Kansas University men’s basketball coach Bill Self has one goal when he trades in his whistle for a driver and heads out to the links for a round of golf: He just wants to be one of the guys.
With that in mind, the Journal-World caught up with three of the four members of Self’s scramble group at Friday’s 13th-annual Bill Self/Lawrence Parks and Recreation Golf Classic at Eagle Bend to find out just how successful the KU coach is at blending in as a regular Joe.
As it turns out, Self’s exploits in these types of events throughout the years have been reminiscent of what one might see from a regular weekend warrior. And each member of his regular group had a different funny story or fun memory from Self’s 11 years playing in the tournament he helped create. Proceeds fund a scholarship to ensure that every young person in the city who wants to participate in LPRD summer activities gets the opportunity to regardless of his or her ability to afford it.
“He’s so busy, and his focus is on other things,” LPRD youth sports director Lee Ice said. “But it’s just nice for him to come out here and enjoy a little fun on the golf course with friends for a good cause.”
There the kind words reached their end, and the razzing began.
“He can play,” Ice said of Self. “But it’s one of those things, as a coach, where if you’re too good at golf, you’re not working hard enough. (Former KU baseball coach Dave) Bingham used to tell me all the time, ‘You’re not supposed to be good at golf.’”
Added Pat O’Toole, who joined Terry Keefer and Kent Ferguson on Self’s squad: “He hits the ball long, but if he hasn’t played a lot, we don’t really know what direction it’s going.”
Self, who tries to get out as often as he can during the offseason, rarely has time to work on his game. In fact, even during this event, in which he played just nine holes Friday, Self often has brought two phones with him and kept one eye on the ball and the other on his phones in the cart.
“Last year, about the third hole in,” O’Toole began, “he’s on his phone, on his phone, on his phone, and he comes over to us and says, ‘Fellas, I gotta leave. I gotta find a replacement for (guard Devonté) Graham by 5 o’clock and get him to Miami with a passport.”
That was the day Self learned of Graham’s offseason injury just before the World University Games, which created the need to add SMU’s Nic Moore to the roster for KU’s run to the gold medal in South Korea.
While those moments are more unusual to a man who runs one of the most successful and well-known college basketball programs in the country, the rest better resemble regular chatter from golfers at just about every golf course in America.
“One year, the beverage cart came up, and he said, ‘Guys, I’ll buy this round,’” Keefer recalled. “That was a pretty nice gesture, but all of the drinks were free.”
Added O’Toole: “We kid him a lot, and one year one of us hit a ball that was on the far side of the green or just off, and he said, ‘That wouldn’t be bad if you were playing by yourself.’ So we started using that back on him when he’d miss something. We added fuel to it. ‘From the women’s tees that wouldn’t be a bad shot.’ Stuff like that.”
The one story everyone in Self’s group remembered as a classic had to do with a brand of golf ball and one of those errant Self tee shots.
After misfiring on his first attempt, Self immediately requested another ball to tee it up again. So O’Toole, always at the ready, flipped him a Nike MOJO ball.
“Oates (O’Toole) tossed him a MOJO, and, if you turn it upside down, it looks like OPOW,” Keefer recalled, laughing. “So Self called it the OPOW ball and to this day, every time I see one, I can’t help but think of the OPOW ball.”
Added O’Toole: “I would consider him a good golfer. But, more than that, he’s just a fun guy to get out here with, and I think he just likes to play, be himself and have a good time.”