In the annals of great golf comebacks, it ranks with Paul Lawrie rallying from 10 shots back on the final day to win the 1999 British Open, though analysts with Scottish brogues might beg to differ.
Actually, what Chris Berry accomplished was more remarkable. It was 71 strokes in two years, and whereas Lawrie had the advantage of Jean Van de Velde, the sad sack Frenchman, topping the leaderboard in Carnousie after three rounds, Berry had to overcome turning a fairway wood on his self-confidence, which is more difficult.
If you’ve forgotten, Berry was the UNLV golfer who shot 91-81-87-85–344 in the 1996 NCAA Championships near Chattanooga, Tenn. — and somehow came back from that to shoot 70-68-68-67–273 two years later in the same event in Albuquerque, N.M.
Two years after essentially losing the NCAA title for the Rebels and finishing last, Berry won it for them and tied for second.
On Wednesday, seven members of UNLV’s proud golfing past and their coach, Dwaine Knight, met in a tent adjacent to the 18th fairway at TPC Summerlin to tell slightly exaggerated stories of their youth. Six were merciless in recalling Berry’s 1996 performance. There were references to snowmen — golf vernacular for a score of “8” — and that scene in “Tin Cup” when Kevin Costner repeatedly hit his ball into a pond. Someone even mentioned the dreaded windmill hole at the Putt-Putt Fun Center.
Berry just sat there and took it, like the guy from Iowa who buys front-row tickets for Don Rickles’ show.
“In ’96, I wanted to crawl in a hole,” said Berry, who like many former Rebels has gone on to make a living on the PGA Tour, only he’s doing it as a caddie for Dean Wilson. “I didn’t know if I wanted to play again.”
He came back but couldn’t crack the Rebels’ lineup in ’97, because it’s hard to line up a putt with a paper bag over your head. Redemption would have to wait.
“I figured I won one for Coach and I lost one for Coach,” Berry said.
Knight’s math is a little different.
“He’s my story to young people,” Knight said. “When you had to overcome what he did, to get on top and win a national championship is pretty special.”
■ T.J. LAVIN: A report on the People magazine website Friday said the BMX star from Las Vegas is speaking and breathing on his own after suffering a closed head injury, broken ribs and a broken wrist in an Oct. 14 crash at the Hard Rock Hotel. “He says ‘yes’ a little bit … but he is not opening his eyes yet,” friend and business partner Chas Aday said, adding that Lavin, 33, would require therapy to “get back to normal.”
■ GIANT PERSONALITIES: People around here might not remember Buster Posey was the Fresno Grizzlies’ catcher on opening night at Cashman Field this year or that Cody Ross played for the 51s in 2004 and 2005 and was popular with teammates, because people around here mostly go to 51s games for fireworks and cheap beer on Thursday.
■ WOMEN’S TACKLE FOOTBALL: Nikki Johnson and the Las Vegas Showgirlz — a women’s football team that plays its games fully clothed — were featured on ESPN2 and the NFL Network last week. If you missed it among all the lowlights of male football players “tackling” other male football players with their helmets, you can see it on the Showgirlz’s website. But you’ll have to Google it because the link is longer than the name on the back of T.J. Houshmandzadeh’s jersey.
■ PAC-10 TITLE GAME: It used to be that if Las Vegas wanted a certain event, Las Vegas got a certain event. Those days apparently are over. Just as my retinas were getting used to Oregon’s football uniforms, the Pacific 10 has announced the inaugural 2011 Pac-12 championship game will be played at the home stadium of the team with the best record and not Las Vegas or another neutral city.
■ UFL TITLE GAME: Apparently, Las Vegas doesn’t want the United Football League championship game, either. After a one-year run, it’s headed for Omaha, Neb., the UFL’s new marquee city. I heard people in Council Bluffs on the Iowa side of the Missouri River already are lining up for tickets, probably because the greyhounds no longer are running.
■ JEFF HORTON: The former UNLV football coach lost his first game as interim head coach at Minnesota on Saturday. But how cool must it have been to look across the field to the other sideline and see Joe Paterno’s white socks?
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0352.