Around the OSU campus, people call the athletic director “Coach Holder.” Mike Holder doesn’t mind. He was OSU’s golf coach for 32 years. In some ways, he’s silently still coaching his old Cowboy golfers.
I chatted with Holder this week, a couple of days after one of his golfer, Hunter Mahan, was in U.S. Open contention until almost the end. Playing in the last group, Mahan hung tough with Justin Rose and Phil Mickelson before faltering late. Mahan was tied for the lead after parring 13 of the first 14 holes Sunday at Merion Golf Club. But Mahan double-bogeyed the 15th hole, then stumbled to bogeys on 17 and 18. He finished with a 75 that left him at five-over par and in a tie for fourth place.
Holder said he enjoyed watching Mahan compete and was proud of him. But Holder also had some advice for Mahan.
“I think he’s come a long way,” Holder said. “Makes you feel good. He’s matured. But still, that being said, he still gets a little too emotional. The game of golf, especially in the U.S. Open, illustrates the struggle between athlete and one’s self.
“That’s what winning the U.S. Open’s all about. It’s not the other 155 players, or the golf course, or the weather. It’s the struggle with yourself. The stress that tournament puts you on, nerves are on edge. Causes you to do things that aren’t normal. Look at Steve Stricker and see that.”
Stricker, one of the most stable players on the PGA Tour, hit two balls out of bounds on the second hole Sunday.
Holder said Mahan “did a very good job of handling himself. But he’s still got a ways to go, because he had just a few intangibles cost him. Had nothing to do with ballstriking. It was manifested that way, but that’s not what caused it.”
Meanwhile, another OSU player was at least in the picture Sunday. Rickie Fowler shot a final round 74 and finished tied for 10th at seven-over par.
Fowler didn’t play for Holder — Holder already was AD when Fowler arrived. But Holder’s allegiance to Fowler is no less firm.
“I love Rickie Fowler,” Holder said. “He’s my favorite OSU player of all time.”
Wow. You don’t hear many coaches talk like that. But Holder has his reason. Fowler’s wardrobe. Fowler has committed to wearing total orange on Sundays — orange shirt, orange pants. It’s Fowler’s nod to OSU.
“He wears that orange on Sunday,” Holder said. “I love what he does for the game, and how kids react to him. He’s going to do a lot to help grow the game, I think.”
Holder said Fowler’s orange/orange ensemble “has a lot to do with what kind of person he is. I tip my hat to Mike McGraw and the coaching staff and the pride they instilled in him, what it means to be an OSU Cowboy. He’s got that personality and flair to pull it off. Not sure we’ve had any other player that could do that and look comfortable. It looks natural for him.”