Jim Calhoun : From the Court to the Course
As the clock flashed zeroes in San Antonio’s Alamodome, Jim Calhoun could finally breathe a sigh of relief. His Connecticut Huskies were national champions for the second time in five years and he had solidified his legacy as one of the greatest college coaches ever. After 680 wins, including 432 at UConn, Calhoun has made tiny Storrs, CT the center of the basketball world. Combined with coach Geno Auriemma’s three straight national titles with the women’s team, all eyes are focused on the achievements of the Huskies. Calhoun has become the only active men’s college coach other than Mike Krzyzewski of Duke and Bob Knight of Texas Tech to win multiple national championships. He has now won 32 NCAA games in his time in Storrs - along with eight Big East regular season championships, six Big East tournament championships, six Elite Eight appearances, 10 Sweet Sixteen appearances, two Final Fours and of course, his pair of national titles. But just like many of us, Calhoun may find his greatest challenges on the golf courses of New England. Calhoun did not get started until later on in life but he has been bitten by the bug. “I started to get invited to a lot of different events and my competitive embarrassment made me take up a sport I fell in love with. I have played golf now for 22 years,” says Calhoun. Is he addicted to the game? “My wife claims I am. I tape golf events and it is the most relaxing thing to watch at night after a hard practice or a game. I get away from basketball through golf. Any of us who have tried to play this game have great admiration for not just the athletic ability but the mindset of the golfer. It takes an unusual guy to be a terrific golfer.” Calhoun has taken his game across the rolling hills of New England and has chosen a few favorites. “Blackstone National outside of Worcester is a fun course to play as is The Orchards outside of Springfield, MA (site of the 2004 U. S. Women’s Open). Great River in Milford, CT is also a terrific course.” One of Calhoun’s greatest golf memories was not playing but walking alongside some of the game’s greats. “I had the chance to get a badge and walk a practice round at the British Open at Royal Lytham & St Anne’s with Brad Faxon, Davis Love, Fred Couples and Tiger Woods. The length of those guys was amazing.” A man who had garnered the accomplishments listed above must have a competitive streak. Calhoun said that his streak also extends to the golf course. “There are not many things I do in life where I am not competitive. I am a 7.8 handicap and want to win when I play. Golf is a great way to compete, challenge the course and have fun at the same time. It is a great outlet for me where I can get upset at something that means nothing. I love being outside and walking.” Calhoun – who packs a lot of energy into the 40 minutes of a basketball game – is disappointed about one aspect of golf. “It takes a long time to play. I have a hard time comprehending a 5-hour round. Golf could be played in 3 1/2 hours if everybody walked that was able. I think that as we get older, golf carts allow people to play tougher courses.” In February of 2003 – smack in the middle of the basketball season -- Calhoun had surgery to remove cancer found in his colon. Not one to sit around, he was back on the sidelines just 14 days later. Much like other big name celebrities who love the game, Calhoun uses golf, as a means to raise money for cancer charities. “I’m involved with other coaches in the Coaches vs. Cancer program. There are quite a few charity golf tournaments in which coaches are sponsored to compete and the proceeds raised benefit the cause. The average person can contribute through their local university in helping as many people as then can find cures for cancer.” Calhoun was 15 when his father died of a heart attack and his brother is a cardiologist based in Boston. So he and his wife Pat established the UConn Health Center's Calhoun Cardiology Research Fund. In 2003, he headed up the Jim Calhoun Celebrity Golf Classic as a major fund-raiser for cardiology research at the UConn Health Center in Farmington, CT. For a man who has made his legacy working with young men, Calhoun knows that golf is a game that has great appeal to today’s youth. “The more we can get young kids involved the better the game will be in the future. All youngsters should be introduced to the game at an early age at least by their teenage years. The greatest thing Tiger Woods has done is getting so many kids that would otherwise never be involved, to develop an interest in the game. Golf is a very special sport and more kids need to learn what the game has to offer. I think Tiger, beyond his golf skills, has transcended perceived barriers in the game for others.” As a teacher of young men, Calhoun knows the value of learning from a professional when it comes to sports. “Any kids who are interested in the game should get lessons from a professional and learn the basic fundamentals. Just like in basketball, kids with strong fundamentals add talent and experience through playing. If someone can help you put together a swing at an early age you can enjoy the game for a lifetime and play it for a lifetime.” Take that advice from the man who is seated at the head of the college basketball world.