The journey of local PGA Tour golfer Mac McLendon is chronicled in a new book by Nikki Sepsas. Here’s an excerpt.
A personal telephone call from legendary football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant was, to an aspiring athlete, almost like hearing the voice of the Almighty. During his 25-year tenure as the head football coach at the University of Alabama, Bryant’s Crimson Tide teams won six national championship titles (the most in modern college football history), and recorded 13 Southeastern Conference championships. Upon his retirement in 1982, Bryant’s 323 gridiron victories were the most wins of any head coach in collegiate football history. Bryant’s record for national titles was not equaled until January 2018 when Coach Nick Saban, also at the helm of Alabama’s football program, notched his sixth championship.
The strain of the quarter-century he spent recruiting football talent and training his young men to be the best they could be both on and off the football field was evident in “Bear” Bryant’s craggy face, once described by a writer as “an aerial shot of a drought area.”
The coach’s otherworldly status was the reason that Mac McLendon felt that one of his friends was playing a trick on him when Mac’s mother came into his room one afternoon during his senior year at Montgomery’s Robert E. Lee High School.
“Mac,” she said, “you have a phone call from Coach Paul Bryant at Alabama.”
“Right,” Mac answered, convinced that someone was intent on having some fun at his expense.
“No, I’m serious,” his mother insisted. “Coach Bryant is on the phone.” Answering the call, Mac was shocked to hear the gravelly-throated “growl” of Coach Bryant’s voice, the result of years of heavy smoking and his Moro Bottom, Arkansas roots.
“Mac,” Coach Bryant began, “I want you to come to the University of Alabama and play collegiate golf.”
Shocked almost beyond belief to actually be speaking to the man, it took Mac a moment to collect his thoughts before he could respond. When he did, that conversation would set the course for the rest of Mac’s life.
“Coach, you don’t even have a golf team at Alabama,” Mac replied.
“I know that,” Bryant countered, “but we’re going to get a golf coach and begin a program. And you need to be a part of it. How about a scholarship to play golf at Alabama?”
Again overwhelmed at receiving an offer that most considered the culmination of a dream, Mac stumbled through his reasons for why he would have to decline. He had recently been contacted by Coach Dave Williams at the University of Houston, but felt he had to turn down that scholarship offer as he had already signed a letter of intent with Coach Harry Taylor at Louisiana State University.
“Coach, I have already accepted a scholarship offer from LSU,” Mac explained, “and I’ve signed a letter of intent from them.”
“I understand,” Bryant noted, “but I really want you to come to Alabama.” Mac’s mind was racing, weighing his options. Would he back out of his verbal and written commitment to become a Bengal Tiger and join the established golf team at LSU or should he accept the personal invitation from Coach Bryant at Alabama?
“Coach Bryant, I am overwhelmed by your offer, but I will have to say ‘no thank you’,” Mac heard himself say. “I’ve given my word to LSU. I feel that my word is my bond, and I will have to honor the commitment I made to LSU and to Coach Harry Taylor at Baton Rouge.”
Unsure as to what he would now hear from the sports icon, Mac recalled many years later how shocked he had been at Coach Bryant’s response.
“He told me ‘Son, I won’t lie to you and tell you that I’m not disappointed, because I am. But you have my respect. Your parents raised you the right way. I wish you well at LSU’.
“I’ve never forgotten that conversation.”
The exchange did not end there.
“Coach,” Mac interjected, “I’d like to recommend my younger brother for a spot on Alabama’s new golf team. He’s five years younger than I am and is a good golfer whose game is improving every year. I feel he would be an asset to the program.”
“I appreciate that, Mac,” Bryant said. “I promise to look into it.”
True to his word, Coach Bryant did look into recruiting John Clyde McLendon, who was eventually offered a full scholarship and played golf at Alabama.
“My brother, John, won golf tournaments on his own and caddied for me several times when I was on the PGA Tour,” Mac said. “He had always been one of my biggest fans and followed my career very closely. Our family was greatly saddened by his passing in 2019.”
The launching of a career
It is somewhat ironic that the phone call from Coach Bryant in 1962 and Mac’s subsequent declining the offer to play golf at the University of Alabama would set the tone for how Mac would conduct himself during his collegiate and professional career as a golfer and beyond.
While a member of LSU’s golf team, Mac won the individual SEC championship in three consecutive years beginning in 1965. After graduating from LSU in 1967, Mac joined the PGA Tour the following year. His impact on the world of golf began that very same year when he won the first event he entered, the Magnolia State Classic in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. The Magnolia State Classic was a PGA Tour Satellite Event for players not eligible for the Colonial National Invitational Tournament.
During a career on the PGA Tour that spanned twelve-plus years, Mac won four Tour events – the Walt Disney World National Team Championship with Hubert Green in 1974 (beating by one stroke Sam Snead and his nephew, J.C. Snead); the Southern Open in 1976; and the Florida Citrus Open and the Pensacola Open, both in 1978. He competed in the Masters Tournament five times (1969, 1975, 1977, 1978, and 1979). He made the cut at three of his appearances there where his best finish was a tie for twenty-ninth place in 1978. Mac played three times each in the U.S. Open and the PGA Championship.
Mac retired from the PGA Tour in 1980 with five professional PGA Tour victories. He then began a career that spanned 38 years in the financial industry as a financial advisor. He retired at the end of last year. In his life-after-golf career, Mac built a reputation for integrity and honesty based on the same set-in-stone commitment he felt when he gave his word and his pledge to LSU, even over the personal invitation from Coach Paul Bryant, an invitation that was considered the “Holy Grail” of athletes at that time.
Mac was inducted into the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame in 2000. There his golf career is enshrined along with upwards of 300 other men and women who have distinguished themselves in fields ranging from baseball, football, and basketball, to swimming, archery, and others. Mac McLendon and each of the other athletes inducted into the ASHOF are in impressive company – five of the Alabama inductees are among the top 15 athletes selected as the greatest of the twentieth century by ESPN.
In 1970, Mac was inducted into the Louisiana State University Athletic Hall of Fame that honors students who have earned their degrees from LSU and gained national distinction through superlative performance. Candidates must have also established a personal reputation for character and citizenship.
Mac was also inducted into the Montgomery Sports Hall of Fame in Montgomery, Alabama.
The road that Mac traveled to reach his present role as husband, father, grandfather, and investment advisor has been, like all of our roads, a long and winding journey. Success in any one of those fields would be reason enough to celebrate. To reach a pinnacle in each of them, however, is truly inspiring.
Mac’s life story is just such an inspiration.
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