It's a long way from Percy, Illinois to Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Zach Barlow completed the last 340 miles of that journey after accepting the head coaching job at the University of Michigan on June 5.
The Southern Illinoisan's boys golfer of the year in 2003 and 2004, Barlow played four years at the University of Illinois. He spent the next five years as the assistant coach under head coach Mike Small.
The 32-year-old Barlow credits a lot of his coaching methods to Small.
“Coach Small reached out and told me how pumped and excited he is for me to be Michigan’s new head coach,” said Barlow. “I’m very fortunate for all that I’ve learned from being his assistant coach, and he’ll go down as the greatest coach of all-time. I always got the impression from him that he knew I’d go on to do big things.”
Barlow will now try and figure out how to take down his former head coach and new Big Ten rival on the greens and fairways.
“I’ll figure out how to beat him somehow,” he said. “Coach Small has helped shape who I am, I’ve learned a lot from him, but we’re both competitors and I look forward to seeing him in the Big Ten championship.”
Barlow becomes the Wolverines' 10th men’s golf coach. He’ll fill the shoes of previous coach Chris Whitten, who left to become the executive director of the Golf Association of Michigan (GAM).
Barlow is excited for the opportunity, but more importantly, ready for the challenges ahead.
“It was a mix of emotions when I found out the news,” said Barlow. “You don’t get into coaching and want to stay an assistant coach, you want to become the head coach. Through the whole hiring process with Michigan it all just became more and more real for me that this is actually happening.”
The Fighting Illini were ranked outside of the NCAA’s top 25 before last season. Barlow helped the Illini move up to 22nd in the rankings this upcoming season. He will look to do similar things with the currently unranked Wolverines.
“Not every school lines up with the way I think and do things like Michigan does,” said Barlow. “The more I talked to Michigan and learned more about the program, the more I saw their vision. They take school and academics seriously like I do.
“I just want to educate young golfers and turn them into great golfers. I want to see them in the PGA Tour and that’s what Michigan is all about.”
During his time with the Fighting Illini, Barlow helped Small lead Illinois to five consecutive Big Ten titles. He has three NCAA regional championships to his name and has advanced to five consecutive NCAA finals, making it to the match play semifinal three times.
“Michigan is a dream destination for a coach,” said Barlow. “If you had asked me if I thought my first head coaching job would be in the Big Ten I would have said no way, but everything happens for a reason.”
Barlow credits his time spent at Trico High School, and the many lessons he learned on the Pioneers’ golf team.
“Growing up in a small system teaches you about team and family,” said Barlow. “Winning state my senior year was the most satisfying moment. I never got the same satisfaction out of individual wins in high school than I did with team wins.”
Barlow always lived a mile from the golf course that his grandfather owned while growing up in Percy.
“I just got addicted,” said Barlow. “I started getting good and wanted more and more of it. I played a bunch of Saturday mornings at Southwestern Lakes Country Club, and winning a state championship in Illinois was a big deal.”