COLUMBIA — Fred Mayer was a member of the Missouri golf team more than six decades ago. He still does what he can to support the program he once competed for.
Mayer, 84, and other former members of the Tigers men’s golf team returned to Columbia over Homecoming weekend and spent some time with the team. Current athletes, alumni and coach Mark Leroux shared stories and talked golf. They dined together, and some went out on the course.
Leroux said a big difference between golf and many other sports is that the alumni can still come back and compete against the current college athletes. He said it allows the two groups to connect with each other.
“It’s that fraternity,” Leroux said. “It doesn’t matter when you played. If you’re in that group, you’re in that group.”
Unlike football or basketball where the ability to play decreases as athletes get older, golf has the aspect of longevity. Tom Watson competed for the British Open Championship at the age of 59. Some of the alumni of the Missouri golf team play in the same summer tournaments as current players. Many come back for an annual alumni-varsity match.
Although both the alumni and the team want to be seen as the better group on the course, the real value when they all get together is found in the relationships that are formed between the current and former golfers. The alumni tell the players what life was like back when they played for Missouri.
Junior Mike Garden said he found it interesting that some of the alumni he spoke with roomed with basketball and football players when they were in school. Now, Garden said most golfers live with other golfers.
The current Missouri golfers enjoy showing off the course at Old Hawthorne to former members of the team. Leroux sees the bonding whenever the groups get together.
"It was great being out there with those guys and making a connection between the old and the new," Leroux said.
Leroux said the alumni have helped out in a variety of ways throughout his time at Missouri.
About three or four years ago, Leroux was struggling to teach his golfers the correct angle to hold their clubs. A former player taught him a trick, which involved making a mark on the golf ball with a Sharpie. The coach still uses the tool today.
Leroux said he cares about his former golfers just as much as the alumni continue to care about the program. At one point during lunch over the weekend, Leroux excused himself to go check the score of Peter Malnati, an alumnus who was trying to qualify for the PGA tour.
Other alumni have opened up their homes when the team has traveled to the city they live in. Mayer has hosted members of the team twice while they competed in St. Louis.
Although he was unable to play Friday, Mayer still has a love for the game and for Missouri golf. He said he still is able to play three or four times a week. He said he played with a talented group while in college and that the biggest difference he noticed was in the talent levels of golfers on his team and the current team.
“The golfers today are quite a bit better than the group I played with,” Mayer said.