Archive for the ‘Golf’ Category

The First Tee

Friday, September 16th, 2016

It’s a safe bet that Jack Stephens didn’t think about golf when he was growing up in Prattsville during the Great Depression.

As people tried to scratch out a living from the red clay soil in the pine woods of Grant County, there wasn’t much time for golf.

Stephens died in July 2005 at age 81. One way his legacy lives on is through the First Tee program.

I remember well that spring day in 2001 when the guest list at the First Tee of Central Arkansas complex in south Little Rock — the former Rock Creek Golf Course — consisted of former President George H.W. Bush, Arnold Palmer, Byron Nelson and PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem.

They had come to Arkansas to honor Stephens for his $5 million contribution that helped start The First Tee program nationally. The goal was to get more children involved in the sport and teach them life lessons along the way.

The First Tee of Central Arkansas became a model program for the country.

Jack Stephens was among the most successful business figures in Arkansas during the 20th century, joining his older brother Witt in earning Stephens Inc. a spot among the nation’s largest investment banks.

Jack Stephens also became an icon in the world of golf even though he didn’t begin playing the sport seriously until he was 36.

Because of his many business connections, Stephens was invited to join the Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia in 1962. I had the honor of working with him closely for a year after I moved back to Arkansas from Washington, D.C., in late 1989. I learned that he wasn’t one for social events, small talk or society climbers. That’s why the story his son Warren told when Jack Stephens was inducted into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame in 2000 rang so true.

According to Warren, his father had walked out of a boring social gathering at Augusta. He was walking alone along the course when someone spoke to him. The man who spoke was sitting on the porch of a cabin overlooking the course. A conversation ensued. That conversation led to a friendship between Jack Stephens and the founder of the Augusta National Golf Club, Bobby Jones.

In 1975, Stephens became a member of the executive committee at Augusta.

In 1991, he became only the fourth chairman in the history of the club. He served in that role until 1998.

After turning over the duties of chairman to Hootie Johnson, Stephens was named chairman emeritus.

Las Vegas-based writer Jack Sheehan said this about Jack Stephens: “Most golfers recognize Stephens as the soft-spoken gentleman with a buttery Southern drawl who presided over Butler Cabin ceremonies from 1992-98, including Tiger Woods’ historic 12-stroke win in 1997, the Nick Faldo-Greg Norman drama of ’96 and Ben Crenshaw’s emotional ‘win it for Harvey Penick’ triumph in 1995. One of the few structures allowed on the grounds at Augusta is the Stephens Cabin, a naming privilege that put Jack in company with Bobby Jones, Cliff Roberts and President Dwight Eisenhower.

“When Tiger shot 270 to win by 12 strokes, the word spread quickly that the members would try to Tiger-proof the course. Stephens didn’t seem in a particular rush. When someone asked what he’d do if Tiger were to shoot even lower scores in coming years, Jack replied, ‘I suppose we’ll anoint him.”’

At the time of the 2001 First Tee dedication ceremony in Little Rock, Byron Nelson was 89. The winner of an unprecedented 11 consecutive PGA tournaments in 1945, Nelson had lived a lot of golf history. Yet he didn’t hesitate to say on that day: “I don’t know anybody who has done for golf what Jack Stephens has.”

Warren Stephens said on the day of the dedication: “Anybody who has ever spent any time with my father knows that golf is important in Dad’s life. But to know that you also have to understand that he was somewhat a late arrival to the game. Unlike these young people who will enjoy the Jack Stephens Youth Golf Academy and the opportunities that will come with it, Dad didn’t start playing until he was 36 years old. He grew up in a time and a place where golf literally was unthinkable. But I think Dad would agree that golf is a great teacher of life. And that’s why Dad firmly believes in exposing young people early on to golf and to the lessons golf teaches.

“It has been said that golf mirrors the virtues that society desires — integrity, honor, respect, rules, discipline. I think all of those traits can be applied when I talk about my father. And I think all of those traits are what we’re exposing young people to when we get them interested in golf.”

When the First Tee of Central Arkansas celebrated its 10th anniversary in May 2011, former President George W. Bush was there. He serves as the honorary chairman of The First Tee, a role in which his father served when the program began in 1997.

First Tee has now reached more than 5 million children across the country.

George W. Bush took part in 2011 in the dedication of a garden area at the Little Rock complex to honor Warren Stephens and his wife Harriet for their continued support. Warren Stephens has hosted events at his internationally recognized Alotian Club west of Little Rock featuring Woods, Palmer, Crenshaw and Phil Mickelson among others. Proceeds from the events went to local charities, including The First Tee of Central Arkansas.

Finchem is the person who first approached Jack Stephens to talk about The First Tee.

“We initially went to Jack for advice on the startup,” Finchem said in an interview several years ago. “We weren’t asking for money. But Jack’s grant really got us started in a big way. … Jack Stephens was more important than any other individual in moving this program forward.”

Jack Stephens once told a reporter: “Golf is a great teacher in life. The skills needed to master this game are the same skills needed to master life, a life full of unseen obstacles and excitement.”

He also said this on a regular basis: “There are only two pleasures associated with money — making it and giving it away.”

His gift to The First Tee bears fruit each day just off South University Avenue in Little Rock.

Because of past Stephens family support, a number of Arkansans think that The First Tee of Central Arkansas doesn’t need their support. They think it’s only for rich kids. And they don’t realize they can play there as adults.

Here’s how writer Jim Harris put it in a column for Sporting Life Arkansas: “The game of golf at First Tee is not just about putting a little white ball into a little hole. I know how hard these people are working to make golf available to kids in families of all incomes. These folks not only teach golf, they pass along life lessons in the same way Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts do — developing citizens with strong character when they become adults.

“Partly because it was built so nicely by the Stephens’ largesse, some people have viewed First Tee as an elitist place for country club kids to play. And just the same, some of the well-to-do families have thought of First Tee as geared only to more impoverished families in the area. In truth, its charter directed the First Tee to focus first on impoverished families, minorities, children with disabilities, children of military families and girls. And it does that.

“To me, though, First Tee can be better described as a perfect place for the family, any family, no matter the financial status, where bonds between parent and child, or brother and sister, can be better formed. A full-size nine-hole course with easily some of the best holes anywhere in Arkansas offers a quick getaway from any age player at a ridiculously low greens fee. A nine-hole, par-three course presents a learning facility for the smallest of golfers as well as a superb practice area for the adult player to hone the short game.

“More than 2,000 children are participating in a range of First Tee offerings, from camps to daily classes. There’s still plenty of opportunity for golfers of all ages to play there. … It continues to be a secret to many of the city’s 25 to 85-year-old golfers.”

“The First Tee of Central Arkansas is a model for establishing public and private partnerships that contribute to the well-being of the community,” says Joe Louis Barrow Jr., the chief executive officer of The First Tee. “The First Tee is committed to being a force for good in this society, and our programs are proven to have a positive impact on young people. We’re proud of the tremendous growth of The First Tee of Central Arkansas.”

The program emphasizes nine core values — honesty, perseverance, integrity, sportsmanship, respect, confidence, judgment, responsibility and courtesy.

“Golf is just a way for us to teach young people skills that can be applied to their lives off the course,” says Laura Nix, the executive director of The First Tee of Central Arkansas. “Our goal is to teach children the nine core values that are inherent to the game of golf and then show them how to transfer those values to their everyday lives.”

The First Tee of Central Arkansas is trying to raise $150,000 to celebrate the fact that it has been around for 15 years now. For more information, go to or call (501) 562-4653.


Remembering the AIC

Friday, August 23rd, 2013

Look through the list of inductees into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame, and you will find dozens of people who either played or coached at schools that once were members of the Arkansas Intercollegiate Conference.

Want to hear some great sports stories?

Just attend a Hall of Fame event and get “the old AIC guys” talking.

It was a conference with quite a colorful history. For those of us who grew up with it, it’s hard to believe it has now been gone for more than 18 years.

What became the AIC was formed in 1928. The league disbanded in the spring of 1995. Most of the state’s four-year colleges and universities were members of the AIC at one time or another during its existence.

During most of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, the AIC consisted of five state schools and five private schools.

The state schools that were members of the conference were Arkansas Tech University at Russellville, the University of Central Arkansas at Conway, the University of Arkansas at Monticello, Henderson State University at Arkadelphia and Southern Arkansas University at Magnolia.

The private schools that were AIC members were the University of the Ozarks at Clarksville, Harding University at Searcy, Hendrix College at Conway, Ouachita Baptist University at Arkadelphia and Lyon College at Batesville.

Most of those schools had name changes during that period.

Lyon (Arkansas College at the time), Hendrix and Ozarks had dropped football by the mid-1960s but continued to compete in the AIC in other sports.

The AIC was affiliated nationally with the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, which was headquartered at Kansas City.

The University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff was a member of the AIC from 1970-72 and 1983-87.

By the early 1990s, many of the NAIA schools across the country that played football were moving to NCAA Division II. UCA, which at the time had a much larger enrollment than the other AIC members, decided to make the move to NCAA Division II beginning with the 1993-94 school year. Henderson’s board of trustees also voted to move in the fall of 1993 into NCAA Division II. UCA and Henderson joined the Gulf South Conference, which also had member institutions in Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia.

The defections of UCA and Henderson left the AIC with just five football-playing schools — UAM, SAU, Arkansas Tech, Ouachita and Harding.

UAM, SAU and Arkansas Tech were admitted to the Gulf South Conference beginning with the 1995-96 school year. The Gulf South refused to admit Ouachita and Harding, the only two private colleges playing football in Arkansas at the time. Ouachita and Harding wound up in the Lone Star Conference, which also had member institutions in Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico.

Harding and Ouachita were admitted to the Gulf South Conference beginning with the 2000-01 school year.

UCA, meanwhile, left the Gulf South Conference to move into NCAA Division I as enrollment continued to soar, becoming a Southland Conference member in 2006.

Beginning with the 2011-12 school year, six former AIC members — Henderson, UAM, SAU, Ouachita, Harding and Arkansas Tech — became charter members of the new NCAA Division II Great American Conference. Several former members of the Oklahoma Intercollegiate Conference also are affiliated with the Great American Conference, which is headquartered at Russellville.

The AIC was organized in 1928 as the Arkansas Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. What’s now Arkansas State University at Jonesboro and what’s now the University of Arkansas at Little Rock were among the original members.

The first champions of the conference in men’s sports were UCA in basketball in 1928, UCA in baseball in 1928, Hendrix in track and field in 1928, SAU in football in 1929, Ouachita in tennis in 1948, Henderson in golf in 1948, UCA in cross country in 1962, Arkansas Tech in bowling in 1963 and Hendrix in swimming and diving in 1964.

The AIC began sponsoring women’s sports during the 1983-84 school year. The first women’s champions that school year were Lyon in cross country, Arkansas Tech in volleyball, UCA in basketball, Hendrix in swimming and diving, Harding in softball, Lyon in track and field and UCA in tennis.

In 1957, the AIC began presenting the Cliff Shaw Scholar-Athlete Award. It was given annually for the remainder of the conference’s existence to the senior male athlete who posted the highest academic grade point average and earned at least two athletic letters in AIC-sponsored sports. The first recipient of the award was John Clem of Ouachita.

In 1984, the AIC began giving a similar award for female athletes known as the Downing-Swift-Wallace Award. The first recipient was Marci Crump of Harding.

The AIC began awarding an all-sports trophy in 1964. UCA won the award the first four years it was presented. SAU captured the all-sports trophy in five of the next seven years.

Cliff Shaw of Little Rock generally is regarded as the most important figure in conference history. He became the AIC commissioner in 1956, replacing Gen. H.L. McAlister of Conway. Shaw served as commissioner until 1971, when he was replaced by Charles Adcock of Little Rock.

The commissioner’s job was an unpaid, part-time position for Shaw, but he devoted many hours to the conference. His main job was with Coleman Dairy in Little Rock.

Shaw, who was born in 1908, was a four-sport letterman at Little Rock High School, earning 10 letters during his high school years. He signed a pro baseball contract with the Little Rock Travelers in 1927 as a shortstop.

In 1930, Shaw began officiating athletic events and later became one of the most respected football and basketball officials in the country. He officiated for 35 years in the Southwest Conference, the Big Eight and the Big Ten. He worked a number of football bowl games, including the Cotton Bowl and the Sugar Bowl. Shaw also officiated in the finals of the NCAA basketball tournament in 1953.

Shaw was inducted into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame in 1981 and the Arkansas Officials Association Hall of Fame in 1996. Under Shaw’s direction, the AIC became known for having the finest officiating corps of any small college conference in the country.

Adcock, who was Shaw’s successor, was replaced as commissioner by Leroy Nix Jr.

Nix, in turn, was replaced in 1978 by Sid Simpson. After just one year as commissioner, Simpson was replaced by Harry T. Hall, who served in the role until the conference disbanded.

Hall, a retired Army colonel, was a building supervisor for the Little Rock School District when he was named commissioner. He had spent two decades as a college basketball official and was age 46 when he was hired by the AIC in July 1979.

Hall, a Dyess native, had received both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Henderson and had played basketball for the Reddies.

The conference’s first recognized All-Americans were Raymond “Rabbit” Burnett of UCA in football in 1937, Ken Stephens of UCA in outdoor track in 1951, E.C. O’Neal of Arkansas Tech in basketball in 1954, Bill Tiner of UCA in baseball in 1960, Cliff Clark of Harding in cross country in 1965, Tom Bateman of Harding in indoor track in 1966, Charles Burt of Harding in bowling in 1967, Jim Saucedo and Mike Pelizza of Ouachita in tennis in 1967, John Bumpers of Hendrix in swimming in 1971 and Stan Lee of UCA in golf in 1972.

The first three AIC-connected individuals to be inducted into the national NAIA Hall of Fame were former coaches — Ivan Grove of Hendrix for football in 1957, John Tucker of Arkansas Tech for football in 1960 and Sam Hindsman of Arkansas Tech for basketball in 1965.

The first two former AIC athletes to go into the NAIA Hall of Fame were Eddie Meador of Arkansas Tech for football and E.C. O’Neal of Arkansas Tech for basketball in 1967.

The AIC is gone, but its imprint on the sports history of Arkansas is permanent.

Pat Summerall: A legendary voice is silenced

Wednesday, April 17th, 2013

For those of us who enjoy sports and are of a certain age, the voice was iconic.

That voice might have been silenced, but the man will always be remembered.

If you grew up loving professional football, you knew it was 6 p.m. on a fall Sunday and that the game was running late when you heard Pat Summerall say: “A reminder that ’60 Minutes’ will be seen in its entirety, followed by ‘Murder (dramatic pause) She Wrote.”’

Or the 18th green at Augusta: I can never watch the Masters without the voice of Summerall being a part of my memories of that event.

I can tell you this: Even though he didn’t grow up here or spend his career here, Summerall loved Arkansas. He cherished his Arkansas friends such as Jack Stephens, Buddy Sutton and Floyd Sagely.

It’s safe to say that few inductees into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame did as much for the organization through the years as Pat Summerall did.

Summerall, a 1971 inductee, lent his name for 11 years to the Pat Summerall Celebrity Golf Classic, which raised money for the Hall of Fame.

The greatest broadcast voice of the NFL, the Masters and the U.S. Open in tennis died Tuesday in Dallas at age 82.

Summerall was a Florida native, but Arkansans long have considered him one of their own because he was a University of Arkansas Razorback football player in college.

He was born in May 1930 at Lake City, Fla., where he starred in basketball, football, baseball and tennis in high school. Summerall later would say that basketball was his favorite sport as a high school athlete (he was an all-state selection in both football and basketball), but he was recruited to play football at the University of Arkansas.

Summerall was a defensive end, tight end and placekicker for the Razorbacks from 1949-51.

The Detroit Lions drafted Summerall in the fourth round of the 1952 NFL draft. He started the first two games of the 1952 season at defensive end as a rookie. His arm was badly broken on the final play of the second game of the regular season while playing the Rams in Los Angeles. The break was so bad that Summerall had to stay in Los Angeles and have surgery. He missed the remainder of the season, and the scar from the surgery was still visible six decades later.

Summerall came back in 1953 and played as a defensive end for the Lions in preseason games. He also kicked off. He was traded to the Cardinals just before the regular season began. The Lions went on to capture the NFL title the next two years while the Cardinals struggled.

“I don’t think he ever forgave the Lions,” one of his friends told me.

Summerall was with the Cardinals from 1953-57.

Summerall ended his career with the New York Giants from 1958-61. During the 1959 season, he was 30 for 30 on extra point attempts and 20 of 29 on field goal attempts.

Collectors of Sports Illustrated are familiar with the classic photo from December 1958 of a Summerall field goal kick sailing through the snow at Yankee Stadium for a 13-10 Giants victory over the Cleveland Browns on the final day of the regular season.

The Giants had to win to force a tiebreaker playoff game. The Browns needed only a tie to clinch the Eastern championship. With the score tied 10-10 and time running out, Summerall was sent in to try a 49-yard field goal in the swirling wind. He had missed a 31-yard attempt several minutes earlier. The 49-yard kick was good.

Summerall scored five points — a field goal and two extra points — in what’s sometimes called The Greatest Game Ever Played, the Giants’ 23-17 loss to the Baltimore Colts on Dec. 28, 1958, at Yankee Stadium for the NFL championship. It was the first NFL playoff game to go into sudden death overtime.

The game marked the start of the NFL’s surge in popularity as a large audience watched while Chris Schenkel and Chuck Thompson called the contest on NBC.

The final game of Summerall’s professional playing career was the 1961 NFL championship game as the Giants were defeated by the Green Bay Packers.

After his playing career ended, Summerall began work as a broadcaster. He would go on to become one of the signature voices of sports broadcasting in America.

Summerall spent 32 years working for CBS Sports, serving as the voice not only for the network’s NFL telecasts but also for its coverage of the U.S. Open in tennis and the Masters in golf. He even called the play by play for professional basketball games and five heavyweight championship fights.

Summerall was an iron man in the early days of his broadcasting career, serving as the sports director for WCBS-AM in New York from 1964-71 while hosting the station’s four-hour morning news program. At the same time, he worked for the CBS Radio Network.

The 1994 Masters was Summerall’s final television event for CBS before moving to Fox. John Madden, who had begun working NFL games with Summerall in 1981, moved to Fox with him.

In 1999, Summerall was inducted into the American Sportscasters Association Hall of Fame, joining broadcasters such as Mel Allen, Red Barber, Jack Brickhouse, Jack Buck, Harry Caray, Howard Cosell, Ernie Harwell and Chick Hearn.

During most of the 1970s, Summerall had teamed with Tom Brookshier on NFL broadcasts. They worked Super Bowls X, XII and XIV together. The pairing with Madden that began in 1981 would last 22 seasons. The pair worked eight Super Bowls.

Summerall and Madden’s last game as a team was Super Bowl XXXVI. Following the game, Summerall announced his retirement, and ABC signed Madden to work with Al Michaels on Monday night games.

Fox, however, talked Summerall into working on regional telecasts in 2002 and 2006.

The Dallas-area resident also broadcast the Cotton Bowl for Fox from 2007-10. His voice was still heard on the opening of Masters’ coverage for many years after he left CBS.

In April 1992, it was announced that Summerall had taken a leave from CBS to seek treatment for alcoholism at the Betty Ford Center in California. Summerall, who remained sober for many years, was outspoken about his battle and served as an inspiration for thousands of Americans in his final years of life.

Richard Sandomir wrote in a 1992 New York Times story: “In late 1990, Summerall was hospitalized with a bleeding ulcer that was aggravated by a toxic combination of painkillers and alcohol. He vowed to give up the drinking that had become part of his life.

“‘I had not had a drink for seven months after the hospital,’ he said. ‘Then I said I’m fine.’ He resumed drinking, but it was no longer fun. From his days as a football player to his career in sportscasting, he loved being the last guy at the bar, telling the best stories, having the grandest time. Now, at the age of 62, he had to hide the drinking and deny the problem.”

In 1994, Summerall was instrumental in convincing Mickey Mantle to enter the Betty Ford Center.

“I was the friend who intervened,” Summerall said at the time. “We’ve had a number of long, tearful talks. There were a lot of similarities between us. If I hadn’t been there and hadn’t told him how familiar I was with the center, he wouldn’t have gone.”

In 1997, Summerall visited professional golfer John Daly during Daly’s stay at the Betty Ford Center.

“Originally, their bond was having been Razorbacks at the University of Arkansas, even though they were some 30 years apart,” Dave Anderson wrote in The New York Times. “Now they have developed another bond from going to another institution, five years apart.”

“I just happened to be in Palm Springs for the Betty Ford golf tournament,” Summerall told the newspaper. “I got a call from the center that John was there and would I come over to talk to him. I spent an hour with John. I told him I was encouraged he had done it on his own time and he agreed with me; when he went to a Tucson center in 1993, the PGA Tour had ordered him to go.”

In 2002, Summerall received the NFL’s coveted George Halas Award for lifetime achievement.

Summerall underwent a liver transplant in 2004. After recovering from that, he kept a busy speaking schedule and even released a book in 2006.

He told the Christian Broadcasting Network, “It’s entirely different waking up in the morning and praying. I read aloud six or seven different devotional books. … It’s a terrific difference, a tremendous difference.”

Pat Summerall will always be remembered as one of the great broadcasters in American history.

In this state, he also will be remembered as a former Razorback and as one of the best friends the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame ever had.

Wyn Norwood: Hall of Famer

Thursday, February 14th, 2013

This is the sixth in a series of profiles of the 2013 inductees into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame.

It wasn’t Wyn Norwood’s goal to be a great golfer. He just couldn’t say no to his friends at Russellville High School.

“I had first played golf with an uncle in Marianna who tried to teach me the game,” Norwood says. “But I didn’t play much, and I wasn’t very good. There were three guys in high school who wanted to play in the district tournament, but you had to field four players in order to enter.

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They talked me into playing with them. Luckily, they only took the top three scores from each team back in those days. The district tournament was at the Conway Country Club, and I shot about 120. We made the state tournament at the War Memorial golf course in Little Rock, and I had to play again. I think I shot about 120 again, but they suckered me into playing the next year.”

From that humble beginning, Norwood would go on to become a legend in the world of Arkansas amateur golf.

Norwood was a two-time Arkansas Intercollegiate Conference golf champion while playing at Arkansas Tech University in Russellville. He went on to win two state amateur titles and participate in 14 national amateur championships.

Norwood worked at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock from 1992 until his retirement at the end of the 2012 school year. UALR had dropped its men’s golf program in the 1980s and had never had a women’s program prior to the 1992-93 season. Norwood revived the men’s program and started the women’s program. He spent his first 13 years at UALR as the head coach of both teams. He was named the Sun Belt Conference Coach of the Year for both men’s and women’s golf in 1994. Those were the first of five such awards he would earn.

On the evening of Friday, March 8, Norwood will be a part of the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame Class of 2013. He’s being inducted in the golf category, but Norwood was a star athlete in multiple sports while growing up in Russellville.

“Whatever sport was in season, that’s what I played,” he says.

He graduated from high school in 1963 and stayed in Russellville to attend Arkansas Tech University on a football scholarship. He was a wide receiver and defensive back. Norwood was an outstanding football player, though he’s known for his self-deprecating style.

Norwood says: “Coach Don Dempsey used to say, ‘Norwood is the most deceptive athlete I’ve ever seen. He’s much slower than he looks.'”

Norwood had a revelation following his freshman football season at Tech.

“We were lifting weights, wrestling and boxing as part of the football offseason program,” he says. “I looked around, and it was just a bunch of linemen and me. I asked where all the other receivers, defensive backs and running backs were. I was told that they were playing baseball or on the track team in order to get out of football offseason.”

Norwood decided to join the Wonder Boy golf team during the spring of his sophomore year.

The golf coach at Tech was none other than the legendary John Tucker, the “original Wonder Boy” who was inducted into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame in 1962. Tucker was born in Russellville in 1901 and played all sports at Tech. He later played football at the University of Alabama. As the head football coach at Arkansas Tech, Tucker compiled an amazing record of 74-17-11 from 1933-47.

“My main sport was football, but I was determined to get better at golf,” Norwood says. “When I first started, I was back practicing when everybody else was playing. That’s because I was so far behind.”

It didn’t take the gifted athlete long to catch up. In fact, he was the AIC golf champion as both a sophomore and a junior. For Norwood, Tucker was more than just a coach.

“He was an uncle by marriage,” Norwood says of Tucker, who died in 1983 at age 81. “His first wife, who died young, was my dad’s sister. Coach Tucker had no children, so he had always kept an eye on me when I was growing up in Russellville.”

Norwood’s father had died when Norwood was just seven, and his mother had multiple sclerosis.

“There were a lot of people in that town who took care of me,” Norwood says.

Norwood didn’t play golf his senior year. Instead, he joined the Navy once football season ended.

“I had a roommate who was obsessed with being a Navy pilot, and he talked me into going to see a recruiter with him,” Norwood says. “I basically went to keep him company. I was accepted into flight school, though, and decided it was a pretty good deal. I spent the summers after my sophomore and junior seasons at an officers’ school in Pensacola, so I went into the Navy as an officer.”

Norwood was a pilot for A-4 fighter aircraft and spent more than five years in the Navy. He was stationed in a succession of warm-weather locations — Pensacola; Meridian, Miss.; Kingsville, Texas; Jacksonville, Fla.; and San Diego — and found himself playing a great deal of golf on his days off. He honed his game and was named to the All-Navy and All-Service teams.

After leaving the Navy, Norwood was hired by Raymond Bright (a 2012 inductee into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame) as an assistant football coach at the University of Central Arkansas in Conway. Before the next football season could start, Bright resigned. His replacement as head football coach was Ken Stephens, who decided to leave Norwood on the staff.

Norwood coached for three football seasons at UCA — 1972-74. During his first spring at the school, Cliff Horton (a 2011 inductee into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame) was the golf coach. Norwood served as the UCA golf coach the next two years.

Norwood left UCA to go into the insurance business, a profession he stayed in until being hired at UALR. His career as an amateur golfer took off during those years. He won the state amateur championship twice and was the Arkansas captain for 13 Mid-South Cup matches.

Norwood has been president of the Arkansas State Golf Association, the Mid-South Golf Association and the Southern Golf Association. He was the captain of the 1995 team in the Simon Bolivar Cup in South America and was the coach of the U.S. men’s golf team at the 2011 World University Games in China.

At UALR, Norwood coached 19 men and 23 women who earned All-Sun Belt Conference honors, including Sun Belt individual champions Daniel Fox in 1999, Maria Jose Hurtado in 2000 and Patrick Sullivan in 2005. He guided UALR teams to four conference championships. Norwood was inducted into the Arkansas Golf Hall of Fame in 2001.

Kim Backus, the Arkansas representative for Nike Golf, first met Norwood at a golf tournament in 1975.

“Wyn and I met through golf, but his love of all sports has kept our friendship strong,” Backus says. “We’ve attended everything from grade school to middle school to high school games together. He’s a guy who appreciates and supports all of the sports teams in this state.”

Jay Fox, the executive director of the Arkansas State Golf Association, says he can think of few people in the country who have made as big a contribution to amateur golf as Norwood.

“He has been involved with the board at ASGA since 1975,” Fox says. “He has been involved with the Southern Golf Association since 1980. He has traveled all over the world on behalf of amateur golf. As a golfer, he was without a doubt the best chipper I ever saw back when he was in his prime. You could put him in the bottom of a trash can, and he would find a way to get up and down. The Arkansas golfers who were my idols growing up were Stan Lee and Wyn Norwood.

“Just think of the thousands of people he has influenced through the years. Heck, I would not have been in this job for the past 22 years if it weren’t for Wyn Norwood. I was working in his insurance agency. He encouraged me to be active in the ASGA, and he later encouraged me when I applied for his job. All of us involved in golf in this state are better because of the things Wyn has done.”

For his part, Norwood says: “Winning tournaments as a golfer was fun, but the real joy was seeing the young men and women I coached grow up and succeed in life. I have friends all over this country because of sports. I’m blessed.”

Stacy Lewis: Hall of Famer

Friday, January 25th, 2013

This is the first in a series of profiles of the 2013 inductees into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame:

For those who follow women’s professional golf closely, it wasn’t a surprise in December when former University of Arkansas golfer Stacy Lewis was named the 2012 Player of the Year by the Golf Writers Association of America.

Lewis is the best story in women’s golf right now, having become the first American since Beth Daniel in 1994 to be the Rolex Player of the Year and the first American since Juli Inkster in 1999 to be the Golf Writers Association of America Player of the Year.

Lewis is only 27 and already her list of accomplishments is long.

She won 12 tournaments in college while putting the Arkansas women’s golf program on the map. She was the 2007 NCAA champion and the top amateur player in the country for more than two years before turning pro. Her story is even more interesting because of what she has overcome physically. She was only age 11 when she was diagnosed with scoliosis. Lewis wore a back brace for more than seven years and had a spinal fusion when she was in high school.

On the evening of Friday, March 8, Lewis will become one of the youngest inductees in the history of the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame.

Lewis grew up at The Woodlands in Texas, a wealthy suburb of Houston. She was a four-time all-district selection and an all-state selection as she led her team to three consecutive state titles. Her best round in high school — a two-under 65 — came in November 2001. She had a pair of 69s and two 70s as a high school senior. Due to her surgery, Lewis redshirted the 2003-04 freshman season at Arkansas.

Her career then took off:

— As a redshirt freshman in 2004-05, Lewis posted five finishes in the top five, including three wins in 10 tournaments. She captured the 2005 Southeastern Conference individual title with a school- and course-record 67 on the final day. Her three-day total of 214 was also a school record. Lewis earned SEC Freshman of the Year honors and made the All-SEC first team. She also became the first women’s golfer in school history to earn All-America honors. She finished the year ranked fourth in the SEC and 15th in the country for stroke average.

— As a sophomore in 2005-06, Lewis finished ninth at the NCAA championship and earned All-America honors for a second consecutive year. She posted a course-record 66 in her final round at the NCAA championship with five consecutive birdies on holes 12-16. She was again on the All-SEC first team and had five top 10 finishes during the season.

— As a junior in 2006-07, Lewis won the NCAA title with a final-round 66 to finish six under par at Daytona Beach, Fla. Back problems had kept Lewis out of the SEC championship. She finished tied for third at the NCAA Central Championship and then struck gold in Florida. Lewis earned her third consecutive All-America honor, won the Dinah Shore Trophy and made ESPN’s Academic All-America team.

— As a senior in 2007-08, Lewis earned All-America and All-SEC honors for a fourth consecutive season. She won the SEC title for a second time and was named both the SEC Golfer of the Year and the SEC Golf Scholar-Athlete of the Year. During the regular season, she won three consecutive events. Lewis tied for eighth at the NCAA championship.

Lewis also stayed busy on the amateur circuit each summer. After winning the NCAA championship her junior year, she won the 92nd women’s Southern Amateur title. She was the 2007 Golf Digest Amateur of the Year, winning the LPGA Northwest Arkansas championship as an amateur in September of that year.

Lewis graduated from Arkansas in 2008 with a bachelor’s degree in finance and accounting. As a member of the U.S. Curtis Cup team that year, she became the first player to go 5-0 in the 76-year history of the event. The competition on the Old Course at St. Andrew’s in Scotland was her last as an amateur as the United States posted a sixth consecutive Curtis Cup victory over Great Britain and Ireland.

Lewis competed in seven events on the LPGA Tour in 2008 and had two finishes in the top 10, earning more than $247,000 in the process.

Her first professional victory came at the 2011 Kraft Nabisco Championship as she held off the then-No. 1 player in the world, Yani Tseng, down the stretch to win by three strokes.

Lewis won four tournaments last year — the Mobile Bay LPGA Classic in April, the ShopRite LPGA Classic in June, the Navistar LPGA Classic in September and the Mizuno Classic in November.

“What she has overcome physically has been amazing, yet she’s the first to say it all seems a bit distant now,” writes ESPN’s Mechelle Voepel. “She’s still a spokeswoman and fundraiser for scoliosis, but it’s not just her past that makes her an especially compelling sports story. Rather, it’s her present and future.”

Lewis tells ESPN: “People play their best golf at different ages. For me, I know I haven’t played my best golf yet. That’s what excites me about the next few years and makes me want to work even harder. Our tour in general has needed American players to step up. The only thing I could do was just play better golf and move up the rankings and get that exposure.”

Foreign players had dominated the LPGA Tour the previous few years. From 1995 through 2011, player-of-the-year awards went to Annika Sorenstam of Sweden eight times, Lorena Ochoa of Mexico four times, Yani Tseng of Taiwan twice, Karrie Webb of Australia twice and Laura Davies of England once. Shanshan Feng won the LPGA Championship last June to become the first LPGA Tour winner from mainland China.

Lewis earned more than $1.8 million last year while seeking advice from LPGA legends such as Daniel, Betsy King and Nancy Lopez.

“I’ve gotten to know them pretty well, and they’ve helped me a lot,” Lewis tells ESPN. “Especially this year on what they say about managing my schedule, how much I’m playing, traveling and doing extra events. It usually ends up with me going back to them and saying, ‘You were right.’ They often tell me I’m too busy and doing too much.

“And Beth has been great about telling me about handling the player of the year and the pressure that goes with that. It has just been really nice to have them to fall back on and talk to somebody who has been through what I’m doing.”

In more ways than one, Lewis is becoming the face of the LPGA.

“It’s easy to look at three of the four new sponsors on the LPGA’s 2013 schedule and draw a direct line to Lewis, last year’s Rolex Player of the Year,” a recent story at noted. “Marathon takes over this year as title sponsor of a Toledo, Ohio, event that was known for decades as the Jamie Farr. In addition to Marathon, Pure Silk — another company that sponsors Lewis — will title sponsor a new event in the Bahamas. There will also be a new tournament held in Lewis’ home state of Texas.”

The story described Lewis as “an American star who can rally fans and sway corporate sponsors to back domestic events.”

It said that Lewis’ “elevated status means she’ll be in demand each week on tour. She often has said that her main goal is to leave the tour better than she found it.”

When asked if this year’s new sponsorships could be tied in part to Lewis’ success, LPGA commissioner Mike Whan gave a frank answer: “If you didn’t, it wouldn’t be fair to her.”