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Journey leads to U.S. Senior Open

Bill Harvey has arrived on the hot, muggy plains of Edmond, Okla., where he will stare down the hills and wind that confront visitors to Oak Tree National.

Harvey, a golf pro at Arroyo del Oso, will rub shoulders today with the likes of Tom Watson at the U.S. Senior Open.

It takes about eight hours to get there from here. For Harvey, the road has been much longer. His journey of self has taken him from the New York Harbor, to the floor of the Pit, from hoops to tees, from student to teacher.

Athlete for all seasons

Bill Harvey, 53, grew up in Long Island, N.Y., where in high school he attacked every sport he could.

He could deliver 45 points in a single basketball game – in an era without the 3-point shot. As a catcher, he had a rocket of an arm and loved being in charge of the game. He was in charge in football, too, starting at quarterback.

His favorite sport, though, was hockey, and to this day is a rabid New York Rangers fan.

“It was the greatest five-game series in the history of sports,” said Harvey, who found himself jumping on his living room table during the tense series won by the LA Kings.

Harvey says he had 20 scholarship offers to play college football, 50 for baseball and 150 for basketball. But only West Georgia College said it would let him play basketball and baseball. So off he went to Carrollton, Ga.

West Georgia had an assistant named Bob Lamphier. When Gary Colson took the job at New Mexico, he hired Lamphier to assist him. Lamphier brought Harvey to UNM.

Harvey was familiar with the Lobos, but only to the extent that baseball coach Vince Cappelli had recruited him. Harvey arrived in Albuquerque in 1980 with the understanding he would be able to play both basketball and baseball.

That did not happen, and to this day, Harvey carries some bitterness.

UNM's Bill Harvey (15), shown during a game against UTEP in 1982, will play in this weekend's U.S. Senior Open. (Journal File)

UNM’s Bill Harvey (15), shown during a game against UTEP in 1982, will play in this weekend’s U.S. Senior Open. (Journal File)

A stint as a Lobo

Harvey and Colson seemed at odds from the start. Harvey was a confident player, having gone up against some of the best players New York had to offer.

Colson was not as enamored and limited Harvey to 10 minutes a game the 1981-82 season. He averaged just 4.4 points a game, but he had his moments.

Harvey recalls a game against Wyoming, where he was starting to feel it.

“It was weird because (Colson) was mad,” Harvey said. “(Lobo point guard) Phil Smith and I would be laughing. Phil told me, ‘Keep scoring ’cause it’s pissing him off. Keep firing. I’ll find you.’ ”

But Colson insisted the offense be run his way and he put a stop to it.

Meanwhile, Harvey says Colson and Cappelli got into it over Harvey playing baseball. Colson won that argument, too.

“I was furious,” Harvey said.

But his Lobo experience was not all bad.

“We were playing UNLV,” he said. “They were ranked seventh or eighth, I think, a packed house.”

Then-UNM athletic director John Bridgers had announced the series between the Lobos and Rebels would end that season because he didn’t want to play “cheaters.”

The teams found themselves at the top of the Pit ramp, and the players started to jaw. Harvey remembers referee Moose Stubing yelling at the Rebels to “get your (tails) on the floor right now.”

Harvey got a rare start that day.

“I hit the first bucket from the top of the key,” he said. “As soon as I released the shot, I knew it was good. It was so loud, I couldn’t feel the floor as I was backpedaling. It was so loud, so awesome.”

The Lobos won 72-70. But Harvey’s days as a Lobo were numbered.

Back on course

Harvey had always found a kind of solace on the golf course. When he was a kid, he caddied summers at the National Golf Links of America on Long Island. He taught himself the game, playing in the mornings before his shift, then playing again until dark.

During his tumultuous time as a Lobo, he would escape to the UNM South Course (now Championship Course).

“Basketball practice would get out at 4:30, and I would fly down to South on my bike and play until dark,” Harvey said.

But when Harvey missed a spring basketball conditioning session to play in a golf tournament, Colson told him he had to make a choice.

“I went and golfed the next day,” Harvey said.

Tony Hidalgo, the head pro at Arroyo del Oso and a former standout basketball player at Manzano High, had befriended Harvey and helped him land a job at San Juan Country Club.

“I tried to give some lessons, but I was terrible,” Harvey said.

Then longtime New Mexico pro Ron Doan took him under his wing and helped him become a better teacher, as well as player.

Still, basketball held a lure, and Harvey had a brief stint as coach at Highland High. Then he got to talking with Hidalgo.

“At Arroyo, one of the things we’ve always had is somebody who was a good golfer to give the course exposure,” Hidalgo said. “I told Bill, ‘I don’t know how you’re doing coaching and teaching, but if you want to come to work, I need somebody to be our player. I would like that somebody to be you.’ ”

Harvey took the job.

“Tony is absolutely the best in the business in knowing how to run a public golf course,” Harvey said.

Besides his success in regional tournaments, Harvey has developed a reputation as a talented teacher.

“He’s a great teacher,” Hidalgo said. “Bill’s a coach at heart. He’s got that coaching mentality.”

Among Harvey’s prized students are Patrick Beyhan, an All-State golfer at La Cueva and two-time Men’s City Amateur champ who plays at New Mexico State; and Katie Kempter, who is on the LPGA Tour.

His most memorable moment on the golf course came while he was caddying for Kempter when she obtained her LPGA card in a 2009 qualifying tournament.

“It felt so fulfilling to be there with her,” said Harvey, who would like to coach a college team one day. “Here we are, and I’m on her bag, helping her achieve a dream she has had since she was young. That was probably the most rewarding thing I’ve had happen on a golf course.”

It’s fitting, then, that Kempter was caddying for Harvey last month as he tried to qualify for the U.S. Senior Open at the Albuquerque Country Club.

“She pointed to the right spots, and I hit the ball pretty well that day,” said Harvey, who shot a 64, despite a bogey on the 18th hole.

“When I got in, there were still 18 players to go,” Harvey said. “And I was pacing around.”

“Nobody’s going to shoot a 63,” Kempter told him.

“You never know,” he answered.

“Really, Bill?” she said.

Harvey won by four shots.

Now his journey finds him in Oklahoma. He says the USGA can be “ruthless” in setting up the course. He’s practiced his putts on the wood floor at his house.

Said Hidalgo: “When you get into a senior deal, a lot of it is your conditioning, and Bill is still in very good shape. It’s going to be hotter than a muffin, and I think that gives him a pretty good advantage.

“And he’s got game. He’ll be playing against guys like Tom Watson … guys who have played their whole lives. But he hits it as far as those guys do. If he can control his nerves and emotions, he’s got a good chance to make the cut.”

As he lines up his first shot, perhaps he will think about Ron Doan’s lessons or Tony Hidalgo’s faith in him. Maybe the pressure he faced in his long-ago days in the Pit will help settle his nerves.

Perhaps he will think about his mother, who lives in Orlando, and has her good days and bad health-wise. He would love to give her something to lift her spirits.

“I’m not going and just be glad to be there,” Harvey said. “If I play as well as I’m capable, I can make the cut. I’ll give it my best. You never know.”

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