HE BEGINS HIS retirement today, which may turn out to be an even more entertaining show than the one he's been putting on the last 31 years as BYU's golf coach. No one ever accused Karl Tucker of being the retiring type. Leading the Cougars to 21 NCAA championships, 13 top five finishes, the national title in 1981, and 168 tournament wins since 1961 - while also directing the BYU Ski School as well - was one thing. Riding off into the sunset will be another.
Probably the biggest reason he'd give for retiring is because that's what his brothers did before him. For one thing, it didn't seem to slow them down. For another, Karl has always followed in his brother's footsteps. A lot of people thought his golf teams were simply an extension of the Tucker Bros., whose philosophy was always Don't Let Anything Get in the Way of Having a Good Time and Getting Good Results.Karl is the last of the five broth
ers who, along with two sisters, were born during the '20s to George Tucker, a fruit farmer in Orem, and his wife, Della. The first son was named George, after his father. Then came Wayne, Monroe (Toby), Ray and Karl. The brotherswere spaced roughly two years apart, which was just about right for full-scale athletic competition whenever it wasn't harvesting season.
All of them found their own niche. George Jr. - who died tragically in 1959 in a car accident - was an AAU boxing champion and professional boxer; Wayne played and managed for nearly 20 years in the New York Yankees organization and was named to the all-time Texas League team as an infielder; Toby and Ray - who died recently - excelled in tennis and golf; and then came Karl, who wanted to do everything his brothers had done - and then some.
He was the first of the five to go to college, enrolling at BYU just after World War II. He played shortstop on the baseball team and was also a member of the tennis team, the golf team and the ski team. He was a man for all seasons. No one at BYU before or since has taken the latter half of the role of "student-athlete" so seriously.
When BYU was looking for a golf coach to replace Buck Dixon in 1961, and KarlTucker, then 35 and a veteran of eight years teaching junior high physical education in Salt Lake City, applied for the job, he was not an unknown quantity to the Cougars.
The story of how Tucker turned a cold-weather school with almost no golf tradition into one of the top two or three programs in the country has since become as well-known as the coach who made it happen. The most unique part of the story is how Tucker, still true to his multi-sport roots, added the BYU ski school - conducted at nearby Sundance - to his duties. And then how he flew in the face of conventional wisdom by marrying the two sports, golf and skiing. He used ski breaks in the winter to rest and relax his golfers - and enticed recruits to come to Provo and do the same.
In time, he had his golfers looking as forward to the winter as the summer. He also had them adopted into a system that was more family than it was team. With BYU golf the Karl Tucker way, there was no such thing as "in-season" and "out-of-season." As Glen Tuckett, the former BYU baseball coach and current athletic director who once shared an office with Tucker says, "Karl inspired more loyalty with his players than any coach that I know. He's a modern-day pied piper. He provided for them some kind of a mix between a big brother figure and a father figure. If he were to phone today at noon all the guys he's sent to the (PGA) Tour and say, `I need you tomorrow morning at 8,' they'd all be there."
Karl's brothers followed and supported the program with similar loyalty. Wayne, Ray and Tobe were golf-cart fixtures at tournaments almost as much as their little brother, the head coach. They treated the team members like they treated each other, with heavy support and also heavy doses of irreverent reverence. Everyone was "Heber," and no one, from Johnny Miller on down, was ever exempt from being a target of their verbal attention.
Says Tuckett: "I'd pay money just to follow behind the Tucker Brothers playing 18 holes of golf and listen to what they had to say to each other."
To an outsider, the talk might be confusing; but not to an insider. "It isn't battling each other so much as it is battling together," Wayne Tucker once said.
Which is probably as good a phrase as any to sum up Karl Tucker's 31-year run with the BYU golf team. It's possible that no coach has ever made golf look less like an individual sport. Under Tucker, the Cougars always battled together. Wherever he's going in his retirement, he won't be going alone.