Bob Knight, who passed away this week, showed a different side of himself — at least a little — when he played at Jerry Ford Invitational in Vail Valley
By Gary Baines – 11/2/2023
Just about anyone who worked in sports media from the 1960s to the early 2000s has a Bob Knight story. Actually, that’s probably an exaggeration, but not much of one.
Having been a sports writer — for many years at a newspaper and, more recently, for websites — since the early 1980s, I fall into that category. And with Knight — the larger-than-life, often-cantankerous Hall of Fame college basketball coach at Army, Indiana and Texas Tech over the decades — having passed away on Wednesday at age 83, that brought back a few distinct personal memories.
Knight coached teams to three NCAA titles (at Indiana) and to an Olympic gold medal (for a U.S. squad in the 1984 Games). But, although I devoured the John Feinstein book, “A Season on the Brink” in the mid-1980s and also enjoyed the Good Knight/Knightmares flip-side compilation in the early 2000s, my only encounters personally with Knight were on the golf course.
Specifically, they’re from the Jerry Ford Invitational, which from 1977-96 brought a stellar list of celebrities and some of the best golfers in the world to the Vail Valley each year for a couple of days of golf and fun.
I just have a couple of anecdotes regarding Knight at the JFI, but as long as people are sharing their personal stories about him in the wake of his passing, I’ll do the same.
The late Kaye Kessler, a much-acclaimed sports writer who covered golf for many decades, knew Knight well from his Big Ten days at Ohio State (as a player) and Indiana as Kaye worked for newspapers in Columbus, Ohio. Kessler, the first media-relations director at the PGA Tour’s International at Castle Pines Golf Club, attended the Jerry Ford Invitational occasionally during its last decade, and I regularly covered the event for much of its run.
Kessler asked if I’d like to meet Knight, who was playing in the JFI, and I said sure. He introduced me to the coach at the Country Club of the Rockies. Knight was well known for a rocky relationship with some members of the media. “We all learn how to write in the second grade,” he once noted. “Then most of us go on to greater things.” And there was this one: “As a kid, I wanted to be a political cartoonist because you only need one idea a day. But then I decided to be a sports writer because you don’t need any ideas.”
With that as background, Knight extended his hand to me for a handshake until Kessler mentioned that I was a sports writer for the Daily Camera newspaper in Boulder. He then pulled it back with a scowl. Of course, in this case it was just an act, playing into his persona, and he quickly shook hands and made nice — at least as nice as Bob Knight can manage with a sports writer he didn’t know — and we chatted for a bit. All in all, I enjoyed the brief exchange with one of those larger-than-life characters in sports, especially since it came without the formality of an interview.
My other JFI encounter with Knight came in the last year of the tournament, when he recalled one of his distinctive memories from playing in the event.
Tournament organizers one year thought it would be funny to pair Knight with Tour player J.C. Snead, another man known to be volatile and irascible at times. On the par-5 12th at Vail Golf Club, a hole along I-70 that Knight had birdied the previous day, he was in prime position for a good score again following an excellent drive.
“J.C. then tells me, ‘Make sure you turn on this next one.’” Knight said in 1996, the final year of the JFI. “So I knock the (heck) out of it, over four lanes of I-70. I said to J.C. ‘You S.O.B., I hope you like the turn I made on that one. I had a stroke coming on this hole and now I’m hitting it from the other side of I-70.’”
Think about that — the notion of Bob Knight hitting a golf ball from the shoulder of the interstate — the next time you cruise past Vail on I-70.
About the Writer: Gary Baines has covered golf in Colorado continuously since 1983. He was a sports writer at the Daily Camera newspaper in Boulder, then the sports editor there, and has written regularly for ColoradoGolf.org since 2009. He was inducted into the Colorado Golf Hall of Fame in 2022. He owns and operates ColoradoGolfJournal.com