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Lynn Houser Remembers Golf Game With Coach Knight & Scott May




How many sportswriters can say they golfed with Bob Knight?

In October 2000, a month after Bob Knight was fired by Indiana University, I ran into him at a Bloomington movie theater. I was no stranger to the coach, having spent the previous 15 years as a helper on the IU basketball beat as a sportswriter for The Herald-Times. I can even say I was the H-T’s lead basketball writer for Knight’s final two years and felt his pain upon dismissal. I, too, was downsized, you could say. With Knight gone the H-T decided to go in a different direction for the main basketball guy. Ouch!

I had not spoken to Knight since his firing, so there was some awkward small talk as we avoided the elephant in the room, our career setbacks. Fortunately, Knight spared us any self-pity with a surprising invitation to round out a foursome for golf the next day.

Now that’s an offer no one could refuse, even if meant exposing your limitations as a golfer. Knight told me to meet him the next morning at a gas station north of town. Our destination was The Legends Golf Club in Franklin. Knight was co-owner of the course along with Ted Bishop, who also served as the club’s golf pro.

Showing up with Knight was none other than Scott May, one of his basketball players, the leading scorer of IU’s unbeaten 1976 national champions. I knew May personally from sharing the YMCA court with him for many a noon-hour pickup game. May returned to Bloomington after his 12-year NBA career ended in 1988 and joined the ‘Y’ to stay in shape. Having May on your five was a real treat because he was content to just rebound and pass, until you needed him to score a basket to help your team hold the court. He was sometimes even reluctant to do that, saying, ‘I made my baskets in the NBA.’

However, there was one memorable occasion when we saw the real Scott May. Showing up one day at the ‘Y’ was 6-foot-9 Lawrence Funderburke, who was still hanging around Bloomington after quitting the 1989-90 IU team after only six games. Funderburke was awaiting the next good collegiate offer and looking to keep his game sharp in the meantime – I guess. Whatever made him think that playing against a bunch of scrubs like us would prepare him for his next stop is a question for deeper thinkers.

Funderburke licked his chops when he landed on a team opposite May, a a chance to showcase his skills, Funderburke thought. With May doing his usual rebound-and-pass act, Funderburke made the mistake of talking trash after dunking on the 6-7 former NBA player. Bad idea, Larry. Over the next 10 minutes May splashed jumper after jumper in Funderburke’s face and defended him as if it were the NBA finals. Funderburke was quietly dismissed and was rarely seen at the ‘Y’ after that.

Back to our golf outing with Bob Knight, who insisted on driving. I tossed my clubs into the cargo area of his SUV and climbed into the back seat. May was riding shotgun. Bishop was awaiting us at the golf course.

The Legends Golf Club was a 45-minute drive involving some hilly, curvy, two-lane roads, the kind that require careful driving. I had heard the stories about Knight throwing caution to the wind as a driver and learned quickly they were true. Not only did he have a heavy foot, he also was one of those drivers who liked to look at the person he was talking to, and he did most of the talking. There came a point where I dropped out of the conversation because I did not want Knight turning his head 180 degrees to make eye contact with me in the back seat. I noticed May wasn’t all that comfortable, either, probably wishing he hadn’t chosen the shotgun slot.

There was no small sense of relief when we pulled into the Legends parking lot. Bishop was there to greet us. I knew Bishop from his days as the golf pro at the Phil Harris Golf Course in Linton, named after the famous movie star. Harris, a Linton native, returned every summer to participate in a golf scramble hosted by Bishop and including members of the media.

Bishop had me share a cart with May while he paired up with Knight. I was happy to be with May, who is just as easy going on the golf course as he is on a YMCA basketball court. Turns out May was handy with a golf club, too, which I was not. I blame my parents for my disjointed golf swing by making me hoe the weeds in our flower garden for my summer allowance.

Knight winced at one of my hacks and proceeded to give me some coaching. Not wanting to be uncoachable, I tried to take it to heart, but I have to say some of Knight’s swings needed coaching, too. In fact, Bishop often encouraged Knight to drop another ball and hope for a better result after his first attempt found water, sand or the rough. Knight was happy to accept.

So when the coach started giving me golf pointers, I tried to keep a straight face and listen as if he were drawing up a play in the huddle. The advice did little to change my golfing fortunes, and I was just hoping to break 100, my personal gold standard.

Meanwhile, Knight took advantage of his mulligans to limit the big numbers on his scorecard. For him it all came down to the 18th hole, where he had a shot for a legitimate par, with only a 6-foot putt standing in the way. There was a palpable silence as he lined it up and put a confident stroke on it. Unfortunately, the ball had a little too much gusto and rolled a full 2 feet past the cup. And then came a stream of profanity that would have drawn a technical foul if a Big Ten referee had been within earshot. Knight finished with the words, ‘If I had made that (bleeping) putt I would have broken 80!’

It was all May and I could do to keep from falling down laughing. Bishop himself was trying to hold it in. Knight caught our reactions, and for a moment we feared the volcano was going to blow. But then he grasped the irony of it all and managed a smile. Not a word was said.

I have so many Bob Knight stories I could have shared here but chose this one because it reveals his many layers. He could have blown me off at the movie theater but invited me for a round of golf. How many sportswriters — not his golfing buddies of choice — can say they played 18 holes with Bob Knight?

Perhaps he took pity on me because of my removal from the choicest sports beat I ever had. Perhaps it was his way of tipping his hat for the years we were both part of the IU story. Or perhaps he just wanted to round out a foursome with a golfer he could defeat with a shovel. Whatever the reason, I’m grateful for a day I’ll never forget.

So if there comes I day I run into Knight in that great golf course in the sky and he needs a short putt to break 80, it’s the least I could do to call it good — a gimme to spare us all the colorful language. They frown on that up there, you know.

Lynn Houser covered sports for the H-T from 1984-2012. He is now retired and living in Florida.

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