If you took a few minutes to watch BYU head football coach Kalani Sitake and Utah head football coach Kyle Whittingham on a golf course, you would see they are just like any other guys making their way around the links.
They have their share of good shots and bad shots. They do a little good-natured ribbing of each other at times while also lauding good shots. They talk about a lot of normal things other golfers talk about.
But football? Well, Sitake said it doesn’t come up that much.
“We don’t talk football, except general things with coaching,” Sitake said Monday. “We don’t talk about each other’s teams. We just kind of talk about life more than anything and what’s going on. We’re just friends. We hang out and play the game that way.”
The two most famous football coaches in the state may have been just another couple golfer at Monday’s Liberty Invitational “Rivalry for Charity” golf tournament at Hidden Valley Country Club in Sandy — but their support is invaluable for the beneficiary, the National Kidney Foundation of Utah and Idaho.
“They are the reason the tournament has been so successful for many than 25 years,” said Deen Vetterli, CEO of the National Kidney Foundation of Utah and Idaho. “When I started the tournament, I was trying to think of some way to differentiate our tournament. I was shopping in Albertsons one day and it came to me: football. It was LaVell Edwards and Jim Fassel then but it’s been every single one of them.”
Sitake said he enjoys taking time to participate in the annual event, one that Cougar and Ute coaches have now been participating in for three decades.
“I loved it,” Sitake said. “I’m not good at golf but I like the competition. It’s more competing against yourself. I think I’m getting better. Once I get the hang of it, then I’ll start camp and forget about it.”
For many years, the most well-publicized part of the event was playing up the BYU-Utah rivalry with competitive foursomes, most notably when legendary coaches LaVell Edwards and Ron McBride were involved.
But Whittingham and Sitake aren’t as much into golf as those predecessors were and elected to do it their own way.
“We thought it would be better if we played together and not had it be ‘us against them,’ to have it more focused on the National Kidney Foundation,” Sitake said. “I know it was a lot of fun before but I think this allows everyone to play their score and have fun with it.”
The coaches did have to deal with the added pressure of having television cameras and photographers documenting their play.
“I had some long putts that no one covered,” Sitake said. “The cameras weren’t around when I was hitting great ones. This game is weird because the more you try the worse you get. It was like swing smooth and hope it goes somewhere. That seemed to really work for me and I gained some momentum. The majority of my shots were clean hits and I was very happy about that.”
Sitake’s and Whittingham’s foursome (which also included representatives from sponsors) ended up 4-under-par for the day with four early birdies and then consistent pars the rest of the way.
“We didn’t want to show off,” Sitake said with a grin. “We can’t win this event.”
The real winners are those who benefit from from the funds that were raised at the tournament by the National Kidney Foundation of Utah and Idaho.
“It’s exciting to be a part of something where we can see the difference,” Vetterli said. “We get four or five letter per week thanking us for the transportation program, where we provide transportation for people who live 70 miles or more away from their dialysis centers. We have medical research conferences on how to prevent kidney disease and we do hundreds of screenings. It’s very rewarding for all of us involved in the kidney foundation.”
According to the kidney foundation, more than 2,925 patients in Utah and Idaho are sustaining life through dialysis with more than 250 new patients beginning dialysis every year. Of the just over 1,000 people in the two states awaiting a life-saving organ transplant, 722 are waiting to receive a kidney.
For more information and details on the efforts of the National Kidney Foundation of Utah and Idaho, go to www.KidneyUT.org.