A college coach's cone of influence

Sam Lesseig helped start the Truman State women's golf program in 1985.

It’s sometimes easy to lose sight of the big picture in college golf. I lost a resounding voice of reason Aug. 26 when Sam Lesseig, my college coach, died unexpectedly from a stroke. He was months from retirement after 50 years at Truman State, an NCAA Division II school in Kirksville, Mo.

At first I thought there was something cruel in that, but it occurs to me that Lesseig, 74, didn’t consider himself to be overworked.

He scheduled his calculus classes early in the morning, his office hours even earlier and spent his afternoons at the golf course. He walked beside me with his own bag on his shoulders during my first qualifying round as a freshman.

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Sam Lesseig

Lesseig always wore shorts and Teva sandals, even during a heavy Missouri winter. During the sloppiest early spring practices, he would shag our range balls on foot. With mud up to his knees and between his toes, he would be grinning widely.

Lesseig cleaned our clubs each night and loaded them into the team van before dawn, and we ended most days with ice cream. His reliable greeting was a chipper, “Hiya, kid,” and he never barked if you didn’t make it to practice, instead trusting that you had a valid excuse.

When I picture him, it’s on a shady bench by the pro shop, where I remember grumbling to him one fall afternoon about a full class load, new responsibilities at the school newspaper and a slumping game.

“I don’t know if I can do all of this,” I said.

He sat with me in silence for a few long minutes, and we took in a sunny day I got to spend outside on a golf course instead of in a classroom. That’s often how our relationship went – a silence that allowed me to appreciate the surroundings, including the guy next to me who shared an unspoken love for the game. He was good for my blood pressure.

Lesseig was clear in his message that we could only do what we could, and as he said many times after that, we could only do it as well as we could.

There are two ways to look at college golf. Many of the players who appear in this magazine will turn professional. For the rest, the game often becomes a frustrating quest for perfection.

We were not world-beaters at Truman, but golf is prominent in our resumes and our scrapbooks.

We wouldn’t trade that ice cream for more accolades if you paid us.

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