Graham Hunt and Jeremy Gandon are unlikely friends. One is 85 years old. The other is 21. One is from Kansas City. The other was born in France. They have as much in common as books and video games.
But they do share something in common, and that connection was strong enough to bring them together Thursday at Colbert Hills Golf Course.
Hunt and Gandon are the only two Kansas State golfers to win an individual conference championship. Hunt won his in 1951, so long ago that the Wildcats played in the Big Six Conference and he purchased his own train ticket to the national tournament when K-State didn’t have money to send him. Gandon claimed his title last month at the Big 12 Tournament in Tulsa, Okla., and just finished his junior season with a 1-under showing at a NCAA regional.
Their championships are separated by nearly seven decades, but Hunt and Gandon are members of an exclusive club and they are happy to now call each other pals.
“This is amazing that I am around after 67 years and that I am here to meet the guy who tied my record,” Hunt said. “So I’m thrilled to have this opportunity. I’ve been looking forward to this day.”
“That’s good,” Gandon said. “I didn’t know him before or really know anything about K-State golf history. But it’s always good to talk to people like that with a cool story to tell. It’s funny to hear about how much golf has changed. He’s a great guy.”
They spent a few hours together Thursday, first at a lunch table inside the clubhouse and later on the driving range. They swapped stories about their backgrounds and their most memorable days on the course.
Hunt told stories about selling the family horse to pay for a golf membership and the time he met Ronald Reagan on his way to nationals. Oh, and he slept at a fraternity house instead of a hotel after he arrived. He also advised Gandon on the importance of course management. That was always the secret to Hunt's success.
He still lives in Kansas City and makes it out to the golf course when he can. He monitors his alma mater and cheers for the K-State golf team. His golfing hero is Ben Hogan.
Gandon spoke about his journey from France to Kansas and how K-State golf coach Grant Robbins recruited him with a combination of emails and Skype calls. He laughed at how simple his travel to California for a NCAA regional was compared to what Hunt experienced. Flying, he said, sounded a lot better than riding cross country on a train.
He is headed back to France for some time off this week. His golfing icon is Tiger Woods.
Mostly, though, they celebrated each other and their accomplishments.
“It broke my heart,” Hunt joked about Gandon’s championship. I’m not one of those guys who thinks records are made to be broken. It’s 67 years that it stood. But I’m really happy for him. It had to happen sometime. I wanted it to happen, because I wanted Kansas State to succeed. My initial reaction was, ‘Woah, wait a minute. I’m not sure I like that.’ But he’s wonderful, a very charming guy. He’s obviously very talented and I think he will go a long way.”
Funny thing is, Gandon didn’t realize he matched Hunt’s achievement until after he tied for first at the Big 12 Tournament at Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa last month.
Robbins, the K-State golf coach, was quick to inform Gandon.
“With all the good players that have come through here like Jim Colbert and Robert Streb and guys like that, it just shows how special winning a conference championship is,” Robbins said. “It’s a great accomplishment for Mr. Hunt and now Jeremy, especially the way the Big 12 is this year. We had seven teams qualify for nationals. This is arguably the strongest the Big 12 has ever been in golf. For Jeremy to come out on top in that tournament shows what kind of player he is.”
Much has changed over the years for K-State golf. Hunt practiced exclusively at Manhattan Country Club when he was in school. Today, Colbert Hills is the home course for Gandon and his teammates, but they get opportunities to practice all over, year round.
With those resources, Hunt is hopeful Gandon won’t have to wait 67 years to meet the next K-State golfer to win a conference championship.
If Gandon has a strong senior year, perhaps he can become the first K-State golfer to repeat the accomplishment and lead the Wildcats to a NCAA regional.
“He is playing with confidence,” Robbins said. “This year was a great learning experience for him and he’s going to grow this summer. Next we need to be there as a team. It’s good to be there as an individual, but even Jeremy was saying it would be so much better if my team was here with me. We are going to use that as motivation and make sure that we are all there.”