help continue to take this culture and drive the shift in the right direction,” said Whithaus.

The appreciation goes both ways; Brooks speaks just as highly of Whithaus.

“It’s a rare individual who can do it all. Jon is visionary, organized, and most importantly, he takes care of the people around him, particularly our team,” said Brooks. “I trust Jon in every aspect of our program.”

Virginia Elena Carta, a member of Duke’s 2019 NCAA championship winning team, agrees with Brooks that Whithaus can do it all.

“Jon was such a tremendous 360 coach during my years at Duke. He always tried to understand all the different needs and sometimes anticipated future ones making practice and play more efficient and productive.”  The NCAA 2016 individual national champion also remembers Whithaus’ talent in getting players match-day ready. “He was able to transform practice into something really similar to competition, which made the transition into tournament days very smooth,” she noted.  “He was always very positive, which truly made a difference on the course!  I’m deeply grateful for the time spent with Jon and all the lessons learned.”

Jon Whithaus, Virginia Elena CartaAs a former collegiate player himself, Whithaus had great role models to inspire his own coaching. One particular individual whom Whithaus feels had a great impact on him as both a player and person was Dr. Richard Gordin, who coached at Ohio Wesleyan for 39 seasons. “He was definitely a mentor, father figure, a huge influence in my life,” said Whithaus.

Today, current and former players all across the country say the same about Whithaus.

“Jon started out as my coach but over the years he has become a mentor, advisor and great friend,” said Adam Pry, who played for Whithaus at Ohio Wesleyan. “I would not be the person I am today without Jon in my life for the past 20 years and outside of my immediate family, Jon has been the single most positive influence on my life.”

Pry attests that he is not the only one who has felt Whithaus’ positive influence. “I can confidently say that the impact Jon had on my life is not unique to me but a consistent theme I have heard from my teammates and other college golfers whom Jon has coached over the years,” said Pry. “Yes, he helped me shoot lower scores but more importantly, he helped me become a better person.”


Whithaus believes that the learning goes both ways. The most important lesson that his years of coaching have taught him – “I’ve learned how exceptional people can be when we don’t put caps on their visions and dreams.”

Certainly, Whithaus has been an important factor in the fulfillment of many, many dreams in his time as a coach. As he finishes out another season as a Blue Devil, he will no doubt continue to use his positive influence to shape young athletes here at Duke into better golfers and better people.


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