After 35 years at the helm of the Fresno State men’s golf team, Mike Watney will soon be saying goodbye to his alma mater. This semester will be Watney’s last as head coach before his retirement in May.
Numerous awards and honors have followed his long career, including his 2007 induction into the Golf Coaches Association of America Hall of Fame and his 2012 induction to the Fresno Athletic Hall of Fame. On Feb. 6 at the Sunnyside Country Club, he got to add another award to that long list when The First Tee honored Watney with The First Tee Lifetime Achievement Award.
“It’s an honor because of this organization,” Watney said. “It’s such a class organization that any honor that I receive from them is greatly appreciated.”
The First Tee is an organization that seeks to use golf to educate youth, with an emphasis on those from less affluent upbringings. It has nine core values as part of its curriculum: honestly, integrity, sportsmanship, respect, confidence, responsibility, perseverance, courtesy, and judgment — all of which The First Tee believes Watney exemplifies through his coaching.
Many of Watney’s friends and co-workers, such as University President John Welty were present — as was Watney’s family, including his son and former Fresno State golfer Josh Watney.
“It really is an honor,” Josh Watney said. “Just to hear that he’s had an impact on other people in the same way that he did with my sisters, my brother and me. It’s neat to see that he gets an award like this to show that he does care for others and impact into other people’s lives.”
Coach Watney now looks toward the rest of his final season with the Bulldogs and on to his impending retirement.
“There are other things that I want to do, and while I’m young and healthy I want to spend time with them (his family),” he said. “I mean there are a lot of times as a coach, especially without an assistant coach, where something comes up that you want to go to, but you just can’t. You don’t have total control over your time.”
He cited this weekend’s AT&T Pebble Beach Nation Pro-Am as an example where he would like to be able to go watch his nephew and former Fresno State great, Nick Watney, play. But, due to the necessary travels for the upcoming Farms Collegiate Invitational next Monday and Tuesday in San Diego, he will not be able to go.
Still, Watney looks back at his time at Fresno State with fondness, particularly the years he was able to coach Josh.
“It was just awesome having my son on the team,” Watney said. “He was two times our MVP. He was a really good player and first-team all-conference. For a coach who’s a dad, it is awesome to have your kids on the team.”
For Josh Watney, the feeling is mutual.
“It was a lot of fun. The college golf years were some of the most fun of my life. I played with my cousin Nick for one of those years, and I had a lot of good buddies that we played with. It really was fun playing for my dad. I had opportunities to go to other colleges, but I really wanted to play for my dad. It was just a great experience, a lot of fun memories.”
Coach Watney also mentions Nick as one of the players that makes him the most proud.
“Nick was special, too. He is such a talent, but he was all hard work. He didn’t come to Fresno State really good, but he’s maybe the hardest worker I’ve ever had. He had a goal to play with Josh actually. Josh was a senior when Nick was a freshman, and I had six seniors on that team. He had to beat out two seniors just to crack the lineup. That’s how he got working so hard, but he kept doing it. Even after Fresno State, he kept doing it. Now he’s made $19 million at 31 years old.”
Josh Watney is looking forward to when his father will be able to teach his children the game of golf that they both love so much.
“I think he’s really looking forward to going out there and teaching them golf and teaching them some of those life lessons, similar to what we talk about here today at the First Tee,” Josh Watney said. “I’m just excited to spend more time with him now that he’s retiring.”
However, before Coach Watney can start enjoying retirement, he still has coaching priorities to worry about with the Bulldogs teeing off their spring season shortly.
“Every single year I think that we can win the conference championship,” Watney said. “We’ve won a lot of them, but we’ve just missed on several. First year in the Mountain West Conference for us and I would like us to win the conference championship. I have a lot of good players, really solid good players. We just haven’t really put it together yet.”
Fresno State starts its spring season on Monday at the Farms Collegiate Invitational in San Diego.