SANDY — It was only fitting that the 26th-annual Liberty Mutual Invitational golf tournament to benefit the National Kidney Foundation — steeped in so much Ute-Cougar tradition — ended in a tie Monday at sun-splashed Hidden Valley Country Club.
There were no stacked rivalry teams, no fudging around, no awkward glances and no disparity of purpose. Two rivalry teams representing BYU and Utah, composed entirely of nonprofessionals, went head to head, stroke for stroke. When the smoke cleared at the end of the round, both were 5-under par.
Why did this work?
Because for the first time in the 26-year history of this event, the head coaches of the BYU and Utah football programs were absent. Surrogates abounded. Organizers brought back LaVell Edwards and Ron McBride to tap into their affability and unique chemistry at the podium.
“There is nothing like this anywhere in the country,” said the executive director of the National Kidney Foundation's local chapter, Deen Vetterlie. “In 52 chapters across the country, this is the only one that can get coaches involved. At other places, they’re told they can’t do it and who are they kidding? With our rivalry, which will always be a rivalry, we’ve got tremendous and amazing people who step up for us.”
The tournament has a tradition of raising $60,000 to fight kidney disease, which takes more lives than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined.
Over the years, the event has often been as serious as a heart attack. Nobody wanted to sing the other's fight song for TV cameras, which the loser has to do. There were also funny moments — lighthearted banter and some classic jabs — but it had been a little stiff of late.
Until Monday. It was just right.
For the Utes, captain Frank Dolce scrambled to get a Utah foursome together over the weekend when several former players backed out. He ended up with only one former Ute player, Todd Handley. Dolce and Handley were joined by Andy Winter and Greg Boyce, regular Ute guys who rushed to the scene after a plea for help.
For the Cougars, as per the rules, the four former players included captain Hans Olsen, along with Ben Criddle, Carlos Nuno and Bryan Kehl. When Olsen had to cut out for a radio gig with just under half the round to play, an assigned scorekeeper stepped in and played.
Naturally, Dolce objected that BYU didn’t finish with its crew. Naturally, Criddle protested that the Utes didn’t have former Ute players to begin with.
But it was good. Edwards and McBride got their moment in the sun and they are truly a unique twosome whose unique jocularity seemingly never fades.
Although this charity is the biggest winner, the guy who probably came out with the best day was the 84-year-old Edwards.
In addition to the rivalry foursomes that usually draw all the press, the tournament proper, which has strict handicap guidelines, featured a berth in the national Liberty Mutual championship at TPC Sawgrass later this year for the winning team. Edwards was hooked up with that winning team, comprised of Derek Roney, Ryan Ryce and Richard Watson, with a score of 14-under-par 58.
“LaVell hit it well,” said Wilson. “He made three putts for us in the 15-foot range.”
“He played very well. I hope I can hit it like him when I’m his age,” said Roney. “He got a little tired at the end, but I was very impressed.”
Two groups tied for second. A group of David, Trevor, Angela and David Eric Bradford shot a 59 to tie the Hansgen clan: Dan, Ted, Jed and Steven.
“This is an amazing and distinct cultural and rivalry tournament and the only one like it, not only in this state, but the nation. We’re so thankful and lucky to have this be what it is,” said Vetterli.
And she’s right.
Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.