HUTCHINSON, Kan. – The NCAA Championship got off to a rocky start Friday at Prairie Dunes, with severe weather wreaking havoc for more than eight hours.
Many proclaim that it hasn’t rained in these parts for the last 90 days and were surprised to see it rain despite knowing how unpredictable Kansas weather can be.
Perhaps there is another explanation.
Maybe the Big Duffer in the Sky wasn’t quite ready to play this event without the assistance of Ron Balicki, college golf's best friend for more than three decades.
Balicki, 65, died March 25 after an eight-month battle with cancer. The longtime writer for Golfweek magazine became the first non-coach inducted into the Golf Coaches Hall of Fame in 2010.
Last year’s NCAA Championship at the Crabapple Course outside Atlanta was his 29th consecutive. No wonder dark storm clouds have hovered over Hutchinson, and are forecast to continue the next couple of days.
The NCAA Championship was Balicki’s favorite week of the year. It was his Masters, World Series and Super Bowl all wrapped into one. He’d have rather spent these days digging up nuggets on an up-and-coming freshman than he would in the limelight that comes with covering more high-profile events. This was his week to shine bright.
Wrong Ron, as he was known for his uncanny ability to unsuccessfully pick the winner of the NCAA Championship, was beloved far and wide.
Upon hearing of Balicki’s death, high-profile Tour pros like Luke Donald, Rickie Fowler and Brandt Snedeker, along with throngs of college players and coaches, all weighed in on Twitter and made his name a trending topic. He touched more people than he realized.
“I miss the old codger,” Georgia coach Chris Haack said playfully.
“It’s different,” said Purdue director of golf Devon Brouse, in his 37th year as a college coach. “You look around and expect to see him. He was such a fixture for NCAA golf. It does not seem the same. That’s an understatement.”
Herb Page has coached at Kent State for 36 years. He has an article framed on the wall of his office from 20-plus years ago that Balicki wrote on the Golden Flashes.
“With that article, Ron put us on the map,” Page said Saturday at Prairie Dunes. “I get goosebumps and teary eyes when I think about him.
“He made you feel like he was rooting for you. He had that gift. It’s a characteristic that’s hard to come by.”
Indeed it is.
No doubt Balicki would love to have seen the television exposure the championship will receive this week. In the early days, he was a solo act at college golf’s biggest event. Balicki’s coverage undeniably helped mold this event into what it is today.
It’s heartbreaking that he’s not here to see the increased exposure.
“He’s probably teeing off the back nine somewhere right now,” Brouse said.
And he’s doing so under skies much clearer than those at the NCAA Championship, a place that misses him dearly.