With a passel of good golfers already in hand and a seemingly inexhaustible supply on the way, the University of Houston, which in June won its third straight NCAA title, appears ready to dominate collegiate golf for a good long spell to come—this, despite the fact that college golfers from all over are becoming so increasingly potent (see box) that four undergraduates emerged in the quarter-final round of the National Amateur which ended two weeks ago. Two of Houston's sturdier products—Rex Baxter, who graduated last year, and Phil Rodgers, who will be entering his junior year if his late term paper on Marriage and Family Life is acceptable to the faculty-have won NCAA championships recently and were highly regarded in pre-Amateur speculation.
Behind Houston's ambitious rise into big-time golf is the team's 39-year-old coach, Dave Williams, a brown-haired, blue-eyed, excessively earnest man who took over his golf duties in 1951. His formula for success has been a rather simple one. "The first thing I did," he says, "was to find out who the state high school champs were." Williams persuaded the 1950 and '51 champions to come to Houston, and his golf team started to win.
It was the arrival of Rex Baxter Jr. in 1953 that finally supplied the fuel needed to propel Houston into national prominence. The muscular youngster from Amarillo had never won a tournament in high school, but he captured the USGA Junior the summer after graduation and was a prize catch.
As Rex Baxter Sr. phrases it: "Rex went to Houston because it was the only school to offer him a full scholarship which included room, board, tuition and laundry. Oklahoma A&M and SMU were after him, but they didn't offer that much."
In 1955 Baxter led his team to the Border Olympic championship, and in 1956 and '57 Houston golfers captured successive NCAA titles. Rex won the individual college crown himself in 1957, also took the Trans-Mississippi title and was named to the Walker Cup team.
Houston's national success, Coach Williams implies modestly, has done more to attract fine golfers than his own vigorous recruiting, but last November the NCAA, harkening perhaps to rumors that stronger inducements may have been needed to draw outstanding young players like California's Rodgers and Iowa's Jack Rule to southernmost Texas, sent an investigator calling at the Houston campus. Apparently his visit turned up nothing amiss because the NCAA has taken no subsequent action.
Actually, Williams explains, no one on the 1957-58 team received a completely free ride from the university. Rodgers and Rule are International Jaycee tournament winners and were given four-year scholarships by the Jaycees. The rest of the team gets along on variants of the board, room, tuition and laundry formula.
Supplying a less glamorous interpretation for Houston's golf fortunes is a Houston newspaperman who said, "I think one reason for UH's golf success is the rather light academic program. The entrance requirements, if there are any, are low, and athletes who have been scholastic failures at Southwest Conference schools never seem to have much trouble making grades at UH."
Rodgers, of course, is an exceptional athlete who would help any college golf team, but it is questionable whether he is long for UH.
"If his report is approved he will be eligible," says Williams, "but even then I don't know how long we can keep him. Phil isn't a very good student. Also, he could turn pro right now, join the tour and win money. He knows it and I know it."