Dec 31

Don Byers Going to College

61-Year Old Byers Joining the Golf Team

I was once offered a TA position in another field when I was in my early 60s,  after my college and grad school days were long gone. I enjoyed the moment, and was grateful for the sentiment, but otherwise,  was only somewhat amused. Boy, was that a big mistake. I should have taken it and run with life, the way I had before. It would have been a total gas.  Nebraskan Don Byers is not going to make that same mistake. Already the head of of a successful insurance practice, with grandchildren and a golf game very near the scratch level, Byers is joining the golf team at Bellevue University. The school enjoys a national reputation as a center for adult learning, but this is ridiculous…or is it?

The golf coach at Bellevue is a big thinker. He doesn’t recruit his players through a narrow set of criteria. Right now, most of them come from various South American countries, and he has filled the final spot with a golfer he spotted playing in the Champions Run in Omaha. He didn’t care about the correctness of the candidate’s collegiate profile, or where he went to high school almost half a century before. He looked, he saw, he liked, and he signed. Don Byers, a one-handicapper, has all sorts of hitting power, and can compete easily from the back tees. He has finesse on the greens, and all the experience with the game he loves that a coach could ever want. So, there you are.
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Byers never got to finish college. A baseball whiz kid as a young man, an injury cost him his scholarship and dreams of playing. He has always missed not earning a college degree. However, Bellevue is transferring some previous credits.  He will enter as a freshman, the lowest lower class member on the golf team. He has some trouble convincing anyone who will listen that he is indeed returning to college to compete in sports, but when they finally get it, they are behind it, as if Byers would care if they are not.

There have, on occasion, been such cases in the U.S. – here and there a placekicker, a basketball player, or a swimmer. These, however, are not easygoing sports. A placekicker can get squashed, or have a heart attack running an 80 yard fake. This is golf, the game of elderly presidents as well as eager young devotees. Everyone can play it. It’s good for everyone.

Bellevue is a member of the NAIA. Unlike other sports ruling bodies, no age restrictions are listed. So, considering that Byers plays a good game, is he stealing opportunities from kids? If the U.S. is going to claim itself as a country based on competition, the answer is no. The aspirations of a 61-year old are as valuable as those of anyone else. There is no expiration date on dreams, and if you can cut it, they don’t have to be just daydreams. I remember that in Germany, academic retirement was mandatory at 55, just about the time I was starting to do my best work.  “Oh no,” they said, you have to make room for young people. I’m not against that, but they can wait their turn as I did. I’ll be the prof, you take the TA position. Don Byers is still doing good work, he qualifies, and has enrolled full-time at the school. Are there any other boxes that need to be checked?

The season starts in March, in a Las Vegas tournament. At least Byers won’t present any underage drinking problems.  He notes that his teammates tend to have flat bellies, while “I have five of them.” The country’s oldest college athlete will have children and grandchildren to cheer him on, for four years if he feels like it.

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I saw a note that attested to an ace Byers shot in 2012, a 122 yard sand wedge at Gothenburg., Nebraska. At that time, his teammates were barely into high school, or not quite. Still, I’m going to guess that the kids will get a kick out of this unusual situation, and Byers may find himself the object of group affection as he plays his game and goes for that sheepskin. Meanwhile, score one for the old guys.

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