Q&A: Doherty girls golf coach Colin Prater on choosing teaching over a playing career

(Dan Mohrmann/CHSAANow.com)

Teaching and coaching is in Colin Prater's blood. The Palmer High School alum spent years following his grandfather Carl Fetters on the sidelines.

Fetters was a longtime football coach at Cheyenne Mountain High School before jumping on as an assistant in the area and later at Colorado State University-Pueblo, where he was on staff when the ThunderWolves claimed a national championship.

Fetters' son, Monte, is the girls golf coach at Mesa Ridge and even served as the head girls basketball coach for a year.

It feels like Prater was destined to teach and coach, but one look at him on the golf course and it's hard to figure out why he didn't dedicate himself to trying to make it as a pro.

Prater is a rare winner of both the Colorado Amateur and the Colorado Match Play championship. He won the match play in June thanks in part to swiping a putter out of his grandfather's garage.

He's played in the U.S. Amateur twice (2016 and 2019) and won the Pikes Peak Amateur at Patty Jewett Golf Course four of the last five years. Last year, he shot a PJ course record 62 during Pikes Peak Am qualifying.

Sitting in front of the course's trophy case where his scorecard proudly occupies the center, he chatted about what made him forgo a potential professional career in favor of teaching and coaching at the high school level.

Question: What sticks out the most when you think about playing high school golf?

Prater: Definitely in high school, it's all about development. It's all about just trying to get better. You're honing those skills in. Too many kids are so focused on trying to hit it farther. I definitely was, especially when I was a freshman, sophomore who was so tiny. It was all about trying to hit further. And what I think made me really good when I was super tiny was the fact that I was just always working on my short game. I knew I was only going to get to half the par fours in two, so I knew if I want to make par, then my short game had to be the best short game there was in the city.

I think that's what kind of gave me some success early. Gramps always preached that for sure. But it's just all development. It's all work. It's the same thing in any sport, it's having really solid fundamentals. It's so much easier to get back to doing something right if you have good fundamentals. It's a lot more difficult if you don't and it's all timing based. It's all about foundational stuff, fundamentals. Too many kids think they're really good at an early age and so they don't really have that work ethic that they need in order to be solid or be competitive if they're going onto the next level.

Q: After you were after you'd wrapped up playing in college, you've played in a lot of statewide competitive tournaments, city competitive tournaments. I know you flirted with the idea of moving to Arizona to go pro, but why ultimately did the idea of teaching and getting into coaching win out?

Prater: I fell in love with teaching. I didn't think I was going to love teaching as much. Once I graduated, once I was done in May of 2018, I was dead set (on going pro). I got started planning and got started lining up where I'm going to live, what I'm going to do when I'm down there. When I'm not playing, I'm trying to start talking to sponsors to see if I can get some money, this, that, and the other to kind of promote myself and kind of had all those lined up. I was dead set on it. I had four months of student teaching to do and have that in my back pocket if I needed it 10 years from now kind of thing. And I just fell in love with it.

And then talking with my girlfriend, she had a little, maybe a touch of uneasiness with her about wanting to move down there with me. That meant changing up her plans because she was about to start her master's. We just decided collectively as one that we didn't need to move. And I was just going to stay competitive and continue to work on my game, but stay amateur and maybe down the road, another door to open and I'd be able to go play. Lastly, probably just the fact that Gramps taught and coached for 34 years at Cheyenne Mountain. My uncle's been in it now, I want to say this was this past year was this 26th or 27th year and I'm super close with them. So I talked to them. They say, they love it. It's cliche, but it's an in my blood kind of thing. I'm just super fortunate. I fell into a career that I love, I got into coaching super early, which is what I wanted to do and get that kind of start to try and get that experience. Life's great for me.

Q: What have you learned throughout the competitive golf tournaments you're playing in that that you're hoping to apply to the girls golfers at Doherty?

Prater: I preach consistency. Try to become as consistent as possible. Even if it's just kind of creating that standard. I'm very goal driven. I learned that in college. I've always needed to have a goal in mind and have a long term goal, but have great short term goals that motivate my girls. That's kinda what I really preach to them. And I preached that to them for, I don't know, like three weeks. I mean eight practices and maybe I like getting together with them a couple days before we started practicing. A lot of it is stuff I'm going to learn. I'm going work my butt off. I think I read a lot of golf books now that I'm done playing college golf, which makes absolutely zero sense.

You think you'd be reading them while you're competing. But I'm just reading them just to try and get a new philosophy. It's just like teaching. You have to say something four or five different ways in order for it to connect with all of your students. You can say at one way and great, 10 kids will get it, but you have to teach and you have to modify and you have to change how you teach it and what you say and to fit every kid. And so I think that's what I'm truly trying to do now that I've got into coaching is just trying to make it applicable to all of the girls that I'm coaching.

Q: How much of, what you're trying to do comes from watching your grandpa for however many years, whether it was high school football, college football, whatever? How much of him is in you as a coach and even as a teacher?

Prater: I don't think I'm as mean as he is. He's a hard (case). But definitely his rapport with kids. He connects with them even now that he's like almost 80. The guy's 79, but just has a great rapport with kids and how he interacts with people in public. He's has always done a really good job of being able to connect with kids and just like my uncle has as well. He's a grinder and he works his tail off.

I would like to think that I have a little bit of that in me as well and I think a lot of what I've learned and a lot of what I preach is stuff that came straight out of his mouth that he taught me when I was seven or eight and when I was 12 and I was tired and I had blisters on my hands because I hit 455 golf balls today. He'd say, "there are still 40 balls left." No matter what you do, you can always do something better. I'm trying to mold that into my philosophy of use. Every single day is a day to get better, no matter what, no matter how much success you've had. You can always be better. You can, you can always be a better golfer. You can always be a better person. You can always say please and thank you, those kinds of things. That's what he's really good at. He's about those fine details and that's one thing that I have to work on for sure.

Q: He's been around long enough that surely you have something you carry around with you or use from time to time whether you're playing or teaching. Anything stick out in your head?

Prater: I hear his voice in my head sometimes. It comes out way more when he's there. I'll hit a bad shot and I know exactly what he said in his head. I've been so lucky. My grandparents, my parents, they've always been there, no matter what. I was telling (Colorado Springs Gazette sports columnist Paul) Klee that it was goofy (at the Colorado Match Play) Monday and Tuesday, because there were no spectators allowed. And that was the first time in a long time that I've played a round of competitive golf and not had at least one of the four of them there. I grew up and it might've been my grandma or it might've been Gramps or it might've been my parents. There was a rare occasion where it was just one of them, but more often than not, it was all four of them. So just to be able to have that support and have those people behind you is great. I didn't learn this until I was probably 13 or 14, but they're riding my butt or yelling at me. They're critiquing me because they know I can be better. They know that's the only way to get better, you need some tough love. That's exactly what you need. And that's how I was raised.

When I was young, like 11 and 12, I never understood. I went 2-for-4 at a baseball game and didn't make an error in the field and encouraged my teammates really well and stole three bases. But I struck out once and after the game, my Gramps asked, "why did you strike out?" And I get in the car and mom takes me home. Same freaking thing. "Why'd you strike out." And riding me for that and not congratulating me for doing the other things. But they knew that if I can put in enough time and effort and motivate myself enough that in that next game, I go 3-for-4 with a ground out and not strike out. And at the same time, they're still critiquing. Why'd you fumble that ball when you were playing shortstop? You're playing golf and you shoot 74 and that's great at 15, but you had two three-putts. Why is Gramps riding me about these two three-putts kind of thing. Fortunately I really realized at 16 that it pays dividends even to this day. I'm my own harshest critic and I think that's the best way to continue to either maintain or ideally improve your game.

Q: What's the story behind the putter that your grandpa gave you, that you used to win the Match Play?

Prater: It's a TaylorMade Daddy Long Legs. It's (CSU-Pueblo football coach) John Wristen's putter. I think he didn't like it. My Gramps asked to try it and then I'm in his garage probably first week of June, mowing his grass. So I take it with me one day and start playing with it. I love the way it feels. I'm able to control my speed really well. It has this real long grip on it, so I can let my arms hang a little bit better, and for me that's better. I just fell in love with it, even though my speed the first four days of the match play was absolutely terrible. I think I had five or six three-putts but it paid dividends in the final because I chipped and putted like a stud the last day. It's a great putter so then I bought another one on eBay as a backup, even though I think I like Wristen's putter more.

Q: I know you're jumping the boys basketball staff this winter. That and with everything that's gone on, do you have some renewed energy to get back to work?

Prater: Yeah, absolutely. We're going on around four months that I haven't seen kid. We started basketball camp a couple of weeks ago, so I've seen some of them, but yeah, absolutely. I'm super excited for August, no matter how things look. I'm super anxious. I'm super excited. And at the same time too, I have tons to learn. I mean I'm 25, I'm going into my second year of teaching. I'd love to be able to coach girls golf next spring and I'm super stoked. We're five weeks away from us teachers reporting back to school. I have to play a lot of golf in that time before then. I want to try and teach my kids something every day, whether I'm teaching them, whether I'm coaching them, It doesn't matter if it's Doherty girls golf, whether it's Doherty boys golf or boys basketball. I'm going to be teaching chemistry this next year which is a new class for me, so I still got a lot to learn in that regard, but hopefully I'll learn something every single day. And then my kids will learn something every single day.

(Dan Mohrmann/CHSAANow.com)