While coaching at Ohio State, Urban Meyer was a first-off-the-tee guy. He would motor through 18 holes as the sun rose over central Ohio, finishing by 8 a.m.
“He goes fast — just like his offense,” said Brian Kelly, the head pro at the Ohio State Golf Club. “It’s a 2-minute drill.”
So when Meyer arrived at the first hole (10th tee) at 9 a.m. for this round on the spectacular Scarlet Course, the legendary former Buckeyes golf coach Jim Brown ribbed him: “Are you sleeping in now?”
Not exactly. We planned to play a pre-breakfast 18, but the Monday storm that produced tornadoes in Illinois and Ohio caused a nine-hour O’Hare flight delay — and a 3:20 a.m. hotel arrival Tuesday. So Meyer took pity and we played nine.
Meyer’s main goal, other than to beat me out of a breakfast sandwich, was to prepare for the next day’s Memorial Tournament pro-am at Muirfield Village, where the 10-handicap would be paired with Keegan Bradley. Thousands of spectators would be lining the fairways.
“Just want to walk out without hurting someone,” he said.
He left swarms of spectators happy Wednesday by autographing every item thrust his way between nines.
“It feels weird,” he said, “to sign my name next to Rory McIlroy.”
Our round Tuesday began with him turning and asking, “1996?”
Yup, we met 23 years ago at a golf event to preview Notre Dame’s football season. I saw that my partner was the Irish receivers coach and introduced myself.
“You for us or against us?” Meyer responded.
Hearing the story now, Meyer said that reply was “pretty brazen” for a position coach who had recently joined Lou Holtz’s staff from Colorado State.
But that’s how he is. With Kelly out of town, golf pro Rob Robinson was tasked with hosting Meyer for a round in 2016. Robinson showed up in a blue pullover.
“What the (bleep) are you wearing?” Meyer asked him. “We’re gonna hold off until you have something appropriate on.”
Coach Meyer will never be known as Coach Mellow. That applies to the golf course as well.
“Go! Go!” he hollered at a birdie putt left short.
“Dog-GONE-it!” he bellowed while looking for an errant tee shot.
And as we approached our drives on the 505-yard 12th, he examined a ball and asked, “What are you playing?”
Once he realized I outdrove him, Meyer said: “Son of a (bleep). You got me. Wow … (crap’s) gonna change.”
With 240 yards to the flag, a breeze in his face and a creek ahead, he could not justify going for the green.
“My younger days, I absolutely would have,” he said. “Like going for it on fourth-and-10 in the SEC championship (game).” (He went on fourth-and-14 before halftime of Florida’s 2006 victory against Arkansas.)
Meyer acknowledged that his transition has not been easy from coaching to his new dual roles as assistant athletic director for Ohio State and co-host of a new Fox Sports pregame show with Reggie Bush, Matt Leinart, Brady Quinn and Rob Stone.
“I miss the players,” he said. “I miss the greater good, which is team. But I have the greater good too. Family, grandchildren.”
He shows a picture on his phone of daughter Nicki’s children, Troy and Gray (full name: Urban Gray). The family lives across the seventh fairway from his home at Muirfield Village, the Jack Nicklaus-designed top-100 course that hosts the Memorial.
Younger daughter Gigi is living at home until she gets married in February. Nate is a freshman baseball player at Cincinnati, his dad’s alma mater.
At 10:40 a.m. on May 14, Meyer received a text that Nate would be starting in right field against Northern Kentucky. First pitch was 11 a.m. The ballpark was 115 miles away.
Meyer immediately jogged down 10 flights of stairs from his office at Ohio State. He gunned it and arrived in the fourth inning, eventually shouting, “Hey!” so Nate could see him.
“Big smile on his face,” Meyer said. “Worth it. That is eternal.”
As an assistant athletic director, he will court donors and mentor varsity coaches and team captains. He also co-teaches a business school class on leadership. Some howled when that news was made public, pointing to his handling of the Zach Smith fiasco.
Ohio State suspended Meyer for the first three games of last season after investigating his responses to multiple accusations of domestic abuse against Smith, a former Buckeyes receivers coach, by Smith’s ex-wife.
Meyer fired Smith in July after Smith was charged with criminal trespassing in a dispute with his ex-wife, but the next day at Big Ten media days, Meyer denied knowledge of a 2015 domestic incident that police investigated without charging Smith. Meyer later admitted he knew of the incident and reported it to the proper channels.
While Meyer deserved the scrutiny that came with some of those mind-boggling decisions, that’s not the part of his legacy that people here care about. They’re more into the 54-4 Big Ten record, the ownership of Jim Harbaugh and Michigan, the 2014 national title, the victorious Rose Bowl finale and Meyer’s emphasis on quality conduct from his players, an upgrade from his days at Florida.
Meyer, 54, said he stepped down primarily for health reasons. Despite undergoing surgery in 2014 to remove fluid caused by a cyst in his brain, he suffered debilitating headaches in 2017 and last season.
He revealed he could not even address his team after midseason victories over Penn State and Indiana. He said he would remain in a quiet room until they “drugged me up” with Toradol, a strong painkiller.
How is he feeling now?
“Good,” he replied. “It’s something I have to manage. I’m trying different things.”
Exercise is good. He and wife Shelley got in 20,000-plus steps the other day, walking the entire course at Muirfield Village.
And golf can be therapeutic.
“He loves golf almost more than he loves coaching football,” said Doad Edwards, the director of instruction at the Ohio State Golf Club.
“I’m a little better at one than the other,” Meyer deadpanned.
Despite lower back issues, or maybe because of them, Meyer has a non-taxing swing with good tempo. He can shoot in the 70s and made an ace on a long par-3 at the Warren Course in South Bend, Ind., while playing with coaches Greg Mattison and Bob Davie.
Meyer is good company on the golf course, asking playing partners about their lives and, of course, never slowing anyone down.
He also enjoys giving the needle. As I changed clubs before hitting my approach into No. 18, Meyer said to Kelly, “Right now I’m so in his jug.”
On cue I pulled my 6-iron long and left, allowing Meyer’s par to win our three-hole match.
“The Tribune is buying me breakfast,” he said triumphantly.
Turns out Meyer was playing hurt too. He needed two stiches in his left hand after a power-washing accident. He was cleaning his porch for Memorial Day when he lost control of the spray wand.