The Legend of KB
Let me tell you a little something about Steve Turner, a friend since childhood who was a big hitter with an even bigger heart
By Mark Godich
It will always be the Tee Shot. Of all the shots I watched Steve Turner hit over the past 50-plus years — and I saw plenty of prodigious blows — I will most remember the Tee Shot. We were seniors at Richardson High School in suburban Dallas in the spring of 1975, playing in a tournament not far from the Oklahoma border. Dave Goscin, Steve’s best friend, was there. So was Tony Click. The four of us go way back, to junior high and before. When the scores were tallied after 36 holes, we were tied for third place. The sun was setting, so tournament officials hustled the two teams to the 1st tee for a 10-man, sudden-death playoff. Our opponent won the honors after a flip of the coin.
Steve was the funniest guy I’ve ever known. He made people laugh, even when making a seemingly innocuous comment. He could also be really loud. As we loitered around the tee waiting for the playoff to commence, he started talking about this and that. And as our opponents hit their tee shots at the par-5 dogleg left, he was quick with the running commentary. “One down,” he announced loud enough for everyone to hear after the leadoff hitter snap-hooked his drive way left. “That’s no good,” he proclaimed after the next guy flared one well right. Even shots that found the fairway were greeted with derision. “That’s not very long,” he said. “That all you got?”
I feared Steve’s audaciousness would come back to bite us, but the first four of us delivered good drives. Steve was always going to hit last. He was our best player, a three-year letterman who as a sophomore had played on the varsity alongside a senior named Tim January, the son of PGA champion Don January. Even as a 17-year-old, Steve was ridiculously long. He was a solid 6-foot-4 with broad shoulders. The ball had a different sound coming off of his clubface. My teammates and I waited in anticipation as he settled into his wide stance. Wait until you see this, I remember thinking. Showtime!
Steve made a big shoulder turn as he drew the club back. Then he took his customary lash. And that’s when it happened. Another mighty poke? Hardly. The ball never got airborne. Steve topped it. It’s not an exaggeration to say he topped the ball so badly that he almost missed it. After dribbling a few yards, the ball came to rest not far off the tee. Everybody howled—our opponents, both coaches, the handful of spectators who were watching, even my teammates and me. Steve held his pose for a brief second, walked silently to his bag, grabbed his 3-wood and proceeded to unleash a couple of mammoth blows. He got home in three and made par.
We won the playoff in a rout, and the 60-mile ride home was a raucous one as we passed around and admired our newly acquired hardware. Over that hour, we ribbed Steve about the Tee Shot, but he repeatedly responded with four simple words: “Did I make par?”
The four of us had a shared passion for the game. Dave and I had attended one elementary school, Steve and Tony another. Our worlds converged at Richardson West Junior High. We played other sports, but everything came back to golf. We played every year in the Dallas Times Herald junior tournament. My parents were members at Spring Valley Country Club, a modest club in North Dallas with a ho-hum 9-hole track. We almost always played 18 holes, and sometimes more, walking and carrying our bags, one parent dropping us off in the morning dew and another hauling us home in the setting sun.
To this day, I’ve wondered if Steve topped that shot intentionally. In all the years I knew him, I never saw him make a swing like that. I have come to decide he was too competitive to even consider such a stunt. Still, I wish I had asked him. Now I can’t. Because we lost Steve Turner on the first Saturday in September. He died after a two-year battle with leukemia, at the far-too-young age of 66.
But what a life he lived. His career revolved around the game, working in pro shops and golf stores around Dallas, and along the way he crossed paths with future major champions. He played in a PGA Tour event, and he was the 1982 Texas Long Driving champion, advancing to the national tournament after uncorking a 346-yard drive with a persimmon-headed driver and a balata ball. Dave witnessed it all, tagging along as Steve’s guest. He had a nickname to match almost every day of the week: T, Mr. T, the Captain, Sugar, Sport (bestowed upon him by the mother who raised him) and the ever-popular KB. He was, in a word, gregarious. Everyone loved being in his company.
After graduating from Texas A&M, Steve took a job with Hormel and was sent to the West Texas town of Abilene. But he wasn’t long for the job, especially after his bosses approached him about a potential move to Minnesota. Dave suggested that Steve reach out to Mike Nedrow, the head pro at Oakridge Country Club in suburban Dallas. Mike had been a year ahead of us at RHS, and classmates David Brock and Ron Samples were already on his staff. The timing couldn’t have been better. Ron was moving on to another club in town, so Mike was in the market for an assistant pro. Steve accepted the job and moved back home. Eagles taking care of Eagles.
It was at Oakridge that he met the woman who would become the love of his life. Carrol and Steve were married for almost 37 years.
He didn’t leave Abilene before teeing it up in the 1984 LaJet Classic, an upstart PGA Tour event played in the fall at Fairway Oaks Golf Club. LaJet, a Louisiana-based oil company with corporate headquarters in the shadow of Fairway Oaks, wasn’t lacking for money. All the big names flocked to Abilene, attracted by the sleepy setting and the opportunity to go on hunting and fishing excursions during their free time. (Tom Weiskopf won the inaugural event, in 1981; Hal Sutton and Mark Calcavecchia won in ’85 and ’86.) Steve got in the field through a qualifier at Abilene Country Club, where Dave says he once posted a 58, and was paired for the first two rounds with a rookie named Paul Azinger. Dave was on Steve’s bag.
Of course Dave was on Steve’s bag. The two had played more golf together than you can imagine, and they were inseparable off the course. In the summer before our senior year of high school, long before the AJGA was a thing, they traveled around, including to North Carolina for the Western Junior.
Dave had a day job, but he offered to come to Abilene early to map out the course. Steve said that wasn’t necessary. He had played the course a couple of times and, besides, the sprinkler heads were all marked. Steve ripped his opening tee shot down the middle of the 1st fairway and Dave set down the bag in search of the nearest sprinkler head, only to find the yardage plate had been removed. He walked to another. No luck. Turns out all of the plates had been removed. The revelation was met with shock and then laughter. Steve pulled 8-iron. “He smoked it,” Dave recalls. The ball fell from the sky about 10 yards short of the green. It was like that for the next 35 holes, player and caddie guessing on yardages. They missed the cut by a bundle. They didn’t stick around to watch Curtis Strange collect his fifth PGA Tour win.
About six years later, Steve crossed paths with a 19-year-old South African who was pursuing a career as a tour professional. Ernie Els was a rookie on the Hogan Tour and had decided to make Dallas his home base, so he reached out to countryman David Frost looking for a place to stay. Frost was going to be out of town when Els arrived, but he put in a call to another South African to see if he could help. The guy happened to be a customer of Dave’s, and it’s not hard to connect the dots. Everyone became fast friends. Steve joined the circle, and as tee times were booked, Ernie was so enamored with Dave’s buddy that he would say, “Bring that guy Steve along.”
Ernie, of course, went on to bigger things, but he never forgot where it all started. He won the Byron Nelson in 1995 for his second Tour victory, shaking Lord Byron’s hand 11 months after his breakthrough win at the U.S. Open. As a former champion, Ernie returned to the Nelson every year, and the group would almost always reconvene upon his return. Several years ago he invited Steve, Dave and Ron to walk the Wednesday pro-am with him. Upon hearing of Steve’s death in a text from Dave, Ernie replied almost immediately, “Sorry to hear, brother. What a piece of work he was. We have to celebrate him when we see each other.”
About 50 folks, including two dozen strong from the Class of ’75, celebrated Steve earlier this month at a backyard ceremony in Richardson, back where it all began. Dave was asked to say a few words, but knowing it would be too emotional, he suggested to Carrol that I fill in. I was honored to be asked. Tony Click spoke. So did Cheryl Campbell (nee Woodward). The three had been friends going back to the first grade at Heights Elementary School.
“It was like we were siblings,” Cheryl says of Steve, “but it was better because there was no rivalry.”
They grew up several houses down the street from each other. When Cheryl felt threatened by another kid, Steve always seemed to appear. When Cheryl didn’t make cheerleader in junior high, Steve was waiting with a hug. “He was like my protector,” she says.
We all need friends like that, and no bond was stronger than the one between Steve and Dave. When Dave called in 2015 to reveal he had endured a heart scare, Steve insisted the two talk every day. And so they did. Sometimes it was for 30 minutes. Sometimes it was for three. But they talked. Every day. For the next eight years.
One of those conversations came after a horrific accident, in 2020. Steve and Carrol were returning from their second home in Ruidoso, N.M., and were idling at a construction zone when they were rear-ended by a pickup truck. Steve sustained serious neck and back injuries, putting his golf game on the shelf. The leukemia was discovered a year later during a subsequent doctor visit. In the spring he was admitted for an exhausting stem-cell transplant. Steve was in the hospital for more than three months, Carrol rarely leaving his side. No visitors were allowed, for fear of contamination and infection.
“I treat her like a queen,” Cheryl recalls Steve saying of Carrol. “And she deserves it.”
Dave and Steve continued their daily conversations, and Carrol provided text updates to about a dozen of us. She snapped a picture of Steve working on his short game, grinning, IV bag by his side. Early on, he walked the hospital floor to keep up his strength. Finally, he was sent for a week of physical therapy and then home. Those of us on the text chain rejoiced. Two days later, he was back in the hospital. He never came home.
As the end neared, Carrol called Dave and invited him to the hospital. He walked into the room early on the afternoon of Sept. 2. He spent about an hour with his best friend. Steve was out of it, unable to communicate. His eyes were shut tight. But when he heard Dave’s voice, his eyes magically opened.
One last conversation.
Steve and I last played together at the 2018 RHS alumni tournament. Dave and Ron filled out the foursome. A lot of younger guns were in the field, but there’s something to be said for experience, not to mention 300-yard drives. We won. Of course we won.
This year’s tournament is scheduled for Nov. 3. Dave, Tony and I are playing, and we have recruited Russell Cosby, another friend of Steve’s going back to Heights Elementary, to join us. I racked my brain thinking of a way to honor Steve before it finally hit me. Everybody loved Steve, so it should come as no surprise that the Class of ’75 has raised a boatload of cash to sponsor the long drive contest. It will have Steve’s name attached to it, and a plaque will hang in the halls of RHS to honor his memory. I’m as competitive as anyone, but as an aging golfer with a bad back who bunts it about 220 yards these days, I will be no threat when our foursome reaches the long drive hole.
So I might just top it.
Mark has enjoyed a career in sports journalism that has spanned more than 40 years. A graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism, he spent more than a decade in the newspaper world before transitioning into magazines, working at Golf Digest and then spending 22 years as a senior editor at Sports Illustrated. He also worked as a college basketball and golf editor at The Athletic. Mark is the author of the 2013 college football book Tigers vs. Jayhawks: From the Civil War to the Battle for No. 1. He lives in Dallas with his wife, Leigh.