We all have certain special people in our lives. Not family…but family.
In some way they made a difference, just by being themselves. Perhaps they have become a part of our everyday existence and have been for years, or perhaps our intersected time with them was short, possibly long ago. Yet the impression they made on us is no less deep and lasting.
Tough when we lose them.
Even when they’re 92. My friend and old college golf coach at Gustavus Adolphus College, Whitey Skoog, passed away this morning. Long before he became golf coach at Gustavus Whitey was a full blown Minnesota legend. He was an All-American Guard for the University of Minnesota basketball team in 1950 and 1951 and was a 1st Round draft pick of the then Minneapolis Lakers of the young NBA. Whitey went on to help the Lakers to NBA titles in 1952, 1953 and 1954.
He was credited as one of the first players in the 1940’s to shoot a jump shot. Imagine that, leaving the floor when shooting a basketball. Our Norwegian friend Whitey from Brainerd, MN was an innovator.
Whitey Skoog had his number 41 retired and hung in the rafters of Williams Arena on the University of Minnesota campus on February 22, 2009. For many older Minnesotans Whitey will always be their all time favorite Gopher.
To me he was simply “Coach.”
And as I mentioned, my college golf coach, not basketball. Whitey did coach basketball at Gustavus from 1957 – 1981, then focused on coaching golf. I was a skinny 6-foot-3 senior at Benson H.S. in western Minnesota in the winter of 1984. Painfully shy. Lots to say, but struggling to come out of my shell. The world of Machinery Pete, TV shows, radio, Youtube, speaking gigs about farm machinery trends and tractor stories…years down the road. Yet to be.
Our basketball team my senior year wasn’t very good, think we won 4-5 games. But competition was my outlet, my way to express myself. Basketball and golf were my games.
Never forget will I the snowy late winter evening in 1984 when Whitey Skoog drove to Benson, MN to watch me play a high school basketball game. After the game Whitey came over to the house. Mom had made apple pie. Coach and I sat on the living room couch and talked hoops, golf, Gustavus, life. He asked me questions. He listened. Really listened. He had a dream and a vision…taking Gustavus golf to the NCAA Div. III national tournament. He invited me be a part of that vision.
I was procrastinator back then. Still am. My Kryptonite. I didn’t commit to enrolling at Gustavus until Memorial Day weekend, late May 1984. The reason I decided for Gustavus?
Coach Whitey Skoog.
My intent was to play both golf and basketball in college. It’s all I’d ever known. My freshman golf season went very well that Fall. When hoop season rolled around afterwards…my heart just wasn’t in it. Perhaps because I was a 6’3” 170-pound slow footed kid, but I could shoot! Wore out 3 backboards in our driveway with my younger brothers. I went to college hoop practices for a week or so. Coach knew something was bothering me. He took me down the Prairie House café/restaurant there in St. Peter, MN for dinner and to talk. He listened. I had never quit anything in my life important to me up until that time. Coach was my sounding board. Nothing magical he said. But he was there. He cared. He listened.
I focused on golf. We made that NCAA Div. III national tournament. 4 of them in a row during my 1985-1988 years at Gustavus. Coach was way, way ahead of his time in terms of the mental side of the game of golf. “What were you thinking about on that shot?” He’d ask us all and then listen. He was teaching us to strip the emotion out of the decision making process and afterwards to be sure to glean every insight we possibly could from the outcome. Control what we could. Don’t make the same mistakes again and again. Learn from our successes and our failures.
Thank you Coach.
2 months ago my friend Scott Moe, the current golf coach at Gustavus Adolphus, dropped some of us old timers a line and wondered if we would write a little note to Whitey that he could bring and read to Coach at the assisted living facility where he was. I’m so glad Scott suggested this. An excerpt from my last note to Coach:
"Years later, as I look back on our quest to make NCAA Div. III Nationals as a team….I realized something. The lengths YOU went to Coach to keep giving us the opportunity. You went above and beyond. Time and again. Thank You Coach for caring about us so much. Thank You for investing your trust and faith in us continually. Thank You for believing in us.
...for believing in me, quiet freshman from Benson, MN.
On to NCAA Div. III Nationals at Monroe GC in Rochester, NY, May 1985. I’m a freshman. Terry Olson, Jack, Jay Coatta, me and Greg Avant. I remember the poa anna greens. I remember the banquet the night before the tourney started. This was the BIG TIME. I remember we didn’t have matching team uniforms yet, like the other big schools. We didn’t care one bit. Bring it on. Let’s get after it. Let’s COMPETE!! First 2 rounds I remember I shot 78-78. Very frustrated. Both rounds that felt like I should have shot 74-75, but just sloppy. Not getting it done. I’ll remember what happened next until the day I die. 3rd round. I’m 5-over through 13 holes. My head is down again. Here comes another 78 or 79. Feeling sorry for myself and all the perceived “bad brakes/bounces” that had led me to 5-over.
Then everything changed.
Walking off the 14th tee (par 5), my head down I passed Terry Olson (playing No. 1 for us) in the group behind me. You know how quiet Terry was. Even quieter than I was. He asked me “How’s it going?” Not good I said….I’m 5-over, couple lip outs, bad hop on……Terry cut me off. “Come on, Let’s Go! Get it going!”
I swear this is true, it was literally like a light switch went off in my head/heart.
Ok, I’ve got 5 holes left here. Let’s see what this skinny quiet freshman from Benson, MN can do. 14th hole was a par 5, uphill at the end. After 2nd shot I was under a tree on right side rough about 160 out. Not looking good. This mattered not to me. Punch cut low 4-iron found the green. 30-foot putt. Draino. On to 15. 300 yard drive (which was something back in ’85!) and a 135 yard sandwedge (I was YOUNG!) left me 20-foot birdie I putt. I saw a white dotted line as I stood over the ball. Draino. Birdie. Back to 3-over. 16th hole was a long par 3. I shanked my 5-iron tee shot, hit a tree and dropped down in some long grass way off to the right. Once I again this mattered not to me. Where’s my ball so I can stuff it and make a par? Found it. Stuffed that 9-iron 3 feet. Put that son of a gun 3 foot par putt square in the back of the cup. Still 3-over. That par felt like an eagle. I floated to the 17th tee. Long par 4. Just pounded 300 yard drive down there, big hook wedge stiff, tap in birdie, now 2-over. 18th hole was 433 yards (very long par 4 back then). Killed another driver (persimmon wood not metal!), 130 left, sandwedge. Almost a closing birdie. Signed that scorecard for 74. Shot easy 72 the final round and presto, I finished tied 10th and our team finished 5th.
I’ve thought about that turning point in round 3 countless times over the past 34 years Coach. I realized that my sports/competitive desire as a kid growing up in Benson was wrapped up pushing myself to excel. All internal, all about me. Push to excel to “say things” that I couldn’t say back then. I know it is important to have this internal fire, this push to excel. You know what I’m talking about. You had the fire to do the great things you accomplished for the Gophers, the Lakers and the Gusties. But I began to also realize the tremendous power of….TEAMWORK. The power and ability to uplift your teammate, your friend, that person you just met, simply with words we say, the way we say it, the look in our eyes as we say it.
And also the power of LISTENING to someone. Lives can be changed.
Coach you made a HUGE impact on my life and the lives of all Gustavus golfers. Thank you for being you. Thank you for being there for us. Thank you for caring about us. Thank you for pushing us.
And Thank You for driving through that snow storm winter of 1984 to come see that shy, skinny kid from Benson, MN play basketball :-)
Love you Coach….Always & forever.
When I graduated from Gustavus Adolphus College May of 1988, Accounting Degree in hand, no clue what I wanted to do with the rest of my life, Coach presented me with a gift. Pair of new Footjoy golf shoes. Black (Gustie colors Black & Gold). I never wore them once. They were too special to me, coming from my Coach. I never wore them but I’ve always kept them close to me. As I write this blog I turn around and there they are, against the wall in my home office, next to a pair of old boots, the same pair of boots I bought when I started our Machinery Pete Youtube channel back in 2009. Our two daughters had grown, I knew it was time to really lean into my business opportunity. Time to for Machinery Pete to hit the road and see where it leads…
Mrs. Machinery Pete occasionally will ask why I keep a pair of golf shoes and a pair of work boots in my office. Forrest Gump I tell her…you remember the 1994 movie of the same name, don’t you? Recall early in the movie Tom Hanks playing Forrest Gump, sitting on a bus stop bench talking at a lady sitting with him on the bench. Gump notices her shoes.
“Those look like comfortable shoes. Momma always said there’s an awful lot you can tell about a person by their shoes. Where they’ve been. Where they’re going.”
I’m so thankful where my Machinery Pete boots have taken me, all the wonderful folks I’ve met, things I’ve learned, friends made along the way. And I’m ever thankful to my Coach, Whitey Skoog, and those green fairways we walked together 30 plus years ago.
Talking and listening, about golf, about life. Rest well Coach.