SAN DIEGO–Thirty years ago this June, professional golfer Jerry Pate captured a national title, the United States Open. Earlier this week, Pate, an Alabama alum, gave a pep talk to a Crimson Tide team that hopes to do the same.
"I told them that they just had to step up and make it happen," said Pate, who addressed the squad for about 10 minutes before Wednesday morning's practice at Cox Arena in San Diego. "I told them that the superstars I've known were the hardest workers in the sport."
Pate, 52, a member of the Champions Tour who was in California to prepare for this week's Toshiba Classic in Newport Beach, had been asked to speak to the players by his friend, coach Mark Gottfried. The two have played golf together. If the game is, as they say, a great barometer of a person's innate character, then what has Pate learned about Gottfried?
"He's a competitor," said Pate, who played golf at Alabama in the early 1970s. "He doesn't go psycho, but he's very intense."
Pate drove down after his pro-am round Thursday to watch Alabama's 90-85 victory over Marquette. Because of the one-hour delay caused by the bomb scare, he missed only the first three or four minutes of the game. He sat with Johnny Dill, a guard for Alabama when Pate was on the golf team. Pate, who shot an opening-round 73 at Newport Beach Country Club, was hoping to return to San Diego on Saturday for Alabama's game against UCLA, but the timing might be a problem. He will tee off at 11:15 a.m, and won't finish until about 4 p.m. The game is scheduled to start about 5 p.m.
Pate and Gottfried once played Laurel Valley Golf Club in Ligonier, Pa., the same course where Pate would squander a great opportunity to win last year's Senior PGA Championship. Instead of going for the green in two on the par-5, 18th hole, Pate, who was leading by one, laid up, and wound up three-putting. He lost the tournament to Mike Reid in a playoff.
"I died as I watched that," Gottfried said Friday.
Pate's appearance might be a good omen for the Crimson Tide. Last month, he won the Outback Steakhouse Pro-Am near Tampa, his first victory in 23 years. A series of injuries had curtailed a career that had gotten off to a wonderful start. He was only 22 when he won the Open.
No longer being the top banana is no problem for Alabama assistant coach Tom Asbury, who was the head coach at Pepperdine (1988-94) and Kansas State (1994-2000).
"It's definitely less stressful," Asbury said.
After leaving Kansas State, Asbury, 60, got involved in real estate and started to play golf. He didn't miss the practices or the games. "I had been doing it 30 some years," he said. "I figured that's enough."
He figured wrong. After working for the Pacific Ten Conference observing officials during University of Arizona games, Asbury got smitten again. Just then, in the spring of 2003, Gottfried called with the offer. Goodbye real estate.
"It's nice to have somebody who is real wise that I can bounce ideas off," Gottfried said. "A lot of times we agree. A lot of times, we don't agree."
Added freshman guard Brandon Hollinger: "It feels like we have two head coaches on one team."
Asbury led Pepperdine to three NCAA appearances (1991, 1992, and 1994), Kansas State to one (1996). He was the West Coast Conference Coach of the Year in 1991 and 1992.
DOWN BUT NOT OUT
UCLA and Alabama have not allowed major injuries to derail their season.
The Bruins lost sophomore forward Josh Shipp in January. Shipp had rebounded from a hip procedure to start the first four Pac-10 games, but due to increasing pain in his hip, had to shut it down for good. UCLA plans to petition for a medical hardship waiver. Others who missed games include: Center Lorenzo Mata (16), center Michael Fey (16), guard Cedric Bozeman (8) forward Alfred Aboya (6), and center Ryan Hollins (6).
Alabama lost its Wooden Award candidate, senior forward Chuck Davis, who tore his ACL on January 7. Davis had been averaging 16.5 points and 4.9 rebounds.
Michael Arkush is a Virginia-based freelance writer whose works has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, New York Times and Washington Post. An author of eight books, including The Last Season with Phil Jackson, Arkush will cover the San Diego and Oakland regional for Yahoo! Sports.