The No. 1 Cal men’s team took a detour on its way to Las Vegas this week. The Bears are playing the Fresno State Lexus Classic on Monday and Tuesday before play begins Friday at the Southern Highlands Collegiate Masters, one of the top events of the year.
There was an important reason for the team’s trip to Fresno. Fresno State head coach Mike Watney is retiring at season’s end, and Cal coach Steve Desimone wanted to be there to pay homage to Watney, a Golf Coaches Association of America Hall of Fame member.
Watney’s invitations to his event decades earlier helped Desimone gain visibility for his program as it was transitioning from a club team to an intercollegiate squad.
“When I think of Mike, I think of a guy who is a first-class gentleman,” Desimone said. “Mike invited us to the Classic a couple of times when we had no business playing in it. I can never say ‘thank you’ enough. It would have been easy for him to say, ‘You guys have to get better.’ Playing the Classic helped turn the program into what it is now.”
Watney played the PGA Tour in 1978 before becoming the men’s golf coach at his alma mater, Fresno State, in January 1979. He’s held that position ever since. He didn’t think coaching would become a life-long profession when he first took the job. He’s leaving after 35 years with a legacy as one of coaching’s good guys.
His legacy at Fresno State includes 29 All-Americans (including his nephew, Nick Watney, who arrived as an unheralded recruit and left as an All-American) and 16 appearances at the NCAA Championship.
“There’s other things I want to do while I’m fairly young and healthy,” the 62-year-old said. “I’ve been doing this a long time.”
On his to-do list: travel more in his RV with his wife, Paula, study the effect of aging on golfers, take his grandchildren fishing and to junior tournaments and see more of Nick’s tournaments.