ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — At the time, it was the worst experience of his athletic career.
But while Bill Harvey is still bitter about the way it went down, these days he admits that being booted from the University of New Mexico men’s basketball team was the best thing that ever happened to him.
“I had started to caddie at UNM South (now the UNM Championship Golf Course), and I fell in love with golf – even though I was horrible at it,” said Harvey, who played in 24 games and started four for the 1981-82 Lobo basketball team. “When it comes down to it, golf is the reason I lost my scholarship.
“I used to leave practice immediately and ride my bike to the course. (Former UNM coach Gary) Colson hated it. After the season, he called me in and said, `you like golf more than basketball; you’re done.’ Of course that wasn’t the only reason. We didn’t get along.”
The gregarious Harvey doesn’t have trouble getting along with folks these days, especially those he teaches the game that became his career.
He is rated as one of the finest golf instructors in New Mexico.
But don’t be fooled by his is teaching prowess. Harvey definitely is an exception to the adage “those who can do, and those who can’t teach.”
In fact, the three-time Sun Country Section PGA player of the year is probably the state’s best hope of making a run at the top at the PGA Players National Championship, which begins today at Twin Warriors and Santa Ana golf clubs.
“For us, this is the big one,” says Harvey, 48. “They treat it like a major. When it was a 156-man field, it really felt like at a U.S. Open or PGA Championship. With 312 players, it’s a little more watered down, but it’s still a national championship.”
The 72-hole event, which will be held on both courses today and Monday, moves to Twin for Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s final two rounds. It showcases the nation’s top club professionals – guys who work in the golf industry full time, as opposed to professional golfers (guys who play for a living.)
The winner snares $75,000 of the $550,000 purse, and the top 20 finishers all qualify for the PGA Championship.
Harvey has made the cut only once in four previous appearances of the PNC, formerly known as the CPC (Club Professional Championship). But the field was half as big in those days.
It’s an event Harvey never dreamed of being a part of as a three-sport high school star – baseball, basketball and football – in Long Island, N.Y. But fate can change one’s destination in a hurry.
“(Colson) was right,” Harvey says. “I did love golf more than basketball. And it turned out to be a blessing in disguise.”
During that ’81-82 season, Harvey was a sharp-shooting guard who liked to chat it up a bit on the floor. Although he shot 46.5 percent from the field – most of the attempts from long range in the days before the 3-point line – he averaged just 11.7 minutes and 4.3 points an outing.
Harvey played his freshman year at Division II West Georgia College under assistant coach Bob Lamphier. When Lamphier was hired by Colson in 1980, he brought Harvey with him. Harvey sat out the ’80-81 season as a redshirt – and sat out the rest of his career after playing that 1981-82 season.
“Billy was a hard worker and great shooter,” says Lamphier, who is an insurance agent in Albuquerque. “But he also had that side of him – had a lot of pride, confidence – just happens. Unfortunately, he had a run-in with Gary. Those things happen, and it’s the best thing that happened for him. He moved on and made himself a great golfer.”
Harvey, an assistant pro at Arroyo del Oso Golf Course, attends most UNM home games, but “I don’t consider myself a former Lobo basketball player. Colson and I never saw eye to eye. But I tell you what, it was a great experience playing in the Pit.”
He says his memories of the famous arena are vivid. During his one season, UNM – just two years removed from the Lobogate scandal – went 14-14, which included a stunning 72-70 home upset of UNLV.
“Greatest game I’ve ever been a part of,” Harvey says. “It was so loud, the curtain on the ramp was shaking. Tark (former UNLV coach Jerry Tarkanian) was going nuts. But he got his revenge.”
Harvey says that same season, after UNLV was nailed for NCAA violations, then-UNM athletics director John Bridgers said he was removing the Rebels from future Lobo schedules because he didn’t want to play cheaters.
“That didn’t help us when we went to Las Vegas,” Harvey says with a laugh. “(Former Lobo teammate) Don Brkovich heard Tark ranting before the game about running it up on us. Brkovich said, `We’re going to get killed, Tark’s going crazy.'”
The Lobos lost 100-68.
“Tark was screaming the whole game, `you don’t want to play cheaters? We’ll show you cheaters. Keep pressing!'”
While golf led to the end of Harvey’s basketball career, basketball led to his golfing career.
During a summer league hoops game, Harvey met Arroyo del Oso pro Tony Hidalgo, and the two became friends. Hidalgo helped Harvey land a job as an assistant in Farmington, which led to a head-pro gig in Philadelphia.
Harvey got out of the golf business in the mid-1990s and returned to New Mexico to pursue a teaching degree. He was also head basketball coach at Highland High. But Harvey says his “heart wasn’t into” a teaching career, and in 1999 he ran into Hidalgo again.
“At that time, I was taking over from (longtime co-head pros) Guy Wimberly and Bob Meiering at Arroyo,” Hidalgo says. “We needed someone to represent Arroyo del Oso as a player, because we always had a great player there. It couldn’t be me anymore, because I had to take care of the business.”
Enter Harvey. But he hasn’t simply represented Arroyo with his game.
“This is definitely no gravy train,” Hidalgo says. “Bill works his butt off. He gives about 50 lessons a week and works a couple of days in the shop. He has always had such a great work ethic; he works harder than anyone I know – at both his job and his game. That’s what makes him so special.”
Harvey, who along with his wife of 24 years, Kathy, has two sons, says that golf has always been a part of his life.
Even though he didn’t know it as a youth.
“My dad loved golf,” Harvey says of his father, who died 18 years ago. “He and my mom used to always try to get me to go out and play. I regret that I didn’t as a kid, because there are so many great courses in Long Island.
“I wish I could play golf with him now. Now I know why he loved the game so much.”
42nd Professional National Championship, Santa Ana Pueblo
TV today: The Golf Channel, 2 p.m.