Golf with George Karl

By Ryan  Segelke

Recently, we were fortunate enough to have the opportunity to attend dinner and play golf with former Denver Nuggets’ head coach George Karl.  As we sat in the bar area of ChoLon Restaurant in downtown Denver, none of us knew what to expect.

How did we get this opportunity?  Well, it all started with an invite from our friend Sandy Priester, Executive Director of LifeSpark, to the NightSparks event this past April.  The donations collected at this event went directly to help those with cancer receive Reiki and Healing Touch therapies so that they might feel better during the toughest challenges of their life.  Both of my grandparents passed from cancer, so it is a cause that is close to my heart.

During the silent auction portion of the event, the opportunity came up to bid on golf and dinner with George Karl.  We couldn’t pass this chance up for many reasons.  First, we wanted to support the cause.  Secondly, we wanted a chance to pick Coach Karl’s brain.  From the first day that we opened the doors at High Altitude Tennis Academy (Parker, CO), we have been on a mission to bring specialized tennis coaching methods and the newest technology to Colorado.  The majority of tennis coaching over the past few decades has been generic and broken.  So, it was a no-brainer to lock up the winning bid and secure the chance to have a “think tank” with one of the most successful coaches in NBA history!

Alongside me at dinner, there were five others.  They included: my wife and business partner, Leslie Segelke, our 16-year-old son Jesse, HAT’s GM and Director of Fitness, Michael Farrington, Coach Daniel Hangsteffer from Metro State University, and Coach John Goodrich from Colorado Christian University.  As we were making small talk, Coach Karl pulled up in his very humble Subaru Outback and entered the restaurant wearing a golf shirt and golf shorts.  After Coach Karl shook hands with each of us, he went back to the kitchen to greet his friend and executive chef at ChoLon, Lon Symensma.

Throughout dinner, two things became very obvious about Coach Karl: he was extremely honest and down to earth.  Although much of the conversation was about coaching philosophies, we each took our cracks at asking him about other interesting topics (Carmelo Anthony, DeMarcus Cousins, the Nuggets, the Sacramento Kings, his talented daughter and his lovely wife).  In all honesty, I think that everyone in attendance felt like they were around their favorite uncle George.  He really made everyone feel comfortable and at home.

The next day, my son Jesse, our family friend Jamie, myself, and Coach Karl let some golf balls fly at Eagle Bend Golf Course in Aurora.  We arrived right at tee time and headed straight for the 1st tee.  We then worked out each person’s odds and what would make for a fair match (Coach Karl is a competitor).  As Coach Karl walked (hobbled) up to the first tee, he joked that if he were to try and retrieve any balls during the round out of the bunkers or rough, someone would have to come and carry him out.  He was referencing the many surgeries he has been through as well as his knee surgery to come.  He also shared his deep appreciation of Sandy, Sharon Reese and the LifeSpark organization.  Coach Karl has overcome cancer twice in previous years, and his son has battled cancer as well.

After spraying the ball around the golf course for four-plus hours, the matchup ended in a tie.  Afterward, Coach Karl was even nice enough to share his phone number with the group!  How many people would do that?

In a day when nearly every commercial and media outlet pushes the idea that the more material items we own, the more confident or successful we will be, Coach Karl flies in the face of all that.  With a Coors Light in hand, golf bag on his back, or a folding chair over his shoulder (ready to watch his daughter’s next soccer game), Coach Karl is laid-back.  Perhaps this is exactly why he is one of the most successful coaches in NBA History.  He doesn’t buy into the hype.

He has a profound respect for his craft and for those who came before him, including his late mentor Dean Smith.  He believes that honesty, consistency of message, and fighting hard every night are key.  And, those ideals are a simple reminder of exactly what it takes to “win” in this world.  Thank you George Karl for walking the walk and leading the path for future coaches of any sport.  I know this is exactly what we will be working hard to bring to Colorado junior tennis!

What an experience!