Cougar golf: The greatest team ever

D. Ryan Monceaux

SPORTS EDITOR

Without a doubt, one of the biggest moments in Cougar sports history occurred in 1942 when UH Athletics Director and golf coach Harry Fouke asked Engineering Professor Dave Williams if he wanted to take over the reins of the Cougar golf program. With that question the Cougar golf team, which had never won a match previously, was handed over to Dave Williams, and the greatest golf program in the nation was born.

After only four seasons, the Randolph, Texas, native won his first national championship in 1956. To prove that he was not a one-hit wonder, Williams directed the golf team to national titles in 1957, then again in '58, '69 and '70. Williams was building Houston to be the powerhouse in collegiate golf.

All in all, Williams' teams won 16 national titles in his 36 years as head coach. Those "Sweet 16" are the most held by any collegiate coach in any sport. But "the father of college golf" did not just set all of the records for golf; he reinvented the entire sport.

Until Williams intervened, college teams played dual matches against one another, scored head-to-head by match-play against one opponent at a time. In 1955, Houston hosted the All-America Intercollegiate Invitational, and Williams experimented with a stroke-play tournament format in which he could play several opponents at one time. Williams saw it as a logical step that would allow for more fierce competition, as well as being easier on his budget.

Soon after the 1955 AAII, all of college golf was using Williams' format, including every major conference and the NCAAs. Today, most high school and junior colleges across the nation use Williams' format, not even knowing that another one ever existed.

Coach Williams counts the individuals who made his teams as the reason he enjoyed so much success. During his tenure, Williams coached eight individual national champions. With players ranging from Rex Baxter and Homero Blancas during the string of five straight NCAA titles in the '50s and '60s, to Bruce Lietzke, Keith Fergus and Fuzzy Zoeller in the mid-'70s, to Fred Couples and Steve Elkington of the early '80s, Dave Williams coached some of the greatest golfers in the history of the game. And many say they would not be where they are without Williams.

"Well, I would have not gone to Houston if it weren't for Dave Williams. He was a great coach and a legend. He is college golf," 1992 Masters champion Couples said.

Some players, including 1995 PGA Champion Steve Elkington, would never have made it to America without the help of Cougar golf and Dave Williams. Elkington, from Australia, considered staying in his home country until talking to Coach Williams. With the interest the coach showed, Elkington came to the United States and helped win the last three of Houston's NCAA titles.

Coach Williams retired in 1987 and handed the thriving program over to Keith Fergus, a 1976 graduate of UH and Houston's only three-time All-American. In his four years as a player at UH, Fergus won more individual titles than any other Cougar in school history, amassing 19 in his career. Although he is the most decorated player in UH history. Fergus was never a part of an NCAA championship team.

Fergus coached future PGA Tour players Zoran Zorkic and Rene Rangel, but he never had the success in recruiting or winning that Coach Williams had previous to him. In 1994, Fergus left his position in hopes of winning on the PGA Tour.

Mike Dirks came from Tulane University in New Orleans in 1994 to become only the fourth golf coach in UH history. In Dirks' four years with the program, the Cougars have made strides toward regaining the prominence they once held. His teams have won back-to-back Conference USA titles and have finished ninth and eighth place in the NCAA Tournament in the past two seasons, respectively. However, Dirks is intent on bringing another national title to Houston in the very near future.

Houston currently has more players on the PGA Tour than any other university in the nation. Thirteen major championships have been won by ex-Cougars.

Former Cougar Nick Faldo has won more major titles than any other. His four British Opens and two Masters titles rank him as the most prolific major winner in the past decade. Faldo was a part of the Cougar golf team for only one season: 1976.

Fuzzy Zoeller is the only man ever to win the Masters in his first trip, in 1979. Zoeller also won the U.S. Open five years later in 1984.

Bruce Lietzke is most notable for playing the most limited schedule on tour, playing only 10 or 12 weeks a year. However, Lietzke has won over $6 million on tour, which places him in the top 20 of all time, and was the runner-up in the 1991 PGA Championships.

Cougar golf is making a comeback. Mike Dirks has reinvented the program that Dave Williams put on the map over 40 years ago. The golf team, however, has already solidified itself as a Cougar sports great.

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