Alvamar Country Club head pro Randy Towner came up with the idea and sent the word out through the Internet that Alvamar would play host to a “Ross Chalk Tournament” as the official retirement party for former Kansas University golf coach Ross Randall, who spent 30 years in the school’s golf program, the first 28 as head coach of the men’s team.
Nearly 50 of Randall’s former players, Towner said, will come from all over the country to play this afternoon in the scramble tournament.
“If I had to start walking last week to make it, I would have started walking last week,” John Sinovic said by phone during his 12-hour drive from Birmingham, Ala. “When I heard about this, it was, clear the schedule, and I won’t miss it.”
Sean Thayer is making a one-day round trip from Garden City to play in the tourney honoring his old coach, but most players will spend the weekend in Lawrence and take in the Duke-Kansas football game Saturday.
“The most impressive thing about coach that nobody really talks about is how many Kansas Amateurs his students won,” said Thayer, whose research revealed that from 1985 to 2006 the Kansas Amateur Match Play Championship was won 14 times by golfers who played for Randall at KU. In the 25 years leading up to that, a KU golfer won it just twice. “When he came here, KU was nothing in golf. It was all Wichita State.”
Lawrence resident Jerry Waugh, a former KU basketball player and assistant coach, also coached men’s and women’s golf at Kansas before Randall came to town.
“Until he came here, we really didn’t have a golf coach,” Waugh said. “The rest of us who took our turn were bus drivers, that’s really what we were.”
Colorado golf coach Roy Edwards, who played for and served as an assistant to Randall, won’t be able to make it because his team has a tournament. He hopes his players manage their games as well as he saw Randall manage his so many times.
“He was always the kind of player and still is who it would look like he’d shoot a 75 and his card would say he’d shot a 69,” Edwards said. “That’s the ultimate compliment for any golfer because it says he maximizes his score that day. I always thought he was a master at that.”
Gary Woodland, whose rookie season on the PGA Tour was cut short by shoulder surgery, resides in Orlando, Fla. Even though he won’t be able to play because of the injury, he’s coming in for the event.
“Gary and Ross are going to ride around together in a cart and heckle people,” said KU golf coach Kit Grove, a former Randall player. “Sounds like a good job for those two.”
Afterward, they’ll join in eating Randall’s favorite cuisine, Mexican food.
Randall stories will be swapped all day, such as the one from Grove, who shared that Randall was at his golf camp, going over the four different shots to hit out of a trap, based on the lie: “One, just hit it out. Two, get it on. Three, get it within the six-foot circle. Four, holing it.”
Randall demonstrated each shot to the 10-year-old campers. He hit the first one out of the trap, the second on the green, the third within three feet, and the fourth in the cup on the first try.
“The counselors are all looking at each other: ‘Are you kidding me?’ The 10-year-olds didn’t have a clue how good that was,” Grove said.
Said Towner: “People don’t understand how good a player Ross Randall was.”
How good was he? At San Jose State, he was a first-team All-American in 1967 and placed second to Hale Irwin at the NCAA Championship. He spent eight years playing on the PGA Tour.
The strength of Randall’s game?
“He’s the greatest bunker player I’ve ever seen,” Towner said. “And to this day he’s probably the best teacher I’ve ever been around. He can diagnose things very quickly. If I had an event I had to play in tomorrow, he’d be the guy I’d want to spend a half hour with.”
Said Waugh: “Ross has got a great short game, great short game. He can pop that ball up there, and he’s a good putter.”
Said Grove: “His hands. Unbelievable hands. Could just get it up and down from everywhere. Not only up and down, hit it stone dead.”
Sinovic traces Randall’s brilliance as a golf teacher to late, great instructor Claude Harmon, 1948 Masters champion and the father of Butch Harmon, Tiger Woods’ former swing coach.
“My bunker play today is still the same shot Ross taught me, the same shot Claude Harmon taught Ross,” Sinovic said. “Ross understood that hitting golf shots was one thing, but the way you’re successful playing tournament golf is managing your game, managing risky situations. Do I really want to go at this flag? Ross was a master at managing a golf course, thinking through a golf course.”
Randall and wife Linda, an agent for McGrew Real Estate, reside in a home on Alvamar Country Club and keep in regular contact with generations of Randall’s former players.
“I told Linda recently how blessed for all of us that you guys were the second set of parents for us, how much of an impact you’ve made on the lives of so many young people in such a positive way,” Sinovic said.
Today, they’re coming from all over the country to thank their old coach and his bride one more time.