SONOMA -- I had heard the name often. In fact, I even read it in a New York Times article Aug. 2, when a University of Oregon official admitted school recruiters use the name when trying to impress high school athletes.
"We embrace it," was what the school official said of the name.
So I thought I wasn't being offensive Monday when I asked Casey Martin a question using the name.
"So what is it like coaching at the University of Nike?"
Martin, the golf coach at Oregon, grimaced, shook his head, took a few steps back in the lobby of the Sonoma Golf Club and raised his hands in front of him as if to repel the question.
"I coach at the University of Oregon," said Martin, clearly irritated. That's all he said in response. There will be no discussing the matter. His intent was obvious. Martin wanted to make sure I knew he was being paid by a NCAA Division I university, which sounds a bit more lofty and intellectually pleasing than getting his paycheck from a company that does a great job of selling running shoes.
Martin was in town with his Oregon golfers, one of 16 NCAA teams competing in the two-day Alister MacKenzie Invitational, named after the designer of the golf course. As well-appointed and designed as the Sonoma Golf Club is, the clubhouse would look like a tool shed if it was placed next to a Phil Knight-approved and paid-for structure on the Eugene campus.
Knight is co-founder and chairman of Nike, the sports apparel company that has placed Knight's net worth in 2012 at $14.4 billion. Knight, an Oregon alum, has donated more than $300 million to the university, which includes the $68 million, six-story Football Performance Center, 145,000 square feet divided among three buildings. Ventilation systems exist in each locker. Stones from China make up the ground floor plaza. Extra-large furniture was tested to withstand 500 pounds. Coaches have their own locker room with a hydrotherapy pool.
I could go on but let's get to the point.
"We don't have any excuses (not to win)," said Martin, referring to any and every Oregon team.
Knight has furnished the athletic department at Oregon with everything except the final score. In that respect, a golf coach at Eugene feels as much pressure to win as any golf coach in the country, including the ones who coach the PGA Tour players.
One doesn't receive what the Oregon players receive without expectation. And what do the Oregon players receive?
"Everything," said sophomore Sulman Raza. Everything means exactly that — Nike shoes, Nike hats, Nike shirts, Nike shorts, Nike pants, Nike pullovers, including Nike rain gear and Nike clubs. Martin did say some of his troops furnish their own drivers and irons. Didn't ask if Nike dental floss was part of the deal.
"By the time a golfer finishes four years here," Raza said, "he'll have 36 pairs of shoes."
Phil Knight, the Imelda Marcos of golf.
Though certainly not requiring as deep a wallet to fund as football, college golf still is no free lunch. Outfitting the 10-man Oregon team for a season costs around $30,000.