Friday, June 3, 2011

Wally Goodwin to retire after 67 years in coaching

Editor's Note --- Wally Goodwin coached Stanford for 23 years winning the national championship in 1994.  He recruited and coached Tiger Woods, Casey Martin, Notah Begay, head coach Conrad Ray, Joel Kribel among many other stars from Stanford proud golfing tradition.  A 5-part video interview of Wally produced by Stanford men's golf can be found at  

The following Article by Tom Milstead in the Buffalo Bulletin, June 1, 2011 ---

Wally Goodwin’s life has been about new beginnings.

The 2010 Wyoming Sports Hall of Fame inductee coached golf and basketball at eight schools during his career, which began in 1960. At every school he went to he was tasked with either building or rebuilding a program. He specialized in wiping the dust off of tarnished championship banners and building programs into national powers. Now, after 47 years of creating and resurrecting, Goodwin has decided to rest.

He has left behind the whirlwind lifestyle of a college coach, the constant recruiting and fundraising, and retired to a small house on the former Rafter Y Dude Ranch in Story, a property his family owned since 1921 until his son, Putter, sold it earlier this year.

“When I think back about my life in athletics, I don’t think any other coach has ever had the same kind of life that I had,” he said. “Everything turned out good. There was always an excitement to go to the next place.”

That excitement to see the next place fueled Goodwin throughout his career. After playing on the PGA tour in 1959, Goodwin began coaching basketball at a high school in Colorado. After a stint at a prep school in Ohio and a spell as the athletic director at Robert Louis Stevenson School in California, he became an assistant basketball coach at Stetson University in Florida. His time at Stetson was his first brush with major college athletics. While there, he coached against Larry Bird’s Indiana State teams as well as other major programs like Ohio State and Michigan. He coached at Stetson for three years, but in 1981 he got the call that would shape the rest of his career.

“A dear friend of mine became the director of athletics at Northwestern and he called me up the next day to see if I’d come out there and start their golf program,” Goodwin said. “I said ‘yeah, I’ll give it a shot.’”

The decision to coach golf turned out to be one of the most important of his career. Goodwin’s impact at Northwestern was immediate. After starting from scratch, Goodwin recruited Jim Benepe from Sheridan and made him into an all-American. The future PGA Rookie of the Year was Goodwin's first important recruit, but he certainly wouldn’t be his last.

“We started from scratch and had some all-Americans,” Goodwin said. “We had some good teams.

“Then Stanford called up.”

It was at Stanford that Goodwin would make his name. He turned a once-proud program that had fallen on hard times into a national powerhouse during his 13-year stint. He recruited the best players in the country to play for the Cardinal, including players that are now household names.

He brought in players like Notah Begay, an eventual PGA tour mainstay, Casey Martin, who famously sued the PGA in order to use a golf cart during tour events because his right leg was crippled at birth, and Tiger Woods. Goodwin constructed a diverse unit at Stanford, and he made history.

Goodwin was named the national coach of the year in 1992 and 1994. In 1994, the year before Woods came to Stanford, Goodwin led the Cardinal to the NCAA Division I men’s golf championship. His team defeated Texas on their home course to claim Stanford’s first championship since 1953.

“That would be the peak of it,” Goodwin said. “It was a thrilling thing to have happen. I was so proud of the guys. This is Texas. We were in their territory. All of their fans were there.

“The alumni and boosters at Stanford had signs up all over my office and everything. It was a great time for the university.”

In 1995, Woods joined the team. Goodwin had first heard of Tiger when Woods was 13. After seeing him in Sports Illustrated’s Faces in the Crowd feature, Goodwin wrote Woods a letter that planted Stanford in the young man’s head. Years later, when Tiger was a senior in high school, he remembered it.

“I looked at this kid and I thought ‘what a smile,’” Goodwin said of his first impression of Tiger. “This kid is different. There was something different there. So I wrote him a letter. It has become a really famous letter.  It was to just let him know who I was, and if he was interested in going to Stanford to write me a note and let me know and I’d follow him and see where it goes. He writes back this letter. It’s a perfect letter. I mean perfect. His handwriting was great. He had capitals, punctuation; every sentence had a verb in it. It was great.”

Goodwin recalled having pizza with Woods when the young golfer informed him of his decision to attend Standford.

“He said ‘hey coach, I’ve got something to show you.’ He reaches under his chair and he pulls out a Nevada-Las Vegas golf hat and puts it on,” Goodwin said. “I said ‘hey you little twerp.’ You wouldn’t have asked me to come down here if you were going to go to Vegas. I can’t understand why you’d want to go there anyway. You wouldn’t have me down for dinner for that, you’d have your father call me on the phone. He said ‘relax, coach.’ Then he reaches down and pulls out an Arizona State golf hat. I said ‘Tiger, if that’s as close as you’ve come to making up your mind I’ve got to go. I have to get back to Stanford.’ He stopped me and put on a Stanford hat and said ‘coach, I’m with you.’”

Goodwin said having Woods at Stanford brought an incredible amount of interest to the team. Before Tiger, Stanford golf tournaments were nearly deserted.

“Before he came, the spectators there would six or seven sets of parent and two or three girlfriends that come with puppy dogs. That was it,” Goodwin said. “Tiger comes to college and there are hundreds of people. It was totally out of control.”

 The team would go on to finish second in 1995 after losing a playoff with Oklahoma State. Woods went on to win the 1996 individual championship before going pro the year after.

Despite all of Tiger’s success, Goodwin doesn’t talk about him any differently than he does any of his former players. One of the players he most admired was Martin, who Goodwin defended against PGA legend and Stanford alum Tom Watson, who spoke out against Martin during his trial against the PGA.

“Here is a crippled guy that, since birth, has done the maximum he could do with his body,” Goodwin said. “He played on the tour, which was his lifelong dream. I remember going through the trial because that case went clear to the top. I was down in Tucson at the time and the judge in the trial made arrangements to talk to me on the phone.

“There will never be another one. I told Tom Watson, ‘hey, what if he was your son?’ He didn’t have an answer and he had a different attitude about the whole thing.”

Martin, who is now the head coach at the University of Oregon, said he enjoyed playing for Goodwin, but the relationship between coach and player was the real highlight of playing for Wally at Stanford.

“I think relationships are the most important thing,” Martin said. “I think those relationships you forge in golf are going to last. A trophy gets kind of dusty. I think this is probably his life lesson: that relational victories are probably better than victories on the golf course.

“I think he showed that you could be really competitive and really good but you don’t have to be a jerk to do it. He showed that you could be a kind person and still be successful, and that has always stuck with me because Wally was secretly very competitive. He cared for other people and he put up other people first a lot.”

At his ranch in Story, Goodwin’s office isn’t filled with trophies. He admits winning tournaments was fun, but like Martin, his real treasures are the relationships he formed during his years in golf. According to Goodwin, he wants his legacy to be athletes who followed him into coaching instead of players who became professionals.

“I’ve got three guys that played for me that are now college coaches. That shows you not necessarily what kind of players they were, but what kind of guys they are. They’re entrusted with the lives of all the kids that play for them and they’re all doing a great job.”

Goodwin retired from Stanford in 2000. It was his first try at living on his family’s ranch and it didn’t take long for Goodwin to realize he had a few more years left on the course. He served as the head coach for Northern Colorado from 2003 to 2007 before finally settling down to a simpler life in Story.

“There was something definitely missing in my life. I was bored here in the wintertime. The minute it came up I knew it was the thing to do. I was so busy down there I was going out of my mind.”

Goodwin maintains that this time, he has found whatever he was missing and that his retirement is final. Martin, on the other hand, isn’t sure Goodwin can handle being 100 percent retired.

“I don’t think so,” Martin said. “I think he’ll have to get out and do something. I don’t see him as sitting in a ranch and whiling away the hours. I think he’ll want to be involved, maybe not coaching, but be involved in some capacity around college sports. I know he loves sports. We really hit if off because we talked basketball and football all the time. I think he probably wants to be around that to some degree. Probably in the summer time he’ll be up there and I guess in the winter time he’ll sneak down to Stanford or somewhere to be closer to the action.”

But Goodwin doesn’t see coaching golf in his horizon. He said that what he wants to go fishing, maybe play a few rounds at the Buffalo Golf Club and watch the Colorado Rockies play at night. This time, he says he is really done.

“I’ve built memories, I’ve built satisfaction and a little bit of money,” he said. “I’m sure there are going to be days when I get a little bit restless and there are going to be days when I have a hell of a time. I think I’m prepared to go into both of those kinds of days. Nancy and I have a great life together. We don’t have any questions about our lives or how they’re going. Our lives just go. I think we’re both content.”

Story by Tom Milstead,


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