Bruce Fossum is known for bringing Michigan State its first Big Ten title in men’s golf in 1969, the five teams he took to the NCAA Tournament and his 25-year tenure as head coach.
Fossum died at the age of 86 Tuesday in Okemos, Mich., his hometown, leaving a legacy of excellence in college golf.
But Graham Cooke, who played under Fossum in the early 1970s, recalls the man who pulled strings to get his team on certain courses, reached into his pockets to help pay for food on the road and fueled his love for the game by teaching beginners. Cooke helped teach a class with Fossum while he attended Michigan State.
“I was amazed how difficult it was to get people that didn’t know the game to hit the ball,” Cooke said, with a laugh. “I remember looking over at him and he was just right into it, getting people to think of different ways and showing them how to actually make contact. He really immersed himself in that, and I saw a side of him where he really enjoyed the teaching aspect and making people feel comfortable with the game.”
Cooke, who won more than 50 amateur golf tournaments and help design more than 100 golf courses worldwide, said that Fossum understood his role as a motivator.
“He wasn’t too much into the technical aspects of the game at the highest level. He loved the game and understood the mechanics of the game a lot, but he really allowed us, as players, to work together as a group and help each other,” Cooke said.
Lynn Janson, who appeared in 18 major championships and served as head pro at Egypt Valley Country Club and Black Diamond Golf Club, among others, played alongside Cooke in 1969.
Fossum, who served as an assistant coach for the men’s basketball team from 1959 to ’65, made an unfavorable impression quickly on Janson while officiating the Michigan State commitment’s high school basketball game.
“The other team had a breakaway, and I was the only guy back,” Janson said. “I still contend that it was a perfect block. I had all ball. And he called a foul on me. I still resent that call to this day,” Janson said with a laugh. “But Bruce, of course, was my coach all four years, and I had quite an affection for Bruce then and, through all these years, he’s been a friend as well as a wonderful golf coach.”
Fossum coached 10 All-Americans at Michigan State. The Spartans finished sixth in the 1967 NCAA Tournament. He’s the winningest coach in Michigan State history and was inducted into the Golf Coaches Association of America Hall of Fame in 1985.
His wife, Mary Fossum, coached the Michigan State women’s golf team for much of her husband’s tenure in East Lansing, which took place from 1965-89 and 1998-99. They are the only husband-and-wife duo to be elected to the GCAA Hall of Fame.
Bruce Fossum taught East Lansing residents the game at the Forest Akers Golf Course and the FunTyme Okemos Golf Dome. He taught Michigan State students as a professor for more than 30 years.
Fossum authored the books “Golf” in 1969 and “Golf Made Easier … Not Easy” in 1989.
“Coach Fossum has been a fixture in this community for over 50 years and has touched countless people along the way,” Michigan State head coach Casey Lubahn said in a release. “His legacy as a coach, professor, instructor and author will always be a part of the great tradition of Michigan State University and our golf programs. However, I will remember him as a husband, father, grandfather and friend – who always had time for others who needed a helping hand.”
Fossum is survived by Mary, their four children, nine grandchildren and one great grandchild.
“He liked to play golf with us. He like to travel with us,” Janson said. “I’m not saying he was one of the guys, because he was certainly the coach, but his personality was such that he liked to be right with us at all times and was very involved in the golf team.
“It wasn’t just a job for him. It was a passion.”