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Smith column: The Golf Coach meant much to so many

It was a beautiful day for golf.

Then it wasn’t.

The weather changed drastically and so did the scores.

But despite the rain and driving wind by late in the afternoon of the first 36 holes of the annual William H. Tucker Intercollegiate, Dick McGuire was in his usual spot for the annual event — one he started 62 years earlier — sitting at a table in front of the scoreboard. Looking out at the 16-team field on the UNM Championship Golf Course he helped build.

“I won’t miss coming,” he told me that afternoon last September. “Sometimes I have to get a jacket, sometimes I don’t,” he continued with a chuckle.

“But I always try to be here for every round.”

Much like the way he was there for every player who ever walked the links while wearing UNM Lobo golf attire.

I typically chatted with McGuire each year during Tucker, a men’s college event, or at the UNM women’s event named after him. Certainly, he slowed down over the years.

But each fall seemed to give him a new spark. Each fall, after all, was the start of the college golf season — something in which he had been so instrumental, not only in New Mexico but nationwide.

On Friday, McGuire died at the age of 90.

“I always enjoyed seeing him and talking to him at the Tucker every year,” UNLV coach Dwaine Knight said Monday. “He was like a second dad to many of us. He was a visionary. He was the first to bring teams together in a tournament. Prior to that, it was all match play.”

Knight and many other former Lobo greats played for McGuire, then made a living in the golf industry. Knight, a 1965 Valley High graduate, played on the PGA Tour after his days with UNM and McGuire.

“About five years later, he called me and asked if I would be interested in coaching,” Knight said. “He just wanted to be the manager at the UNM South (now Championship) Course. I had never thought about it, but it sounded intriguing and I took the job.”

So Knight took over for his former coach, who had led the Lobos from 1954-77. After 10 stellar years at UNM, Knight became head golf coach at UNLV. He has been there 30 years, owns a team national title, has coached two individual national champs, has twice been named Golf Coaches Association of America national coach of the year and is in that association’s hall of fame.

“40 years of coaching,” Knight said, “and I absolutely owe my career to Dick McGuire.

… I had some good (scholarship) offers coming out of high school, like at Air Force. But I really liked coach McGuire. He was just a super real person. My folks loved him. My mom, to this day, thinks of him as a Father Flanagan. He takes all these kids from different backgrounds and gives them a chance.”

Current UNM golf coach Jill Trujillo, also a former Lobo player, knows quite well about those chances.

“Wow. To talk about what Coach McGuire meant to the women’s program would take pages and pages,” she said. “He spanned generation to generation and had seven decades of Lobo women’s golfers.

“He never coached the women’s team, but he got it all started. He brought in so many women and so many people of color, like Henry Sandles, who played for the UNM men, then coached the women’s team and became director of golf, and so many Hispanics. Coach McGuire started it all.”

And he remembered much of it.

Despite his age, McGuire was a regular on the course each week, even if it meant just playing a few holes as the years passed.

He chatted about past players and events, and was a good resource for at least one local journalist.

Last fall, Colorado’s Esther Lee fired an incredible 11-under-par 61 in the opening round of the 38th Branch Law Firm/Dick McGuire Invitational. I asked a number of sports information folks involved with the event — as well as pro shop workers — if that was a course or tournament record.

Nobody had solid info for quite some time. But McGuire told me it was a record.

“I know the course record was 62 until today,” he said. “In fact, I don’t anyone who has shot better in a college women’s tournament.”

Right and right.

Records were eventually discovered, and it turned out that Lee set the UNM course record — men’s or women’s — and matched the lowest round ever shot in a college women’s event.

That day will be one of my lasting memories of McGuire.

There will be an infinite number of lasting memories from countless golfers when it comes to The Golf Coach.

After nearly 70 years, McGuire — who also played at UNM — won’t be at one of those concourse tables in front of the scoreboards this fall at the course.

His memory, however, will be etched all around the course for as long as it remains.