Forever Buffs Oraee, Belk Use CU Golf As Springboard To Medical School
BOULDER — All college coaches love seeing their student-athletes move on to the next level.
But that doesn't always mean the next level of their sport. Sometimes, it can be moving on to a career that started as a dream, then became attainable, and finally is realized thanks in large part to the doors that opened during their time as student-athletes.
That kind of development, said University of Colorado men's golf coach Roy Edwards, is incredibly gratifying to help mold — and it is just one reason he has taken great pride in watching two of his former golfers move on to medical school.
David Oraee is wrapping up his fourth year at Oklahoma State's medical school in Tulsa and preparing to begin his residency. Wilson Belk is finishing his first year at Colorado's School of Medicine.
Both were exemplary students during their undergraduate days in Boulder, each producing the necessary work in the classroom required as part of admission to medical school. Both also credit Edwards, CU's outstanding Herbst Academic Center support staff, and the game of golf as being integral to their development.
"It's gratifying for me as their coach to see Wilson and David work toward and achieve their dreams," Edwards said. "This is true of any player. To go from meeting them in high school as adolescents with a dream and then seeing them work and believe and turn those dreams into reality is the ultimate sense of satisfaction as a coach. As a college coach, we get a front-row seat to watch young men develop from boys into men and see their dreams grow from concept to attainable. David and Wilson set their sights early on to become doctors. To see where they are now and where we know they are going is extremely satisfying."
In his four years at CU (2011-15), Oraee became one of the most consistent and productive players in program history. He was one of just two players in the last 50 years to play in every possible tournament for which he was eligible for his entire career, which included a berth in the NCAA Finals, a round-of-16 appearance in the U.S. Amateur, and some of Colorado's all-time lowest scores. His career stroke average – 73.57 – remains 10th all-time at CU.
He then dipped his toe into the professional waters and had some success. He won one tournament and never missed a cut — but perhaps most importantly, the experience answered a question he knew he had to resolve.
"It was a great experience, but it also proved to me that I knew it wasn't what I really wanted to do," Oraee said. "Medical school had always been in the back of my mind, but it was crucial for me to test playing pro and make sure it wasn't going to be something I would have always regretted not trying. This way, I confirmed to myself that med school is what I really wanted to do. It was a very valuable experience."
Belk did not have the same long-term production for the Buffs, but he did have his big moments. Edwards remembers in particular Belk's final-round 70 at the 2016 Pac-12 championships on a windy day in Salt Lake City. That score was eclipsed by just two players in the entire field — one of whom is now the world's No. 1-ranked player, Arizona State's John Rahm. Belk also owns the third-lowest final round score by a Buff in an NCAA regional, also a 2-under 70 in 2016 at Tuscaloosa, Ala.
"David was one of our all-time best players,," Edwards said. "Wilson's (Pac-12) round was huge in helping our team advance to the NCAA Tournament."
Belk — who knew early in his CU career that a medical career would be in his future — said playing against the top-flight competition that Colorado faces on a regular basis helped groom him for the competitive arena of med school.
"When I played in the Pac-12, I played against guys who are now among the top-ranked players in the world," Belk said. "That experience was very humbling but you learn from it. It's the same thing in med school. It's inspirational to be around such high-achieving, talented people. That kind of environment at CU was a great training ground."
Both Oraee and Belk were outstanding students as undergrads, consistently earning top grade point averages and recognition for their work in the classroom.
"Dave and Wilson no doubt utilized all the opportunities that were available to them," Edwards said. "But they truly separated themselves through their work ethic, intelligence and fortitude. Their dedication to their goals and the discipline required to achieve those goals were the driving force behind them getting to where they are today. Those inner qualities established a path to success that will continue to see them accomplish great things throughout their medical careers."
That work ethic helped the two develop the time management skills necessary to succeed as student-athletes. Now, those skills are proving to be an invaluable part of their medical school studies.
"Golf is very time consuming as a student athlete," Oraee said. "You practice a lot of hours and the trips sometimes last a week or so. It's very important to be able to balance the sport aspect with a pre-med schedule. It taught me great time management skills and set me up for the rigors I faced in the first year of med school."
Indeed, Belk said, the ability to be successful in the classroom and in the competitive arena translated perfectly to the demands of med school.
"I definitely built that stamina as a student-athlete," Belk said. "It helped prepare me for the 17, 18-hour days of med school. Honestly, I think it's a little different for people who don't have that in their background. It's a little more difficult for them to get used to the grind that we're going through now. For some of my classmates, it's a shock. But it has been a relatively smooth transition for me."
Upon graduation from CU, Belk didn't go directly to med school. Instead, after receiving post-graduate scholarships from the Pac-12 and the NCAA, he spent two years working and studying with Dr. Eric McCarty, CU's Director of Sports Medicine and orthopedic surgeon. McCarty is also a former CU student-athlete, playing football for Bill McCartney's teams in the 1980s.
"Eric is one of the most gracious people I know," Belk said. "I'm so appreciative of the chance to work with him. He's such a good man. I watch how he approaches his practice and he's someone I will strive to be like."
The chance to work with McCarty is just one of the many opportunities that Belk and Oraee both said helped develop their passions and success at Colorado. From Edwards' encouragement to the invaluable assistance of the Herbst Academic Center's staff, both were challenged and encouraged to pursue their dreams.
"The support system you can get at CU is incredible if you utilize it," Oraee said. "From Coach Roy to the assistant coaches to (Executive Senior AD) Kris Livingston — they helped me build that foundation of time management and best practices. That kind of foundation helps you succeed at CU and is something you take with you when you move on."
Belk said his academic pursuits would not have been possible without the Herbst Center's Livingston, Katharine Lindauer and Mindy Sclaro.
"Those three ladies — I can't begin to tell you how much they were in my corner the whole way through," he said. "Even after graduation, they helped me with applications for scholarships, helped me find the best way to move forward with my career. They were insanely in my corner the whole way — they were a huge help in every regard."
Edwards said he encourages every one of his student-athletes to make the most of the opportunities afforded through the Herbst Academic Center, as well as the world-class educational opportunities offered by the university.
"CU has long been one of those rare institutions around the world that attracts high-achievers who are highly accomplished and motivated both athletically and academically," Edwards said. "This is actually a story that isn't told enough and Wilson and David embody that at the highest level. Our phenomenal staff in the Herbst Academic Center was instrumental in helping them get there."
Of course, Edwards' guidance and encouragement was critical for Belk and Oraee throughout their careers. An outstanding coach, Edwards has also earned a reputation for teaching his players far more than "just" the game of golf.
"Roy does a great job in teaching about attitude, how to stay positive and how to move forward, even after a setback," Oraee said. "No matter what you do, you are always going to have some setbacks, but he teaches you that no matter what, there's always an opportunity for success ahead. He teaches you to give yourself the best chance to succeed, a lesson I continue to learn."
Belk, who identified his desire to attend medical school relatively early in his undergraduate career, said Edwards was a crucial part of helping him develop his academic success.
"I'm so thankful for Roy Edwards," Belk said. "He recruited me because of my ability to play golf, but he was also a tremendous supporter in my academic career. When I decided I wanted to focus on school and a medical career, he was fully supportive. That was really important for me and you could tell it was important to him."
One more critical influence for both young men?
The game of golf itself.
"Golf is a sport that teaches you parallels in life," Oraee said. "You can never perfect it. You have to balance the little setbacks with success and learn to make the next shot as good as you can make it. Those little nuances about the game were very important in helping me learn how to deal with all the facets of medical school."
"One of the hardest things about golf is learning how to be OK with not being perfect," Belk said. "Golf is never perfect. No matter how well you play, there's always something you could have done better. I'm one of those people who has a really strong desire to be perfect — and I know that's not possible. It's hard for a highly aspirational person to learn that it's not always going to be perfect and golf is a great teacher in that respect. It gives you that self-reference adjustment and teaches you how to make things more successful going forward."