|Coaches and Friends Remember Wrong Ron|
|Thursday, 27 March 2014 20:12|
College golf lost a very special friend this week with the passing of Ron Balicki. Inducted into the GCAA Hall of Fame in 2010 “Wrong Ron”, as he was affectionately known, was truly one of the good guys in the game of golf. I was first introduced to Ron in the early 1980’s as a still wet-behind-the-ears young golf coach at Lamar University. As the new, and only, featured college golf writer for the Florida Golfweek magazine, Ron reached out to me to learn a little more about a group of unknown players from Beaumont, Texas. Remembering the call like it was yesterday, he asked what it was like to go toe-to-toe with the “big boys” like Houston, Texas, Texas A&M each week. I explained our guys were from towns you never heard of and countries far removed from our shores. Our top player was from South Africa and had never hit a ball off grass or made a divot until six months before. The reality was most did not know the difference between a Cougar or a Longhorn, much less what an Aggie was. That was the first time I heard what would become the trademark Balicki chuckle. Little did I know that day was the beginning of a friendship that would span more than 30 years. Such was the way he made friends with hundreds, if not thousands, of college golf coaches around the country.
Ron was one of those unique individuals that never met a stranger, brightened any room he walked into and brought a smile to the face of anyone he was introduced to. Whether it was coaches, student-athletes (he did like that term), their parents, boosters, or even players’ girlfriends, Ron made you feel at ease when talking to him. As Bruce Brockbank, golf coach at BYU, said - Ron had the “ability to make you be yourself”.
College golf like journalism has changed many times over since “Wrong Ron” first tackled his new beat. Unlike today, where digital technology and social media make yesterday’s headlines old news, once upon a time the printed version arrived on the coach’s desk each week. Players and coaches alike waited to see who or what Ron was talking about. His rankings were always the talk of college golf. Players would ask their coaches why they dropped in Balicki’s ranking; Coaches asked Balicki why they dropped in the rankings. No matter who called with questions or just wanted to gripe, Ron always found time to listen. His patience explaining to coaches what they did not want to hear was legendary.
A generation of college coaches and players grew up with Ron. Whether it was his infamous predictions, the fact he was seemingly always followed by a thunderstorm, or his quest to find that great little place to eat - when he showed up to cover your tournament , you knew you had arrived.
Ron was a close friend and we had a unique relationship involving the weather. As you know "Wrong Ron" was also known as "Rain Man" and "Black Cloud". When we were together at a tournament we always kidded each other about who would make it rain first. We spent a lot of time under umbrellas. Today it is raining in Heaven!
All of us here at Stanford Men’s Golf are deeply saddened by the passing of a great man. Ron was an icon of the college golf game and there wasn’t a better ambassador for what makes our dynamic so special. Ron was all about relationships and the pieces of the puzzle that come together for each and every player experiencing college golf and representing their given University. He had a gift for putting those trials, and tribulations, successes and failures all on paper for us to experience first hand. Bravo Ron!
I first met Ron at the Ardmore tournament called the Perry Maxwell Intercollegiate. The tournament committee would take some of the coaches out to do some Striper Bass fishing prior to the practice round. I found myself in a boat with Ron Balicki and we had one heck of a time fishing, telling stories and laughing all day. I can remember Ron always getting flustered and laughing at him when a Striper Fish would hit his pole because he didn’t know what to do with his cigarette. He affectionately became known as Striper Ron to me and all my players throughout the years and they all loved Ron and enjoyed having him around. He was THE expert on college golf and always knew what was going on around the country. Without him, college golf would not be where it is today. And just to be clear, last time I spoke to Wrong Ron, he picked either Alabama, Cal, OSU or Ga. Tech to win the NCAA’s this year!!!
The first time I met Ron Balicki was at the 1989 NCAA Championship, which was my first at ETSU after taking over the program in 1986. Ron had written a column which included the odds he gave each team to win the Championship. Ron listed ETSU at something like 5 million to 1, or close! When I met him at the Championship, I mentioned his column and the odds he gave our team, and said that we just might be better than he gave us credit for. I suppose I expected a condescending reply from Ron, who was quite important and very knowledgeable about all of college golf even then, but was surprised at how humble he was. Instead of being condescending or defensive he instead asked me about our team and told me that he would keep an eye on us. Our team finished twelfth that week (not great but not terrible either, considering the competition and the weather) and Ron came up to me later to tell me that we did have a better team than he had thought, and that he would like to write a column on our team the following year, which showed a lot of class, I thought, and began a long friendship. Ron will definitely be missed by all of us in college golf.
My favorite memory of Ron was of him as Rick LaRose’s straight man. It seemed that every time Ron would show up to a tournament, rain or bad weather would follow. It became a running joke and Rick would always make a big deal about the dark clouds that followed Ron everywhere he went. Rick would be relentless poking fun at him and Ron was such a good sport about the whole thing. One time Ron showed up with an umbrella on the range in Tucson and it had to be 90 degrees, not a cloud in sight and he said, “I came prepared.” I’m pretty sure it was raining by the final round.
I’m proud to say Ron was my friend and I miss him already.
When I was still coaching at Troy State University in the early 1980's, I had a desire to begin a new collegiate tournament at a unique golf facility at Eglin Air Force Base in Niceville, Florida. Located just outside Fort Walton Beach, Florida, the Eglin AFB Golf Course provides one of the best challenges of golf anywhere in the Panhandle of the Sunshine State. At that time Butch Byrd was the Director of Golf at the facility, and he was a good friend of college golf and golf in general. He was very supportive of our efforts to conduct a tournament at his facility. He followed all the correct procedures necessary at a military base to gain the necessary clearances, and soon we were underway with our first meeting to set up the details. At that meeting I met Ron Balicki for the first time.
I will never forget Ron’s personality. He was such a sincere and friendly person. He and I developed our friendship because of Rudy’s Barbeque. He regularly attended the events we hosted. Ron did not have a Rudy’s near his hometown and he absolutely swore by their seasoning called “Rudy’s Rub”. It became an annual tradition for us as I would bring him the seasoning whenever we got together. I know he meant so much more because of the work he did and the people he connected with, but I admire most his authenticity and genuineness to all the coaches, players, spectators, officials, volunteers and fans he crossed paths with. Of course he was needing to get to the headliners of any big story, but he never forgot to stop along the way to see friends and enjoy the entire picture. This is what I will miss most about him and hope others will learn from watching him – life is not about getting the big story – it is about the readers and how you can touch their lives.
Ron was truly a man of personal integrity. He only wrote about what he thought was correct about a person, a position, an organization. If you asked him a question he would give you an honest answer. This above all else was what impressed me the most about Ron. For someone in the media in this day and age, it was most refreshing. I shall miss Ron and his smile and always engaging personality. God Bless your soul Ron, you will be missed.
I remember first meeting Ron in the fall of 1984 at a collegiate event in Florida. I was just a naive freshman who had never heard of Golfweek and I thought he meant GolfWorld when he introduced himself. I would always go out of my way to ask him how things were at GolfWorld. It was an inside joke that we shared for years.
This was Ron’s reserved parking sign when he attended the USCC Championship annually at the Golf Club of Georgia. I kidded him that he was Mr. Bigshot with his own parking space.
We have lost one of the all time great guys in college golf. He was the very best at getting you to be yourself. I loved seeing him at the collegiate events because you always new Ron cared about you and your team. Whether you had a story to tell or the team to be at the top, he was interested. Just a good old fashioned super nice guy!!!