A Tiger forever
Wednesday, May 6, 2009
A bucket hat on his head. A pair of binoculars hanging around his neck. A camera in his hand.
These were the trademarks of one of the most respected coaches in college golf for 36 years.
These were the trademarks of Mike Griffin, who earlier this week announced his retirement from coaching after 25 years at Auburn University and, before that, 11 at his alma mater, Troy State.
“I still had time on my contract, and it wasn’t like they (Auburn) were trying to push me out,” Griffin said. “This was my decision. You get to a certain point where you start thinking (about retirement), and I had given it a lot of thought. I talked with my wife Joyce, and we pretty much agreed this was a good time.”
The Tigers finished this season No. 62 in the Golfweek/Sagarin Rankings, but did not earn an at-large invitation to the NCAA regionals. The Tigers had a 54-79-1 record, falling short of the .500 won-loss mark required.
It’s the first time Auburn has not made the NCAA postseason since 1999 and only the third time since Griffin has been on the Plains.
Griffin still plans to be involved with the Auburn golf program, as director of golf.
“When I came here back in 1984, they wanted me to get a golf course, a practice facility, a team home built and to make the program competitive on a national level,” he said. “We’ve done just that.
“I feel I’ve been very fortunate and that our program here has been very successful over the long term,” said Griffin, a four-time Southeastern Conference coach of the year and a 2000 inductee into the Golf Coaches Association of America Hall of Fame. “We’ve won in conference, we’re won at regionals, we’ve had four SEC individual champions, a region champion and an NCAA champion (Chip Spratlin, 1995). The only tournament of note we haven’t won as a team was the national championship (best finish was seventh in 1994).”
Griffin said the hiring process for his replacement is in progress, but it won’t be completed until after the NCAA Championship, May 27-30 at Inverness Club in Toledo, Ohio.
You can bet he will be involved in the process and as director of golf will continue to have close ties with the program he so dearly loves.
“I feel like I’ve done something positive here and am leaving the program where someone can come in and pick up from this point,” he said.
But Griffin has done more than touch the lives of those involved with the Auburn – and Troy – programs. His easygoing, down-home personality has brought him friendships and admiration from all those who know him.
I’ve known Griff for close to 30 years, so I would rank myself near the top of that list.
When people ask me how long I’ve been covering college golf, I usually tell them 25 years, my time at Golfweek.
But it, in fact, began a few years earlier while Griffin was at Troy State and I was the sports editor at the Daily News in Fort Walton Beach, Fla.
Griffin and his good friend Butch Byrd, then head professional at Eglin AFB Golf Club in Niceville, Fla., decided to stage a tournament – the Panhandle Intercollegiate – at the Air Force course.
Byrd invited me to the first organizational meeting, and I was introduced to Griffin. At the time, I didn’t even know golf was an intercollegiate sport.
During the early stages of this meeting, Byrd said something about the tournament needing someone to handle media relations.
Without a blink of an eye and even though we had known each other for less than an hour, Griffin looked at me, and with his classic smile said, “Ron’s in the media, so he’s in charge of this area (or something very similar).”
And that was the start of a long and lasting friendship and a mutual respect for each other. For the next three years, before I left for Golfweek and Griffin left for Auburn, I covered the tournament.
It was the beginning for what now has become one of my true passions in the game: college competition.
I am going to miss seeing that figure with the bucket hat, binoculars and camera, roaming around during college tournaments.
No, he never had an Auburn team win a national championship (although he twice won NCAA Division II crowns at Troy State), but when it comes to the game of college golf, Mike Griffin is a champion.