Golfing with Paul Mainieri: Ex-LSU baseball coach talks nine holes about retirement |  LSU

About a week after his last game last summer, Paul Mainieri took to the LSU golf teams’ driving range and began his new life.

Still plagued by the neck pain that contributed to his resignation as LSU baseball coach, Mainieri worried about how much he might swing a bat. Alone on the range, he grabbed a wedge and gently hit a few balls.

After about 10 shots, Mainieri had enough. He wanted to swing. He pulled out his 3-wood.

“I’m going to swing this thing,” Mainieri said, “and I might end up paralyzed on the floor, but I’m going to find out.”

Mainieri reared up. He made solid contact. As the ball shot forward, he realized he hadn’t collapsed. He could still feel his limbs. Mainieri threw the bat in the air, raised his fists and thanked God.

“I knew then,” Mainieri said, “that I could play golf.”

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Mainieri told the story from across the University Club driving range on a sunny morning last week as we prepared to play nine holes.

Normally, Mainieri would be tinkering with lineups or worrying about pitching rotations this close to LSU’s season opener, but golf has become his primary pastime in retirement, an outlet for the energy he’s put into it every spring for four decades to form a team.

Without the sport that has filled his entire life, Mainieri played at least five times a week. Often six. On some days he completes a whole lap. Others he uses the driving range while lowering his handicap from 10.7. He shot under 80 once and has been trying to break the number ever since.

“He has a reason to get up and go every morning, that’s all he’s ever known,” said Mainieri’s wife, Karen. “It was the biggest outlet.”

As LSU nears its opener on Friday night, Mainieri isn’t sure how he’ll handle his first season in retirement. Although the 64-year-old has not regretted his decision, he sometimes misses the job.

Golf helps in those moments when it begins to linger. Rather than deciding who plays on third base, Mainieri can consider whether to use a 6-iron or a 7-iron and channel his energy as he moves forward.

“To be honest, it was a salvation for me,” Mainieri said. “I had to fill the void in my life and get excited about something.”


The day before he retired, Mainieri drove through Baton Rouge with his mother. He’d pondered the decision for months, but he was reluctant to give up the only job he’d ever known, especially with three years left on his contract.

Mainieri asked how his father, Demie Mainieri, knew it was time to stop coaching.

“When he stopped having fun,” Maineri recalled of his mother.

Mainieri found that the fun sides of his job weren’t there as much last year. His neck hurt constantly. The coronavirus pandemic limited his interactions with players and impacted his coaching style. The university sport changed through the transfer portal and name, image and likeness.

Then Mainieri’s mother gave him an old newspaper article about Demie’s retirement. His father was 62 at the time. Mainieri kept reading and doing research when former LSU baseball coach Skip Bertman retired. Bertman was 63 when he became the school’s athletic director.

“It made me feel like some of the greatest coaches are done at this time,” Mainieri said. “So I didn’t feel unreasonable that maybe this was the right time to do it.”

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With his schedule suddenly wide open, Mainieri focused on golf. He began the sport as a high school coach in his early 20s, but he hadn’t played regularly in years, consumed by a career that took him from St. Thomas University to Notre Dame and finally to LSU, where he earned the last time spent 15 seasons.

Jim Hendry, one of Mainieri’s closest friends, often told him to use the golf course across from Alex Box Stadium. He suggested Mainieri could relieve stress by hitting the driving range before work.

“I can’t do this,” Hendry recalled to Mainieri. “I need to concentrate.”

But after the 2021 season ended, Mainieri bought a new set of Titleist racquets, a purple and gold LSU bag, and personalized “CPM” balls. He placed covers of the St. Thomas Bobcat, the Air Force Eagle, and the Notre Dame Leprechaun on his clubs.

Playing golf helped ease Mainieri’s neck pain, which began nearly four years ago and has already required two surgeries. He’s most comfortable on the course, although his neck sometimes pops when he moves. The stiffness returns when he sits still.

“Physically, I think if I had kept training, it would still have been bad,” Mainieri said. “But playing golf feels good. It gives me some movement and freedom of movement. I’m starting to feel a little bit better.”

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And even though Mainieri retired, coaching hasn’t left his blood. At least not yet. He made much-needed shot suggestions as we played, and after I missed a putt on the second hole, Mainieri threw one of his custom balls onto the green.

He tapped his putter on a patch of grass while explaining how to approach the specific slope. This was the part of his job that Mainieri missed the most, those moments when he helped an athlete succeed. Once he led them to victories on the field, he could help them shape men – which he saw as the true purpose of his profession.

Mainieri showed where to aim. The ball fell into the cup.

“It made me happy,” Mainieri said, smiling.


A few months ago, Mainieri was working from home with his youngest son. Memories of all he had accomplished surrounded her, lifelong memories covering the walls he’d hauled out of the head coach’s office at Alex Boxing Stadium. The 2009 national championship trophy stood on a shelf beneath a flat screen TV.

“I wish we’d won another one or two,” Mainieri said.

“Dad,” Mainieri recalled of his son saying, “if we had won 17, you would be sitting here and saying whether we had only won 13 or 15.”

Mainieri tries not to linger, but sometimes he can’t help it. As his thoughts wander to his losses, he needs to remember what he’s accomplished in his career: six appearances in the College World Series, four Southeastern Conference championships in the regular season and more than 1,500 wins. He feels grateful.

“I don’t want to live in the past,” Mainieri said. “I was a happy man.”

These days, Mainieri and his family mark the passage of time with what they did a year ago. For decades, their lives revolved around the baseball scheme, and now they must balance the opportunity for new experiences with the sadness of ending a career they loved.

“Once we get through that first year, every day will be a little bit easier,” said Karen Mainieri. “Right now I think it’s kind of difficult.”

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Mainieri will throw the first pitch before LSU’s season opener Friday night against Maine, a symbolic act fraught with nerves. He doesn’t know how he will be received by the fans. He also sees the pitch as an end to himself, his family and LSU baseball.

Once the ball falls into new coach Jay Johnson’s glove, Mainieri believes he has handed over the entire program.

“This will be closure for me,” Mainieri said as tears welled up in his eyes. “I’ll go back one more time.”

For the remainder of the season, Mainieri will, for the first time in his life, watch games from the stands or his home theater without being able to control the outcome. He doesn’t want to float. He knows he’s going to get emotional. He will also champion Johnson and the program, and if LSU makes it to the College World Series, he plans to leave.

Meanwhile, Mainieri has golf. He likes the beauty of the pitch and the feeling of hitting a ball cleanly. The game introduces him to new people and takes him to different locations, which helps him to advance.

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Though Mainieri has barely used his clubs for the past four decades, he’s lowered his handicap by nearly eight points, consistently shoots in the low 80s, and has two holes-in-ones in the last eight months. He still wants to improve and challenge himself like he did as a coach.

“He called me many times on the way home and said, ‘God, I would have cracked 80 today, but I screwed up 17,'” Hendry said. “Paul Mainieri will not forget that.”

During our round, Mainieri made four straight pars until an unfortunate double bogey on the seventh hole. He responded with another par in eighth place, the same spot where he sunk his last hole-in-one in late January.

Mainieri was soon training again in the middle of the ninth fairway. We both made good drives and were about 200 yards from the pin. He said to envision the next shot landing on the green.

“I want you to believe,” Mainieri said.

My shot grazed a branch and landed just short of the green. His approach landed in a sand trap on the green. Oh. Golf.

Three strokes later, Mainieri sank a bogey putt. He raised his arms again and smiled after hitting a 41 through the nine holes.

Never satisfied, Mainieri planned to return the next day when he would try again to lower his handicap, break 80 and decide which club to use.