Special to the Tribune-Star
TERRE HAUTE —
The name John Wooden doesn’t just “ring a bell” with Indiana basketball aficionados; it resounds like a canon shot. No doubt about it, John Wooden is someone special, and that is a gross understatement.
To top it off, Terre Haute has more than a passing interest in John Wooden since he coached basketball at Indiana State Teachers College in 1947 and 1948 while leading his team to Indiana Collegiate Conference Championships both years.
Area players who represented ISTC under Wooden’s guidance included Duane Klueh, who became an All-American, Les Brown a five-letterman at Gerstmeyer High School and Don McDonald from Fontanet who later became an outstanding high school coach.
After college, Klueh played professional basketball with the Denver Nuggets, whereas Brown inked a professional baseball contract with the Philadelphia Phillies. Other players were Charles Austin, who hailed from Effingham (Ill.) and popular Bobby Royer from Bowling Green.
Clarence Walker’s home was East Chicago and Bob Brock hailed form Clay City. He would later be Wabash College’s golf coach. South Bend was the home of a majority of Indiana State basketball players They included: Lenny Rzeszewski, Jim Hans, Bob Brady, Dan Dimich, Ed Lash, Joe DePeugh, Bill Jagodzinski, and Jim Powers.
Wooden has been a winner at all stages of his life whether it was helping Martinsville to the Indiana High School Finals three times as a player or guiding Purdue to the 1932 National Championship. He was a three time “All-American” at Purdue, and was named 1932 Collegiate Basketball Player of the Year.
It was after leaving Indiana State and becoming basketball coach at UCLA that he accomplished a record that may never be challenged. At one point his Bruins won 10 NCAA Championships during a span of 12 years. He is a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame, both as a player and as a coach, and he has been presented with just about every recognition you might think of, that is awarded to a player or coach in the sport of basketball.
The basketball court at Indiana State is named the “Nellie and John Wooden Court”. The student recreation center of UCLA is named in John’s honor and the basketball court in Pauley Pavilion is now named the Nell and John Wooden Court after John requested that his wife’s name should come first.
Although John Wooden’s beloved wife, died 25 years ago, since then he has kept a monthly ritual in which he writes her a love letter, on the 26th day of each month and puts it in an envelope and places it on the pillow where she slept during their years together.
As John heads for his birthday on Oct. 14 this year (he will be 100 years old) he has definitely set a standard of excellence for any coach to emulate. John Wooden, a coach for the ages; a gentleman for all time.
Wooden has also performed an impossible feat on the golf course. That’s right, the golf course.
Back in 1948 before leaving for California and the UCLA coaching job, John played golf at a course in South Bend called Chain of Lakes, now named South Bend Country Club.
Facing a 185-yard par three hole, John pulled a four iron from his bag and hit the shot into the cup, but this was just a warm-up for what was yet to come.
On a par five hole during the same round, Wooden took out a brassie (two wood) for his second shot and holed it for a double eagle, something sometimes called an albatross. That gave him a total of five under par on two holes. After the round was completed John could be heard to say, “You’d think that someone who could play two holes five under par could finish with something better that a 77, five over par.”
Nevertheless, players who have achieved feats such as this would have to be more scarce that hen’s teeth.
I’d have to say that in addition to Wooden’s ability as a basketball player and coach, he could certainly hold his own on a golf course.
Speaking of double eagles, the late golfing great, Gene Sarazen, certainly picked a good time to produce one of his own. It was the 1935 Masters and Craig Wood was in the clubhouse with a three-shot lead over Gene who had four holes to play. Sarazen selected a four wood for his second on the 498-yard par five 15th. He hit the shot crisply and although he didn’t see it go in the cup, that’s exactly where it finished. That made a tie for the tourney, both Wood and Sarazen with 292’s for 72 holes.
A 36-hole playoff was scheduled for the following day with Gene coming out on top by 5 shots, 144 to 149. You would have to feel sorry for Wood, one of the best players of his era who probably felt as thought his pocket had been picked. Sarazen, by the way, is one of five golfers who has won the four tournaments that compromise the modern Grand Slam.
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In the “we goofed department”, that’s Dirk Wyles who is one of the genial gentlemen who works in the pro shop at The Landing. He was incorrectly identified as Dick Wyles in our last column.
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TIP OF THE WEEK: Rigid arms do not perform well at all. You can keep an arm straight, but not rigid. In fact, some right-handed players actually bend their left arm during the swing and still get good results. You might experiment to see how this technique suits you.
Keep your head down and your shoestrings tied. We’ll be back.