Former BYU coach Karl Tucker dies at 83

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After reading the sad news Saturday morning about Karl Tucker, I asked my wife, Debbie, if she remembered the former Brigham Young men’s golf coach.

“Oh, yes,” she quickly replied. “I remember him very well.”

I informed her of his passing, and without hesitation, she spoke of what she remembered most.

“What a wonderful gentleman,” she said.

That immediately hit home. As I’m sure is the case for so many others, my initial thoughts are of Karl Tucker as a successful golf coach and one of the pioneers of modern-day college golf. But as soon as the words came out of my wife’s mouth, I realized how true they were. Above all else, Karl Tucker was a true gentleman.

Tucker, 83, died Friday afternoon at his home in Orem, Utah, with his wife, Joann, and his children by his side. The hall of fame coach who built BYU’s golf program into a national power had battled complications stemming from congestive heart failure for the past year.

Along with the likes of Jesse Haddock (Wake Forest), the late Stan Wood (USC), Dave Williams (Houston) and Conrad Rehling (Florida/Alabama), I consider Tucker as one of the founding fathers of modern-day college golf. He was a friend to everyone and an inspiration not only to his own players, but to all players and fellow coaches.

I first met Tucker in 1984 and, probably like just about everybody else, we formed a friendship immediately. That’s just the kind of man he was.

After he retired and ended his legendary coaching career in 1993, I didn’t stay very close (my fault), although I would often ask current BYU coach Bruce Brockbank to give me an update on how he was doing. It always was a good and positive report, and always included how he continued to remain very active, especially skiing the Utah slopes when the snow was right.

A few years ago, I covered BYU’s Cougar Classic tournament. It had been at least 10 years since I had last seen or talked with Tucker. He walked up to me on the patio at the Riverside Country Club clubhouse and it was like we had just had dinner the week before.

We sat there for hours, catching up, telling old stories and just simply enjoying each other’s friendship – just as we did in the late 1980s and early ’90s. He was as sharp as ever and full of smiles and laughs. It’s a day I will always remember fondly. 

Tucker was an inspiration to all he came into contact with. He certainly had an impact on my life, and I know I’m not the Lone Ranger in this respect.

“It was a privilege for me to play for Coach Tucker and later work for him as an assistant coach,” said Brockbank, who became BYU’s head coach when Tucker retired. “He was not only a mentor, but a very good friend and will truly be missed by so many.

“No matter where I would travel, people would ask me about how he was doing. And I mean a lot of people. He knew everyone and they all loved and cared about him. He was amazing because he always seemed to remember everyone’s name, no matter how long it had been since he had last seen them.

“I know he had a tremendous impact on my life and I know it was the same with a lot of other people. He was one of those very special men that makes a lasting impression on you.”

Long-time USGA rules official Clyde Luther echoes those sentiments.

“I knew Karl quite well,” said Luther, who serves as the head rules official at the NCAA Division I Championship, among many other tournaments. “What I remember most is how tremendously good he was with the kids. He was really one of them and they respected him so much.”

Tucker graduated from BYU in 1952 where he was an outstanding baseball player. In 1961, the school signed him on to build a golf program and he quickly did just that, recruiting some very high profile players and turning the Cougars into a national power.

In his 31-year Cougar coaching career, his teams won 19 Western Athletic Conference titles, 170 team championships and 117 match-play victories. Tucker's teams had 12 top-5 finishes at the NCAA Championship including a win in 1981, the first outright NCAA title for any sport in Cougar history.

Tucker coached 14 WAC Players of the Year and 13 individual WAC champions. He also produced 69 All-Americans – nine of whom were first-team honorees – including Bobby Clampett, who in 1979 and ’80 won the Fred Haskins Award as college golf’s player of the year.

Among the many who played collegiate golf under Tucker’s guidance are Johnny Miller, Mike Reid, Keith Clearwater, Pat McGowan, John Fought and Mike Weir.

Tucker was named WAC Coach of the Year 13 times, and in 1981 was selected as national coach of the year by the Golf Coaches Association of America. He was inducted into the GCAA Hall of Fame in 1983, the Utah Sports Hall of Fame in ’92, the Utah Golf Hall of Fame in ’98 and the BYU Athletics Hall of Fame in ’01.

But Tucker stood for more than just winning titles and earning performance-related honors.

Among other awards, Tucker received the Dale Rex Memorial Award, given to the person considered to have contributed the most to amateur athletics in Utah; the Utah Golf Association Gold Club Award for outstanding contributions to golf in the state; the Bob Polsen Award for his role in the success of the University of Utah Hospital Open; and the GCAA’s Honor Award for his long-time outstanding service and contributions to men’s collegiate golf.

The lists go on and on. Tucker accomplished many things in his life as a coach, husband, father and friend. The records, as they say, speak for themselves, but when I think of Karl Tucker, I will do so in the words of my wife.

“What a gentleman!”

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