Mike Sugar isn’t the first college athlete to take the easiest classes he could find to maintain his eligibility. But there’s a definite twist here. He has already taken most of the difficult ones . . . in fact, he’s just one economics class short of a degree. And when he completes that course in the spring, he can wave goodby to college athletics.
Sugar played baseball for four years at UC Irvine and is using his fifth year of eligibility to compete for the Anteater golf team. So he tries to squeeze a few lectures in human sexuality and in the social ecology of peace between rounds of golf.
“I tried to find classes that required the least amount of time as possible in the classroom,” he said, smiling, “but it’s not that easy at this school. They don’t offer too many gimmes.”
A year ago, Sugar figured he would be done with the cap-and-gown bit after the fall semester and be on his way toward running some bank. But someone--he can’t remember whom--told him about the fifth-year rule, and he thought it might be fun to be a competitive golfer.
When his family moved from Torrance to Yorba Linda 10 years ago, Sugar’s parents joined the Yorba Linda Country Club. He played golf sporadically as a youngster, but, like a lot of boys, was more fascinated with becoming the next Steve Garvey or Walter Payton then the next Jack Nicklaus or Tom Watson.
He played baseball and football for four years at Esperanza High School and was a varsity defensive back as a junior and senior. The Aztecs lost in the Southern Section championship game at Anaheim Stadium his senior season.
Sugar was not highly recruited in either sport and was considering playing football at Claremont-Mudd as a walk-on when Mike Gerakos, the UCI baseball coach, offered him a scholarship. He accepted and started 214 of 216 games in four seasons at Irvine, playing second base early in his career and moving to third as a junior.
Sugar had a career batting average of .283 at UCI, is second on the Anteaters’ all-time list in at-bats (764), fifth in hits (216) and fifth in doubles (34). Last season, he led the team in game-winning RBIs with six as UCI compiled its first winning record (27-26-1) in Sugar’s four years there.
“That was a sweet senior season,” he said, pointing to the 1987 media guide with a picture of him in a candy store on the cover.
But Sugar thought his college athletic career ended with the Anteaters’ final game last May, and he prepared to move on to other things while savoring the memories. But then the golf idea was planted, and he talked to Perry Parker, an assistant golf coach at UCI. Coach Steve Ainslie said Sugar was welcome to try out, so Sugar began playing a few rounds a week.
“We played a round together, and it was obvious he was a fine athlete with the background to know what it takes to succeed,” Ainslie said.
The next thing Sugar knew, he was again wearing an Irvine uniform . . . although the pants were longer and the spikes a lot smaller.
“In some ways, I like golf better,” he said. “The harder you work individually, the more it pays off, which is kind of like hitting in baseball. But in golf you have to rely entirely on yourself; there’s no passing the blame.
“Golf’s not as rewarding from a team aspect, though. There’s no feeling like knocking in a game-winning RBI. . . . That’s like the best feeling you can get.”
For Sugar, whose idea of pressure on a golf course was a 25-cents-a-hole bet with a buddy, tournament golf was a whole new experience. He’s UCI’s No. 4 or 5 golfer in most tournaments and is averaging 78.1.
“Nervous isn’t the right word,” Ainslie said, “but he hasn’t been able to play in tournaments like he does in practice and qualifying rounds. It’s hard for me to understand how a guy who’s used to 90 miles per hour coming at his head can fret over a three-foot putt, but it’s just a matter of confidence.”
Sugar is quick to point out that his lack of experience has advantages, too.
“Most of these guys have been playing competitively since they were 13 or 14, and experience in tournament play is a big factor. But a lot of guys who start at that age burn out from so much practice.”
Sugar says he enjoys working on his game but isn’t very patient when the results don’t show up on the scorecard.
“I expected to improve a lot more than I have,” he said. “It’s pretty frustrating when you’re practicing every day and your scores are the same as when you went out once a month for fun.
“I had devoted myself to baseball the year round for four years, and I guess I shouldn’t expect to tear up the course after a couple months of serious practice.”
He’s also still a student, remember, and when you have courses such as human sexuality on your mind, it’s hard to keep it on the golf courses.
One would think that eight days’ rest in the middle of a basketball season would do wonders for a team’s health, but UCI trainer Paul Gardikas came back from the Anteaters’ Christmas break to find his office packed with the walking wounded.
Sophomore point guard Mike Labat, who has missed most of the season with a sprained left ankle, injured the big toe of his right foot Sunday night in Irvine’s first practice after the break and is watching practice in street clothes again.
Ed Johansen, who already has had a number of injections in his left foot and a special insert made for his left shoe, is still hobbled. The rest didn’t seem to do him much good.
And top scorer Wayne Engelstad, who strained the arch of his right foot during the preseason but responded well to injections, is limping again.
“He was feeling great before the time off,” Gardikas said. “Now it’s hurting again.”
Greg Patton, UCI men’s tennis coach, will have three new assistants this season. Bobby Perez, who was the first four-year letterman in any sport at USC (1946-49), is holder of seven national titles, including the national senior hard-court and indoor singles championships in 1975-76. Brett Perelman was the head coach at the University of South Alabama last season. And Tim Marces, a former Cal State Fullerton player, has been teaching tennis in Newport Beach for the past seven years. The men’s team, ranked 11th in the nation in the preseason poll, opens the 1988 season at fourth-ranked Pepperdine on Jan. 29. . . . The Anteater basketball team is ranked 149th in the nation in the computer-ranking poll published in USA Today. UCI’s racehorse style doesn’t help in this poll, which rewards teams for playing top opponents closely and downplays big wins over lesser teams. Eight of the 10 Pacific Coast Athletic Assn. teams rank ahead of Irvine. Nevada Las Vegas is seventh, UC Santa Barbara is 44th, Utah State is 55th, New Mexico State is 65th, Cal State Long Beach is 67th, San Jose State is 76th, Cal State Fullerton is 86th and Fresno State is 122nd.