Keeping Score

Woodland pays tribute to a life-changing mentor

AVONDALE, La. – It might seem clear as I sit in New Orleans after the first round of the Zurich Classic that I always knew I would play professional golf. It was not so clear to me when I decided to play basketball in college and shun golf, at the time also rejecting a person who would become my mentor, Coach Ross Randall of the University of Kansas.

Randall, who retired in 2009 from Kansas after 30 years with the men’s golf program, including 28 as head coach, died April 21 at his home in Boynton Beach, Fla. He was 71.

Coach was the only person who knew that my career would be on the links and not in a gym. He also was the only one who recruited me out of Shawnee Heights High School to play golf. When he came to my home in Tecumseh, Kan., he said that it was only the second time that he had visited a recruit’s home.  

He was adamant about my coming to KU, but I eventually signed to play basketball at Washburn University instead.

I was a little thrown off by the fact that nobody else was recruiting me, and I was going through some family stuff at the time. I lost a friend and thought it was better for me to stay home and play basketball.

I didn't know what it was or the fact that nobody else was recruiting me. Besides, this guy just kept telling me that I had a future in this game, and it was a hard decision to call and tell him that I wasn't going to KU. He was not very happy when I called. He didn't take it very well, and he told me that I was making a mistake.

After a year of basketball, I called and told him that he was right. He luckily hadn't filled the scholarship for that year yet, and I got a scholarship to Kansas.

During my four years at Kansas, Coach was a mentor, but he was very old school. If you don't play well, he's going to let you know about it. And if you do play well, it was the greatest thing in the world. But you always knew where you stood. When you were playing well and you were working the right way, you were his guy. And I loved that.

He grew up around the Harmons. He worked for Butch's dad at Winged Foot, roomed with Butch’s brother Craig at San Jose State and traveled with Butch when they were rookies together on Tour. Coach Randall never sugarcoated anything, either. When you hit it poorly, he would tell you how bad you were. When you were playing well, he kept telling you that you’ve got to get better. But he always made you feel like you were his favorite player. You were the best player on the team. He had that knack. When it was time to go, he would make you believe that you were the greatest player in the world. That's something that I cherished.

I got text messages every week letting me know what I need to do better, and when I don't play well, there's a firmness to the text message. And when I play well, it's learn from it and move on. It's time to get better. He's never changed since I've known him, and I'll miss those text messages and I'll miss our conversations, but I'll cherish every moment that I had with him.

The day that coach died, about 15 minutes from my winter home in Florida, I was practicing with Butch, and my parents were having lunch with Coach. I talked to my dad later that day, and he said Coach didn’t look very well. I wish I had skipped practice to have had lunch with him one more time.

I’m where I am as a person and a player because of Coach Randall. 

Even when my days at school were done, Coach was always trying to make me better.

One time after I was graduating from Kansas, I asked Coach if we could play a round together. Back then, Coach was having problems with his legs, eventually having one amputated. He instead agreed to ride around in the cart and watch me play. When I made the turn at 6 under, it was just so much fun, playing golf with Coach and shooting a very low score.

The 11th and 12th holes ran parallel to each other at Kansas. When I was on the green at the 11th, coach went from laughing and telling jokes to a serious state.

He asked if I looked at the pin position on the 12th green when I was on the 11th tee, and I hadn’t.

That was not the right answer. He had obviously set me up, but it was one of those classical coach moments where you're never comfortable. No matter how well I was playing – and I was playing great, and we were having a great time – it was a teaching moment to never let your guard down, always keep pressing to go forward. It's something I'll never forget. And we laugh about it to this day. It was a pretty defining moment. He literally ripped me with some very colorful language on the green because I let my guard down. And no matter if you're at 5 under, you’ve always got to get to 6 under. And I didn't take full advantage of the opportunity that I had to scope out the hole in front of me because I was talking and not paying attention. He got the point across.

When I learned of Coach’s death, I went to visit his wife, Linda, on Saturday morning. Obviously, I've been dealing with my stuff with Gabby, who recently lost one of our expected twins, at home and talked to her about that for a while. I told her it's just been a long month and it just got a lot longer. And she instantly went into coach mode and said exactly what he would say: Hey, it's time to move on. Put your head down and go play.

It was pretty cool to hear that from her, obviously, with just losing her husband, 10 hours before that. She was trying to grieve and she told me, Hey, it's time to go put your head down and go, go play. And that was pretty cool to hear that from her.

I will never forget Coach Randall and what he did for me. I will also never forget what he taught me, because in many ways it defines me.

When my kids grow up, I’m sure some of Coach Randall’s thoughts and ideas will get passed down to them. I can think of no higher tribute to a man who changed my life.

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