K-State Golf: It's a Small World, After All
Sitting at the desk across from his in their conjoined office at Colbert Hills was none other than Stewart Burke, the Wildcat women's golf assistant coach and an old college rival of Carstens.
"I'll tell you the story about Cullen being hired," began Burke in his thick Scottish accent as he glanced across the office at his friend. "I got an email from Cullen saying 'Hey I've just been hired as the men's assistant. Looking forward meeting you and coming to town.' It was very professional, very formal, but I looked at the name and I just thought, 'No, way.'"
From 2003-07, Carstens played golf at Missouri Baptist University in St. Louis, Missouri, while, during those exact same years, Burke was playing golf for Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Missouri. Both NAIA schools in the Midwest Conference, the two spent numerous weekends competing against each other during their own college days.
"We hadn't seen or spoken to each other in eight years!" continued Burke. "But we have a lot of mutual friends that we've kept in touch with, so it was a nice surprise when K-State had hired somebody that I knew; and we are exactly the same age, so we're very similar."
Though Burke remembered Carstens after reading that first email, Carstens didn't quite put the pieces together until that first day with in Manhattan.
"It didn't process until I got here and I walked in; when I saw him, it just clicked." Carstens chimed in from across the room. "It's so funny how it worked out. We would see each other a dozen times a year or so when we were in school. We just kind of knew each other through our four years competing. There were maybe only a handful of tournaments that we weren't at together. So the way it worked out - it's just a small world."
They played golf in the same conference, for the same four years and are exactly the same age. That in itself is quite unique, but there is one more thing that makes this pair even more similar: they are K-State men's and women's golf first-ever assistant coaches.
"They'd never had a men's assistant before either, so we're both the first two assistants for both sides of K-State golf," added Carstens. "It's great being here, and having a friend who, not only shares an office with me, but is a good buddy outside of work is great. This whole situation, I feel really blessed and fortunate that it has worked out as well as it has."
Coming to K-State after spending the past two seasons as an assistant coach at Jacksonville State, in Jacksonville, Alabama, Carstens is no stranger to the Big 12 as he also spent three seasons as a volunteer assistant coach at Oklahoma State (2009-11). During his time at Jacksonville State, Carstens got to know new Wildcat men's golf head coach Grant Robbins, who was, at the time, coaching at Memphis. The two would see each other at tournaments and when they were on the road recruiting.
So, when Robbins was named the head coach at K-State last summer, he offered Carstens the job of assistant, and it was after that first meeting that Carstens made his decision to become the Wildcats' assistant coach without ever stepping foot in the Little Apple.
"I really wasn't looking to leave the job I was at, but I had lunch with Grant one day and he asked if I'd be interested," Carstens said. "When he showed me everything about the school, the facilities, the town, it was a tough decision to leave where I was at because I loved the people so much, but it was a no brainer for my career as far as coming up here.
"I had never been in Manhattan until I came out here my first day," he continued. "I just came out cold turkey. So, I'm really glad it's a great town that I really, really like. That makes it easy."
Carstens started with K-State last June, and the rest is - as they say - history.
Burke was hired on the Wildcat women's golf coaching staff in January of 2014. A native of Scotland, he brings a keen knowledge of and experience in recruiting to the program as he spent the previous three years as the Director of Recruiting at United Sports USA - a company that assists NCAA Division I coaches of all sports in recruiting the top student-athletes in the United Kingdom and Europe. Along with his recruiting experience, he also boasts collegiate coaching experience as he was an assistant coach at his alma mater, Lindenwood, during the 2007-08 season.
"It was going to take something special to get me to move from Scotland back out here, but I had literally been here two hours and the opportunity to come in, it was very attractive," explained Burke. "Coach (Kristi) Knight never had an assistant before, so it was a blank canvas. She talked about her expectations for the program and having that extra help and support. How you can be a Big 12 coach by yourself for that long, that's a testament to how good she is at her job. For me, that was awesome. I must have thought about it for only 10 minutes on the ride home and I had already decided."
So, when Carstens arrived, it was just icing on the cake.
Together, the two have both played a crucial role in establishing a new culture within the K-State men's and women's golf programs. With so many similarities, each understands what the other is going through and both help each other out when needed.
"We are both driven as far as recruiting and coaching goes," said Carstens. "So it's nice to have someone to bounce ideas off of. I learn a lot from him at times that he probably doesn't even realize. It's been good having someone who is at the same point in his career as I am because we've been able to help each other out."
Added Burke, "You understand the frustration of it if you go out and have a bad event, and the excitement of it if you go out and have a good event. When the men do well, I'm delighted for Cullen. The progress he's made is unbelievable and it's been cool to share all this with him."
Next up for the K-State men's golf team is a trip to Gastonia, North Carolina, where the team will compete in the Gary Koch Invitational on Monday, April 6, and Tuesday, April 7, while women's team will hit the road later in the week for the SMU/DAC Invitational at the Dallas Athletic Club in Mesquite, Texas, April 10-11.
"We've both invested interest in each other's programs this year, and that's cool because it's like an entire golf family rather than just a men's team and a women's team," said Carstens. "We go out and we support each other, and that has brought the whole golf program up."