Mike McGraw, the head coach at Oklahoma State, had one question for Derek Freeman when McGraw first saw the UCLA coach wearing a beaded bracelet.
“What has happened to you?” McGraw joked. “You were a perfectly good, solid Oklahoma kid, and then you went out to California and started wearing beads.”
McGraw knew Freeman well before he headed west five years ago. They worked together 22 years ago to form an Oklahoma high-school golf powerhouse.
This week, they’ll be competing for a national title. Oklahoma State and UCLA are the top two seeds at the NCAA Championship, which begins today at Karsten Creek in Stillwater, Okla.
McGraw was the assistant golf coach at Edmond Memorial High School while Freeman was a student there. The Bulldogs won the state title by 36 shots in 1989; Freeman, a senior, finished fifth individually. Five players from that team went on to play Division I golf.
What do McGraw and Freeman remember most about their time together nearly two dozen years ago?
“I made nothing,” said McGraw, who was 29 when Edmond Memorial won the ’89 state title. “I was driving an Oldsmobile Cutlass Cruiser station wagon. I lived in a one-room efficiency apartment with no furniture. Sometimes I had a TV. Sometimes I didn’t. I had nothing, but I didn’t care. All I cared about was playing golf and coaching golf.”
Adds Freeman, “We always used to give him a hard time because he never dated then. He never had a girlfriend. All he ever did was coach high school golf, so we gave him a hard time about that.”
Freeman was an underweight overachiever who went to play for Oklahoma. When Sooners coach Gregg Grost was recruiting Freeman, McGraw recalls telling Grost, “I don’t know if he can play for you, but I do know this – he’s going to work hard and he’s going to overachieve.”
Freeman went on to help Oklahoma win the 1992 Big Eight Conference Championship.
McGraw, an All-American during his senior year at Central Oklahoma, was Edmond Memorial’s assistant coach by title, but highly involved in the team’s operations, Freeman said. McGraw had the team in the weight room well before that became a common practice among golfers. He organized 7 a.m. putting practice before classes.
“He’s a very positive influence on young men,” Freeman said. “He’s just one of those guys that you want to be around. He can be brutally honest with you, but he’ll tell you the truth about what he thinks.”
That includes his opinions on a piece of jewelry.