Ironton golf’s ace

Published 12:35 am Sunday, July 19, 2009

When Jeff Kerns approaches the tee on a golf course, he’s thinking birdie instead of par.

When Kerns sizes up a player on the Ironton Fighting Tigers’ golf team, he’s still thinking birdie instead of par.

Entering his eighth season as the Ironton golf coach, the former Fighting Tiger All-Ohio first team golfer takes a positive approach to his potential players. But he is quick to point out that how well his players perform depends on their approach.

“I’m not going to take credit for how well they play. I give them guidelines and rules, but they have to have the talent and they have to work hard and put in the time. I can’t hit the shots for them,” said Kerns.

There is something else Kerns tries to give his players. It is something that his Ironton coach Ben Black gave him and previous coach Bill Washburn also passed along to his players.


“The kids take pride in playing for Ironton,” said Kerns. “That was taught to me by Ben Black and carried on by Bill (Washburn). They started the tradition and each group wants to carry on that tradition.

“I’m preparing them for what to expect. The kids want to carry on the tradition. They want a chance to compete at the state level and maybe play after high school. I know what it takes to get to that level.”

Ironton has reached its goal of the state tournament on 10 different occasions. The Fighting Tigers won three state titles from 1995-97 and have two state runner-up teams, 1987 and 1998.

During the 1990s state tournament run, Ironton was led by the Justin Collins who was a four-time first team All-Ohio player and won the individual state medalist award as a junior. He signed with Ohio State and former Buckeye coach Jim Brown called Collins “the most decorated player I’ve ever recruited.”

Besides team state qualifiers, Ironton has had numerous individuals advance to the state tournament. Kerns went to the state on the 1986-87 Ironton teams and then as an individual in 1988 when he placed fourth and was a first team All-Ohio selection.

His son, Nathan, was on the 2005 state qualifying team and also qualified twice as an individual including last year when he finished eighth and was named All-Ohio. Nathan — who won this year’s state junior amateur championship — has signed a scholarship to play golf this fall at Marshall University.

Besides Collins and Jeff and Nathan Kerns, the list of individual golf greats at Ironton reads like a who’s who with such players as Rick Fannin, Tony Brown, Doug Joseph, Dennis Gagai, Jimmy Bunker, Ryan Lilly, Derek Dufore, Ryan Hurley, Bo McGinnis, Brad Washburn, Jay Ruddman and brothers Todd, Zach and Seth Christian.

During his coaching tenure, Kerns has had several assistant coaches such as Brown and current assistant Justin Gilllum.

Brown was an assistant under Washburn after a great career at Ironton and later at Shawnee State where he earned All-American honors and was elected to the school’s athletic hall of fame.

Even though Brown’s job moved him to Georgetown, Ky., he still finds his way back home two or three times each season.

“He’s been a huge help to me. He loves Ironton, he loves the program and he loves the kids,” said Kerns who is a two-time qualifier for the Ohio Amateur Tournament.

Like Black and Washburn, Kerns said there is more to the job than just teaching the players how to play golf.

“We’ve had some good coaches at Ironton. I just do my thing and teach the kids how to play and teach them some life lessons,” said Kerns.

Now that’s a philosophical approach that makes Kerns a birdie instead of a par when it comes to coaching.