The pain in former University of Tennessee at Chattanooga golfing great Derek Rende's voice late Tuesday afternoon was obvious, yet sadly familiar. It sounded eerily like almost every other golfer in the Scenic City who'd ever met David "Daisy" McKenna.
"It's been a tough week," said Rende as he tried to put into words what the 62-year-old McKenna, who passed away last Friday after a tough fight against cancer, had meant to him and so many other golfers over the years, especially those with ties to UTC.
"If he ever had an enemy, and I doubt Daisy ever did, I guarantee you they were best friends five minutes later."
If the exact words changed from golfer to golfer, the sentiment never wavered.
"I've known the whole family since I was eight years old," said businessman Crockett Cobble, who often faced McKenna when Cobble was at McCallie and McKenna was at Notre Dame during the mid-1970s. "David, his brother Tommy and sister Mary. What a wonderful family they were. And Daisy was a genuine gentleman, one of the finest people I've ever known. He had that contagious smile for everyone he met. I'm going to miss him like crazy."
Reed Sanderlin coached both Daisy and Tommy — Tommy gave his brother the name "Daisy" after David came home with a haircut that Tommy found amusing — at UTC.
"They were both on my first team," recalled Sanderlin. "Their dad, Jack, ran a junior program. They knew a lot more about the golf swing than I ever did. And Daisy was so consistent as a player. He was going to score somewhere between 70 and 76 every time he played. Plus, he was a tremendous teammate. So supportive of others."
Other than his wife Suzy and daughter Brittany, perhaps no one was closer to Daisy than current UTC golf coach Mark Guhne.
"He was my best friend for 40 years," said Guhne. "There weren't too many people better than Daisy. Everybody loved him and Daisy loved them back. One of the biggest hearts you've ever seen. I've seen him stop on the side of the road to help somebody I'd be afraid to stop to help and he'd give them money, a lift, whatever they needed. Just a terrific individual."
"There was never a dull moment when Daisy was around," Rickett said. "He always made it fun, even when the moment was serious. I tell our players all the time that you're not going to be remembered for what you accomplish, but how you treat people. And Daisy treated everybody wonderfully."
Added Guhne, "My players would have gotten rid of me in a heartbeat, but they loved Daisy."
This is not to say McKenna was always a soft touch.
"One thing you learned quickly about Daisy was not to make him mad," said Guhne. "We're out at Valleybrook one day and these two gamblers from Georgia show up wanting to play for $50 a hole. Daisy told them that was a little steep for us and they talked about us not being real golfers and stuff. Finally they asked us what we would play for. Daisy said we'd go $10 a hole. Well, after 16 holes those guys quit. We were up $130."
There has been much written and talked about the past few days about the 11 hole-in-ones McKenna sank over his life. Guhne said he probably witnessed at least five of them.
"Before Daisy hurt his back, his ball striking was as good as anybody I've ever seen," said Guhne. "He wasn't much of a putter back then, but he was right on line every time from the tee box and the fairway."
Added Cobble, "He flagged it every time he hit it. Drivers, irons, it didn't matter. It was always right down the middle."
Nor was it just on the golf course that his competitive nature would kick into overdrive.
"When my dad was away, Daisy would come to every baseball and basketball game I played," said Rende, who starred in those sports at Soddy-Daisy High School. "One night we're at Brainerd, the game goes to overtime and one of our guys gets a technical for slapping the floor after we're called for a foul. I look up in the stands a second or two later and Daisy's being escorted from the stands for yelling at the officials."
Men like that, men filled with goodness, loyalty, passion and decency should stick around forever, not be taken from us at 62. Mortals don't get to make that call, though. A higher power does.
But Guhne is spearheading one way for McKenna's legacy to live forever. UTC, where McKenna was long a volunteer golf coach and later officially on staff, is creating the David "Daisy" McKenna Scholarship Endowment. Anyone interested in contributing can mail a check to the Mocs Club, 615 McCallie Avenue, Department 3503, Chattanooga, TN, 37403.
During that 40 years of friendship, Guhne and McKenna carried on a playful, yet near-constant argument about pocket change. Daisy always had a pocket full of coins. Guhne never had any, which can cause a problem when a ball needs to be marked or a soft drink purchased.
On Friday afternoon, a few hours after Daisy passed away, Guhne was walking to his truck when he came across a quarter on the ground. He picked it up, put it in his pocket, then decided to look at it more closely when he got in the truck.
"It was a West Virginia quarter," said Guhne, his voice cracking. "Daisy was from West Virginia. I thought, 'Son of a Gun. He's already up there watching over me.'"
Could anyone ask for a better guardian angel?
Contact Mark Wiedmer at email@example.com.
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