Approach Shots: In football and golf, Mike MacIntyre chooses a thoughtful path

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This story originally appeared in Mile High Sports Magazine. Read the full digital edition.

It could be debated which task is more difficult: Chipping in from 40 yards out on hole No. 7 at Boulder Country Club’s Les Fowler Par 3 Course, or winning the Pac-12 South in football.

At first glance, that seventh hole looks pretty straightforward. But when one’s tee shot ends up considerably short, it undoubtedly becomes trickier. The green is elevated and narrow, and unless the pin is all the way in the back, there’s rarely much landing area with which to work. It’s guarded by a sand trap to the west and a hard drop-off into the rough on the east. That same steep slope exists on the back, but there are also trees ready and willing to make that third shot messy. And remember, on the Les Fowler track, they’re all par 3s, so there’s little room for error if par is the goal.

From any vantage point, when the view from the bottom looks significantly longer than 40 yards (that’s a mere chip shot field goal in the thin air of Boulder, Colo.), the notion that a cellar-dwelling football team could climb the entire ladder and win the Pac-12 South seems daunting at best. For a team that finished tied for last in 2011, last in 2012, last in 2013, last in 2014 and last again in 2015, ascending to the very top of the division with an impressive conference record of 8-1 is the equivalent of hitting a hole-in-one.

Don’t tell any of that to University of Colorado head football coach Mike MacIntyre.

Who holed one out from 40 out on hole No. 7.

And who did, in fact, win the Pac-12 South in dramatic fashion last fall.

If someone had asked MacIntyre which scenario would have been more likely to play out, the ol’ ball coach would have probably bet on his football team. Coach Mac is a good (but not great) golfer. He is, however, the 2016 Pac-12 Conference Coach of the Year, Walter Camp Coach of the Year, Home Depot Coach of the Year and Associated Press Coach of the Year, all of which points to the fact that he is a great football coach.

“Hey! Look at that!” MacIntyre said, pumping his fist after his Nike Mojo golf ball floated about 33 yards through the air, gently fluttered onto the green and deftly found its way to the bottom of the cup – good for a much-needed birdie on No. 7.

His chip, paired with some additional handiwork around the greens, ultimately allowed MacIntyre’s foursome to win the media day tournament. Local scribes had gathered not to talk football, but rather to learn more about the university’s first shot at hosting the Pac-12’s Men’s Golf Tournament. The Boulder Country Club has hosted the ladies before, but in April it was the men’s turn. Schools from California and Arizona flying into Boulder – in April? – to play a little golf? That’s what makes the Pac-12 so cool.

It was also the first time the coach had played golf since a family vacation immediately following the season, and even then he only got in one round. The day-to-day grind of being a Division I college football coach – especially one who engineered one of sports’ greatest turnarounds in 2016 – doesn’t allow for many four-hour rounds of golf. MacIntyre enjoys the Scots’ game, but it’s a few-and-far-between activity.

“Coach Mac is one of the most supportive coaches in the athletic department,” said Roy Edwards, CU’s men’s golf coach, following the media round. “He doesn’t have to be out here, but he is.”

MacIntyre also doesn’t carry himself differently these days. He certainly could; after all, his accomplishments this past season made him a household name when it comes to college football. In fact, if one had been a fly on the windshield of MacIntyre’s golf cart, it wouldn’t be readily apparent who was the interviewer and who was the interviewee.

Where are you from? What high school did you attend? How about college? Tell me about your job. Do you have kids? How often are you able to get out and play? Are the Rockies really as good as people are saying? Do you think the Broncos will try to take Christian McCaffrey or are they leaning toward a tackle? Don’t you think being an NBA head coach would be one of the toughest jobs in sports?

All good questions. All asked by MacIntyre, directed at his playing partner who was supposed to be the one doing the asking.

It’s a conversation, a round of golf not unlike most others. MacIntyre is a good cart partner; he listens. It’s easy to see how a recruit, or perhaps more importantly the recruit’s parents, would arrive at the conclusion that the University of Colorado is a great place to play college football.

Despite the Buffs’ impressive surge in 2016 – something that absolutely nobody saw coming (except, perhaps, MacIntyre himself, as was evident in a documentary series called “The Rise”) – recruiting is still a challenge. Colorado hasn’t been good long enough and the competition in the Pac-12, and around the country for that matter, is stiff. Inside the living room, MacIntyre’s approach is the same as it has always been. It’s once he and his staff leaves that his recent success comes into play.

MacIntyre says these days the “undercurrent” doesn’t come into play as much. The undercurrent, as he explains it, is what takes place when he’s not face to face with a young man who’s considering his program.

“You leave the house and you feel pretty good,” he explained. “But a day later, or a week later, it’s the uncle or friend or someone else who says, ‘Colorado? Why Colorado? What has Colorado done lately?’

“Now, a lot of those people know what Colorado has done lately, so we’re not fighting that as much.”

MacIntyre’s loop around the Les Fowler nine is a fight against the wind. Nobody plays particularly well, but the coach is a competitor and that’s obvious. While the golf game is simply for fun, he still wants to win. His past season on the gridiron, however, might have been – as a few have speculated – do or die.

MacIntyre came through in the biggest of ways. Everyone who pays attention to college football noticed what his program did in 2016.

But the competitor in him hasn’t rested easy even knowing that. Sliding back to the pack – or worse – in the Pac-12 would feel like four-putting.

“Humble and Hungry.”

That’s MacIntyre’s answer to the question, “How do you avoid a falloff?”

“I talk to my players every day, and I remind them to stay humble and hungry,” he said carting from tee to green on No. 4. “Be humble. Remember what it took to get here. Remember the work. Remember the process. We didn’t just get there. We had to earn it.

“Be hungry. I always ask them, ‘Remember what it felt like when you were trying to earn that scholarship out of high school? Remember what it felt like when you were trying to earn your place at the University of Colorado as a freshman? Remember what it was like when we were trying to become a competitive team in the conference?’

“If we as a team can be those two things, humble and hungry, we will pick up where we left off.”

MacIntyre will be returning three captains, another key ingredient to the Buffs’ quest to maintain their status as one of the country’s elite teams. MacIntyre, who played for his father at Vanderbilt, also returns his son, Jay, who played a key role on last year’s team.

“There are challenges to coaching your own son,” he said. “But I don’t actually ‘coach’ him too much. Our position coaches do that, and he’s treated the same as everyone else. Jay is a great kid and when you’re a college football coach, you don’t get to watch your son play high school football as much as you’d like. So, it’s just fun to see him every day – that’s the main thing.”

MacIntyre won’t keep everyone though. He lost four Buffs in the 2017 NFL Draft, including Chidobe Awuzie, a second-round selection by the Dallas Cowboys – and who MacIntyre considers to be the “ultimate story.”

Awuzie was offered a scholarship by MacIntyre, then at San Jose State, as a “ninth or 10th grader.” The coach got to know both player and family, and Awuzie followed MacIntyre to Colorado. He’ll graduate from college – the first in his family to do so, and in just three-and-a-half years.

“That’s why you do this,” says MacIntyre, who estimates that somewhere between 10 and 15 percent of all the college players he’s coached ultimately became the first person in their family to earn a college degree. “The wins are great – and you’ve got to win or you don’t get to do this for long – but those stories are the ones that make you proud to be a part of this.

“If you invest in people, the wins will take care of themselves.”

The round comes to a close as MacIntyre’s foursome cards a 6 (a low-ball birdie and a high-ball bogey). On the way back to the clubhouse, he flags down Kevin Bolles, the golf director at Boulder Country Club.

“Hey, that was fun! Thank you for having us,” MacIntyre says to Bolles. “Where do you think the best place to park for the tournament might be?”

He doesn’t have to be there. But, as Edwards will soon tell the media, there’s a decent chance he will be; that’s just how MacIntyre is.

The round, while victorious, will not go down as his greatest, nor will it be his worst. The chip-in on No. 7 will serve as the undisputed highlight among all golfers that day, a nice golf shot to file away for those days, of which there are many, when there’s no time for hitting the links. He may not get to play but once or twice before his team lines up against Colorado State in the season opener on Sept. 1.

That’s not that far off, and it doesn’t leave much time for golf. But, that’s okay; golf will take a back seat as MacIntyre stays hungry and humble, trying once again to do what nobody thought the Buffs could do.

Nobody except MacIntyre.

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