Next great K-State hire? Meet women’s golf coach Stew Burke

New women's golf head coach Stew Burke works with Remington Isaac on her chipping game at practice. Burke previously coached at Tulane where he won American Athletic Conference coach of the year in 2022. (Avery Johnson | Collegian Media Group)

Kansas State women’s golf had been led by Kristi Knight since 1995. Now, athletic director Gene Taylor hands the reins over to Stew Burke with hopes of bringing the program to the national spotlight.

“It’s a privilege to be here,” Burke said. “Watching what Gene has done since he came in, everything he’s touched has really elevated the whole athletic department. So, for me, that’s a big honor.”

Burke served as an assistant under Knight from 2014-16 and isn’t shy about his love for K-State. 

“This is the one place I wanted to be — the only place I would’ve left where I was before,” Burke said. “We are the best-kept secret in all of college athletics.”

After his time in Manhattan, Burke moved on to USC as an assistant where he obtained his championship pedigree. With Burke on staff in 2018-19, the Trojans were ranked as the nation’s top team, earned a Pac-12 Championship and captured an NCAA West Regional team title.

Tulane took notice, bringing on Burke as its head coach in 2019 where he later earned 2022 American Athletic Conference Coach of the Year honors. During Burke’s tenure, the Green Waves’ Golfstat ranking rose over 50 spots.

K-State has finished in the bottom half of the Big 12 conference every year since 2010. Burke has his sights set on turning that around. 

“We have to continue to recruit the best players in the world,” Burke said. “We don’t want to be the best-kept secret in women’s golf anymore. We gotta be out there, making sure that people know this is a place where you can come and develop as a player and make it to the next level.”

Haley Vargas personifies Burke’s message. A fifth-year senior for the Wildcats, Vargas reached the 2023 NCAA San Antonio Regional last year, becoming the fifth Wildcat in program history to earn an individual bid.

It’s become common for players to transfer during a coaching change. After Jerome Tang’s hiring, K-State men’s basketball only retained two scholarship players. Despite the trend, Vargas decided to stay.

“I knew that going anywhere else might be difficult,” Vargas said. “I knew after talking with [Executive Associate AD] Casey Scott and Gene Taylor that they were going to get the best person for the job … I was confident in their decision making and I’m really glad I stayed.”

Since meeting his players, Burke has focused on making personal connections with the team. He doesn’t favor being called “Coach.” He prefers everyone to be on a first-name basis. Vargas also said Burke will work out with the team, including yoga sessions.

“On a very personal level, he just wants us to be like who we are,” Vargas said. “He really wants to create a winning culture and wants to see how we improve. He’s gonna push us definitely but he’ll know when we need certain breaks.”

Having strong team bonds is key for the championship culture Burke wants to build. 

“It has to be player-led,” Burke said. “They’ve got to want to compete and want to win championships. We’ve already got a family atmosphere within the department … and ultimately, we want to develop the female leaders of tomorrow.”

As far as the product on the course goes, both Vargas and Burke see the team improving under his guidance. 

“We’ve only played a few rounds so far, and we’re playing very good,” Vargas said. “Stew is really good about recruiting and really good about getting good players from other areas … we can all stripe it.”

K-State tees off its tournament season Sept. 23 at the Schooner Fall Classic in Norman, Oklahoma. It’ll mark the official start of the Stew Burke era of K-State women’s golf, with year one focused on elevating.

“Skill is something that we’re here to develop from a freshman through senior year,” Burke said. “We want to elevate every single player that’s this year.”