Lawrence High's 1979 state-championship football team gathered for a 25-year reunion a couple of years ago, and when coach Bill Freeman looked at the autographs of all the players in attendance, one stood out.
"John Morris?" Freeman asked. "Who's John Morris?"
An assistant answered, "Uh, coach, that's Moose."
Some nicknames fit so well, it's easy to forget the person's real name.
John "Moose" Morris, the center on that team and then for Haskell Indian Nations University, now is assistant golf pro at Eagle Bend. With a nickname like that, surely he must win a lot of long-distance driving contests, right?
Moose has a peaceful game. Accuracy and consistency are its strengths. Any one drive doesn't leave his playing partners talking about it, other than to say it's remarkably similar to the other 13 during the round: Smack-dab in the middle of the fairway.
He doesn't try to hit it as hard as the football players he used to coach as defensive coordinator at Haskell. He doesn't try to Tim Leatherman the golf ball.
"In my 14 years at Haskell I'd have to say the best athlete was Tim Leatherman," Morris said. "He was a quarterback from Tulsa Hale. He was 6-foot-2, 205 pounds and could run like the wind. I played him on defense three times. Three plays and he knocked out three people. I mean knocked them out cold. We couldn't risk using him on defense. He was our gun."
Morris grew up next to Haskell, was the football ball boy, and played junior high, high school, and junior-college football games at his favorite stadium, where he also coached.
- By John Morris
- I see a lot of beginner golfers out here, and one of the most common things you get to deal with is someone having a problem with topping the ball. When you're going back to hit the ball, you're standing up, you're taking the bend out of your knees, you're taking the bend out of your waist, and you're not at the same height as when you started. That's why you're hitting the top portion of the ball. Anything above the equator doesn't fly anywhere. Pick out one blade of grass on your practice swing and brush that blade of grass. You can't hit what you can't see. So just remember, stay bent. Bent knees, bent waist, swing through the ball, and don't try to kill it.
- - Tipster John Morris is the assistant pro at Eagle Bend Golf Course. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Morris joined golf page architect Jason Walker and me for a few holes of lessons. He showed the 6-foot-5 Walker why he was topping the ball, and the improvement was immediate. (See tip of the week below).
Six years ago, Morris left Haskell - where he was an assistant football coach and also coached women's basketball, track and golf - to become an assistant to soon-departing head pro Jim Kane. Morris said he was a 12 handicap then, and since has reduced it to 0.9.
Morris neither is as long off the tee nor as remarkable a putter as Alvamar's Alex Eichman. Still, he shoots close to par rounds because three-putts, duffs, and penalty strokes are not in his vocabulary. In terms of giving hope to late starters, Morris is an even better example than Eichman, who took up the game at 14. Morris didn't start playing until he was 22.
"I went to Northeastern State in Oklahoma, and they had a couple of big boys who benched about 550," he said, explaining why he gave up football. "They threw me around, so I kind of had enough of that. There's not much use for a 210-pound center, not even snapping punts."
Morris, now 44, was looking for something to do, so when his brother called and suggested a $2.50 round of golf, he gave it a shot, fell in love with the game, and it hasn't stopped loving him back since.
Words of wisdom
"The reason the pro tells you to keep your head down is so you can't see him laughing." - Phyllis Diller
Depending on the time of year, a golfer can see blue heron, Canadian geese, coyotes, deer, eagles, hawks, muskrats, quail, red foxes, woodpeckers, and one friendly Moose at Eagle Bend.
This week in golf:
- No. 9, Eagle Bend Golf Course
- Par: 5. Yards: 510 (championship tee)
- The No. 7 handicap hole on the course, No. 9 captures Eagle Bend as well as any because of its nature-show aspect. Snapping turtles and golf balls fill the pond to the right. On the left, snakes slither through the gunch, home to more golf balls, and there's plenty of lush fairway in between. A well-struck drive to the left of center should give heavy hitters a shot at reaching in two and walking away with a birdie. The green is bisected by a ridge, which leads to many three-putts if the approach is not well-placed.