Billy Andrade overslept. That's how this all started.
“The story I’m about to tell you,” Andrade said, “is a part of my life that was 100 percent dumb luck.”
It was the summer of 1985 and Andrade, a four-time PGA Tour winner and three-time PGA Tour Champions winner, was 21 and scheduled to fly out of T.F. Green Airport in Rhode Island up to Buffalo to play in the prestigious Porter Cup.
Andrade was between his junior and senior year at Wake Forest University, a school he was attending on an Arnold Palmer Scholarship. He was heading to the Porter Cup in a final push – unsuccessfully it would turn out – to make the 1985 U.S. Walker Cup team.
Andrade remembers hearing his dad knock on his bedroom door at around 6:15 a.m. and rushing him to the airport. But by the time he boarded, there wasn’t a seat available.
“I guess they had already given my seat up,” he said.
The airline offered him another flight four hours later and gave him a roundtrip ticket for anywhere in the U.S.
"They didn’t realize that I was the one who screwed this up and thought it was their fault," he said.
For Christmas break that year -- still 1985 -- Andrade decided he’d take that complimentary roundtrip ticket he had been awarded for oversleeping and use it to fly to Santa Barbara and hang out with Sam Randolph.
Randolph had won the U.S. Amateur, 1 up, at Montclair Golf Club in New Jersey that year and their friendship blossomed when the two were high schoolers on opposite sides of the country -- Andrade in Bristol, R.I., and Randolph in Santa Barbara, Calif.
In 1981, the pair were teammates and won the Junior World Cup at Portmarnock in Ireland.
Even though Randolph would star at the University of Southern California and Andrade at Wake Forest, the two remained good buddies.
In Santa Barbara, Andrade and Randolph spent time playing at La Cumbre Country Club, where Randolph’s dad, Sam Sr., was the longtime PGA Head Professional. (Sam Jr. would follow in his father’s footsteps becoming a PGA member in 1991, but spent many years also playing the PGA and Web.com Tour.)
One day, Randolph and Andrade were having lunch on the veranda at La Cumbre. There were a bunch of people out there, as Andrade remembers, but one stuck out to Randolph and he immediately pointed that person out to Andrade.
It was three-time Cy Young Award Winner, four-time World Series Champion, a man who once pitched a perfect game and four no-hitters -- Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers Hall of Famer, Sandy Koufax. Koufax was the youngest player ever elected to the Hall of Fame at age 36 in 1972.
“I’ve always been a huge sports fan,” Andrade said. “I played it all growing up. I watched Bobby Orr with the Bruins. I watched Havlicek and then Larry Bird with the Celtics. Jim Rice, Yaz and Fred Lynn with the Red Sox. The Patriots weren’t any good at the time, but it was a family affair to go to the games. I’m a huge sports fan.”
Though Andrade had never seen Koufax actually throw a live pitch -- he was just 2 years old when Koufax retired in 1966 -- he knew he was in the presence of greatness.
So, he did something bold for a young man.
“I was taught by my parents and grandparents that you introduce yourself to people,” Andrade said. “You don’t think about introducing yourself; you go do it. This wasn’t the social media age we’re in now. If you wanted to get anywhere in life, you had to introduce yourself.”
And that’s what Andrade did.
“I just walked right up to him, put my hand out and said, ‘Mr. Koufax, my name is Billy Andrade and I just wanted to introduce myself and say hello.’”
Koufax asked Andrade how he was doing and what he was up to. Andrade explained that he was a college golfer at Wake Forest with aspirations of turning professional. Like any average guy would ask a stud golfer, Koufax asked Andrade how he could hit the ball longer.
“I had no idea how to answer that, but I tried,” Andrade said. “It was a nice, two-minute conversation.”
Over the next several years, a lot would happen for Andrade. His 1986 Wake Forest team won the NCAA Championship. Andrade was on the winning 1987 U.S. Walker Cup team at Sunningdale in England, captained by new Augusta National Chairman Fred Ridley.
Later in 1987, Andrade turned professional. In 1988, he was a rookie on the PGA Tour.
In Andrade’s third season on the PGA Tour, 1990, he tied for 14th in the PGA Championship at Shoal Creek won by Wayne Grady, missing a spot in the 1991 Masters by a single shot. The next day he boarded a plane to Aspen, Colo., to play in the Danny Sullivan Pro-Am.
When Andrade got to the course, he saw they were having a long-drive contest.
“It was cool to watch, obviously, because the ball goes forever at altitude and it’s awesome,” he said.
As Andrade watched these players smash drives, he thought back, “for some reason, I don’t know why,” to 1985 when Koufax asked him on the veranda at La Cumbre how to hit the ball longer.
Just as the thought passed, Andrade turned around and guess who’s standing right there?
“I’m surprised, and I go to reintroduce myself,” Andrade said. “Before I can do that, Sandy says, ‘Hey, I remember you. We met at La Cumbre a few years ago and I’ve been following your career ever since. You’re doing great.'"
Andrade took the opportunity to tell Koufax about a new celebrity tournament he and fellow Rhode Islander Brad Faxon were starting back home. It was taking place a couple of weeks later at famed Wannamoisett Country Club, which hosted the 1931 PGA Championship and annually plays host to the renowned Northeast Amateur.
Koufax said he couldn’t play that year, but gave Andrade his phone number and said he’d play the following year.
“He proceeded to play the next 15 years in a row,” Andrade said. “Sandy played two pro-am events a year. One for Bob Fishman at CBS Sports -- that’s who got Sandy tickets to the Final Four every year, he’s a huge college basketball nut -- and ours.”
And it all started because of a chance meeting that never would have happened if Andrade hadn’t been bumped off a flight in Rhode Island and then had the nerve to approach the Hall of Famer in Santa Barbara.
“That relationship started in college,” Andrade said. “He’s been a dear friend and mentor ever since. He’s a person I lean on when I want to talk about anything. He’s a big influence in my life and it’s all through golf. That never would have happened if I didn’t walk up to him after having dumb luck and getting that airline ticket.”
Andrade said he spoke to Koufax, 81 now, just last week. They talk about once a month and get together at least once a year. Koufax has visited Andrade and his family at their homes in Rhode Island and Atlanta. They’ve gone to Florida to visit Koufax.
When Andrade played full time on the PGA Tour, it wasn’t uncommon for Koufax to come out and watch him on the Florida swing. And, when the tournaments were close to spring training facilities for the Cardinals in south Florida and the Braves near Orlando, it was commonplace for Andrade to connect with friends like Tony La Russa and Tom Glavine to get dinner with Koufax and bring young pitchers along.
“It’s so fun hearing Sandy talk about the art of the game with young pitchers around,” Andrade said. “He’s so passionate about it and those young guys are just hanging on his every word.”
Andrade mentioned that before getting to know Koufax, he’d heard a number of stories about how the three-time Triple Crown pitcher (an achievement for pitchers who lead the league in ERA, strikeouts and wins in a single season) was a recluse.
“I looked up the word ‘recluse,’” Andrade said. “It’s someone who’s an introvert and doesn’t enjoy being around others. It’s like stories you’ve heard of J.D. Salinger -- the author of ‘Catcher in the Rye.’ Everyone was afraid of him. He could be mean. He kept to himself. That is not one iota of who Sandy Koufax is. He’s not a recluse. He’s a wonderful guy, a wonderful person. I think he just likes being around his kind of people.”
At the end of this month, Andrade will be in Thousand Oaks, Calif., for the PowerShares QQQ Championship on the PGA Tour Champions. He’s already got plans with Koufax that if the Dodgers should make it to the World Series, they’ll attend Game 1 together that week.
“You look at people who influence your life -- family, Arnold Palmer was big in my golf career,” Andrade said. “Then there’s a person like Sandy. I don’t know the baseball player, I know Sandy the person. It’s been a very, very special relationship.”
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