Many times when a college golf coach retires, he or she creates some distance from the program. Not so with Earl Yestingsmeier. He had been as faithful to Ball State in retirement as he had been in 36 years as coach. In the past 51 years, he missed three of the Cardinals’ tournaments. Last year at the NCAA Championship in Woodstock, Ga., I ran into Yestingsmeier for the first time since he retired in 1998. As fate would have it, it would be the last.
Yestingsmeier, 80, died Jan. 9 in Muncie, Ind. What an extraordinary foundation he had helped set in college golf. From 1962 to 1998, he led the Cardinals to 11 NCAA appearances and six conference titles among 107 tournament victories. Just as significant, as I was reminded last spring, he always was fun to be around, to chat about the college game in his soft-spoken way and with that warm smile.
The pride that Yestingsmeier held for his successor, former Ball State player Mike Fleck, and his alma mater was on display at the NCAAs. Ball State hadn’t qualified for the NCAA postseason since 1991, and last year was the Cardinals’ first NCAA finals appearance since 1986.
“This is so great for the program and for Coach Fleck,” Yestingsmeier said during the NCAAs at Capital City Club’s Crabapple Course.
Ball State would finish 30th, but it nonetheless was memorable. Yestingsmeier’s presence was a big reason.
Fleck called him “our biggest fan. He has been like a father figure to every player that has come through Ball State in the last 50 years.”
Yestingsmeier, a 1955 BSU alumnus, also served as the school’s sports information director for 31 years. He was inducted into the Ball State, Golf Coaches Association of America and Indiana Golf halls of fame. He coached many golfers who played professionally, including Brian Tennyson, Jeff Gallagher, Denny Hepler and Scott Steger on the PGA Tour. Also, 89 players went on to careers in golf management or as teaching professionals, including Fleck.
Ball State likely will rename the Earl Yestingsmeier Invitational this spring as a memorial, said Fleck, who added that he’d like to see the proposed indoor practice facility named in Yestingsmeier’s honor. It would be a fitting tribute for the father of Ball State golf.