For Michael Discenza, one reward of coaching at the college level is the bond he shares with his SUNY Cortland student-athletes.
“I have been so fortunate to meet so many wonderful people over the years,” he said. “We spend a lot of time together, work very hard together, go through ups and downs together, and those things galvanize relationships.”
Discenza, a Certified Professional in Teaching and Coaching, is entering his third year as the head coach of the SUNY Cortland Women’s Golf team. Besides coaching, Discenza is also making a difference within the Central New York PGA. He is the secretary of the Section’s Board of Directors. He’s earned the Section’s Professional Development Award for two straight years and he won the 2020 Youth Player Development Award.
Surprisingly, Discenza focused on football in college instead of golf, playing defensive back at Ithaca College. Yet golf did play an important role during his youth as he spent his summer days at Elm Tree Golf Course.
Discenza’s time at Ithaca College is what helped him discover his career calling – coaching.
“It was in college that I fell in love with coaching and had the very good fortune to be around some talented and gracious mentors,” the 41-year-old Discenza said.
Here’s what Discenza had to say about being a coach and his career.
On his start in golf: “My father has always been an enthusiastic player and gifted the game to me at a young age; my parents have supported me in absolutely every single thing I have ever endeavored to do, and continue to do so, the word gratitude doesn’t quite capture my thanks to them. It wasn’t long after my father put a club in my hand that I fell in love with the game spending countless summer days at Elm Tree Golf Course and an incredible junior golf program led by Karen Lang and of course Bruce Martins. It’s remarkable today to reflect back on that junior golf program at Elm Tree and what it did insofar as entrenching the love of golf into so many for a lifetime. We didn’t know it at the time, but running around there for a period of about 5 years were future PGA Section Executives, collegiate stars, multiple PGA Head Professionals at successful facilities, multiple Golf Course Superintendents at successful facilities, a PGA Director of Golf at a top 100 club, and a couple college golf coaches.
His coaching philosophy: “I try to coach all of our athletes with empathy while being demanding of their effort at the same time, those two matters are not mutually exclusive. The best coaches I have ever been around have been demanding of their athletes, held them accountable, pushed them, and they have done it with care and compassion. A much smarter coach said to me a long time ago, “discipline is love.” That’s always stuck with me, a coach cares too much for those in their charge to not hold them accountable to high standards. This is hard, and it’s a moving target, but when relationships are built on empathy, care, and respect, then navigating those tough times and conversations with athletes become productive and growth happens.”
Biggest coaching challenge: “If it’s not picking a dinner spot on the road that satisfies everyone on the team, then it’s probably balancing work and home. Being the best husband and father that I can possibly be takes precedence over everything else. I try to filter all of the decisions I make on any given day through those roles, and with the demands on my time that go into being effective at work, sometimes that becomes difficult. I hate to think back on some of the things I have missed over the years because I was at some sort of contest. As I get older, more mature, and a better planner frankly, I have been able to do a better job of not only being more consistently present, literally and figuratively, but being present when it’s most important. I am very grateful for a loving supportive family and a spouse (Lara) that is also a coach. My son (7-year-old John) is old enough now, and has developed an interest in the game so he has started coming around practices and workouts which I love, as do our players. I can’t think of a better place to raise a child than around the game of golf.”
On winning the Section’s Professional Development Award: “All members have at least one thing in common, we love the game of golf; it’s ultimately why we pursued this profession in one form or another. Deepening one’s interest in their passion through constant learning and practice is a vital means of not only improving upon various areas of interest but also enriching and even enhancing enthusiasm for a particular interest. Through education and members sharing information, we as PGA Professionals not only improve our performance but enhance and deepen the joy we get from golf. Playing a small role in even possibly enhancing one’s enthusiasm for what we already loved is humbling and exciting.
On being a member of the CNY PGA Board: “Since I was about 10 years old, right through today, PGA Professionals have enhanced my love of the game at every single turn in some manner. From junior golf, to the bag room at Cortland Country Club, working as an assistant golf professional years ago, and now actively participating in section affairs, at every single turn a PGA Professional has deepened my enthusiasm for the game. I love to sit in our meetings and listen. I love it when members who I’ve looked up to since I was a little kid or others that are close friends and confidants call me to talk about something important to them, and I get to listen, and sometimes have challenging conversations too. The idea that I can somehow give back to them, and an association that works to empower us, is humbling when I stop to consider just how much PGA Members have given me.”