Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
Ever heard of Steve Loy?
To the many he has mentored as coach and agent – and that includes the golf champion known as Lefty – Loy is affectionately known as Coach.
A Sandia High alumnus who grew up in Albuquerque, Loy’s now a millionaire average Joe who never forgets his roots.
Perhaps his biggest claim to fame is as agent to Phil Mickelson, the current darling of the professional golf world after winning the PGA Championship at Kiawah Island on May 23 at age 50, which made him the oldest major champion. Mickelson will compete in the U.S. Open starting today with a chance at earning a career Grand Slam in golf.
A former collegiate golf coach, Loy, 69, resides in Scottsdale, Arizona, and travels around the globe. But “home” is Albuquerque, where he became tough and learned “hard work and dedication” from Sandia football head man Clem Charlton and golf coach Jim Ottman, also a football assistant coach.
“It’s hard to be a champion if you’re not doing that all the time,” Loy said in a recent interview with the Journal. “It’s something I carried on through my coaching. I always told my boys: if you quit making a full commitment, they quit calling you champion.”
To know Loy we must go back to a snowy day on Sandia Crest when wind-swept drifts erased the path on the La Luz trail where he and a friend were hiking.
Loy said he had just turned 13 in 1965 when he went sledding with his brother and friends at the Crest. Loy and a friend chose to walk down the La Luz trail, but snow had wiped out the path. They became lost and Loy’s family was left in fear whether he would survive – and then whether he would ever be the same.
A search party went looking for the two, but several hours and miles after losing their way Loy and his friend walked onto a little ranch. They found help, but by that time they had experienced severe frostbite.
“(The doctors) thought I was going to lose my legs,” Loy said. “I was in the hospital for eight months. I learned how to walk again on parallel bars. I thought I would never be able to play athletics again.”
Loy wanted to prove himself wrong. He said he took up golf because he could ride in carts to relieve pressure on his feet while he learned the game.
In the end, he built enough strength to compete in both football and golf at Sandia, where he became known for his toughness and dedication. Yet, not many of his teammates or competitors knew of his handicap, a right foot with one toe.
Charlton and his assistant Ottman were puzzled when Loy would sneak away after practice and not use the shower in the locker room. They later found out Loy was ashamed of his feet and didn’t want anyone to see the mangled one.
“It was a very traumatic time in my life,” Loy said. “In high school, kids can be pretty tough peers. Yet it made me tougher than if I had not been injured.”
Charlton recalled advising Loy.
“I told him one day,” said Charlton, now 96 and living in Albuquerque, “‘There’s nobody on this damn football team that’s got the guts and determination that you do. If they make fun of you, go over and knock ’em on their ass. That’ll take care of it.'”
Charlton became a special mentor to Loy and was in the wedding party when Loy married his high school sweetheart, the former Linda Bell.
“I admired the kid more than anybody that I ever coached because of the physical handicap that he overcame,” Charlton said. “To me he was a great athlete to do what he did.”
Loy is in the Sandia High Hall of Fame, one of six halls of fame he has been inducted into as a player or coach. At Sandia, he played linebacker, defensive back and quarterback to help lead the Matadors to two state title game appearances. On the golf team he had two state runner-up finishes and was a part of three state championship teams.
“I was the backfield coach and I had to deal with Steve all the time,” said Ottman, 80, who also lives in Albuquerque. “He was a tough, ornery kid who just loved to play.”
After high school, Loy competed in golf and football at Eastern New Mexico, which also recruited his then-fiancee, Linda – waiving her tuition and providing scholarship for her books to be on the football support staff, Loy said.
Years later when he was golf coach at Arizona State, Loy did a similar thing when recruiting Phil Mickelson.
“I knew about his girlfriend at the time,” Loy said. “She played on the boys team with him in high school in San Diego. I quickly started recruiting her to be on the ASU women’s golf team and I got her a spot on the team.”
Mickelson later married his wife, Amy.
“She is a sweet woman,” Loy said.
At ASU, Loy and Mickelson forged a partnership that has lasted over three decades and has included several business ventures and countless memories.
“Coach has been my mentor, my coach, my agent, my partner,” Mickelson said in an email on Monday. “Coach has been everything to me. Without him I probably wouldn’t be who I am today for sure.”
Just before Mickelson turned pro after winning the NCAA title in 1992 while playing for Arizona State at UNM Championship Golf Course, he asked Loy to become his business partner and agent.
“I’m on top of my game as a coach at 40 years old,” Loy recalled. “I see that he was going to be special but I didn’t think I could leave the coaching profession, because I just despised agents to begin with. I think they seem to somehow leverage players more than they help them sometimes.
“In any case, he talked me into managing his business, and we’ve been partners in every category of the way throughout the last 30 years.”
When Mickelson became the oldest major champion by winning the PGA Championship at Kiawah Island, it brought a special memory to Loy. Coach thought about Mickelson’s final collegiate victory.
Loy was back home in Albuquerque for the tournament in 1992, and his best golfer capped a remarkable college career with his third NCAA individual title.
Loy described Mickelson’s recent PGA Championship win as one of the game’s greatest stories, but he isn’t calling it a swan song.
“He thinks he can win some more,” Loy said. “So I will too.”
This is a big week for Loy because of the U.S. Open and its importance to Mickelson and Jon Rahm, who is also on Loy’s agency roster.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if he comes out and wins it,” Loy said about Mickelson. “The thing about great ones: Freddy Couples, Phil Mickelson, even Tiger (Woods), when they get on the leaderboard, they’re hunters. They’re not runners. They’re hunters and they’re coming to get you and they’ll fight to the end. If he gets on the leaderboard the first two days, I see great things for the weekend.”
Rahm, a Spaniard who is ranked No. 3 in the world, is hoping his game becomes the best story of the U.S. Open: a victory after he was forced to withdraw from the Memorial Tournament earlier this month with a six-shot, third-round lead because of a positive COVID-19 test.
“I think he will play quite well this week,” Loy said of Rahm.
If they’ve learned from Loy, Mickelson and Rahm will do their best to emulate Coach with a full commitment.