Anyone who ever doubted golf's power to mend fences and build bridges should have been at Cherry Valley Club in Garden City Monday. Fordham basketball coach Tom Pecora hosted the Coaches vs. Cancer outing and said it was a slam dunk deciding on the honoree this year. It was a referee.
Yes, beyond being a charitable fundraiser for Hope Lodge in Manhattan, the day was a testimonial to Ed Corbett, who has officiated seven Final Fours and four NCAA championship games. By the nature of his job, he and coaches normally are on opposite sides.
Not on the golf course, though. Monday, "T" didn't stand for "technical foul," it stood for "tee," where Corbett and three of his peers were allowed to begin their round ahead of Pecora, fellow coaching fraternity members Rollie Massimino and Bill Raftery and veteran basketball writer Jim O'Connell.
"It's oil and water when we throw the ball up, but when we're away from that, we're hugging each other and asking 'How are you doing? How's the family?' " said Corbett, a Yonkers native. "I've been around Tommy for 25 years. I started refereeing college basketball when he was at Farmingdale."
For the past 16 years, of course, Pecora was at Hofstra, as an assistant and then head coach. On Monday, he was wearing a Fordham burgundy shirt and a big smile. "Fordham is a beautiful place. Everyone up there is so excited and has been so supportive to me and my staff, and to the team," he said.
Pecora had planned the tribute to Corbett long before he changed jobs. He spoke at last year's tournament with Massimino and Raftery - two previous honorees - about honoring an official. Corbett was a quick choice among guys who remember when he was calling local Catholic League high school games. "Obviously, his rise is something all of us are proud of. He's one of the premier officials in the country," Pecora said.
Massimino, who won an NCAA title at Villanova and now coaches at Northwood, a small Florida university, had a much softer tone talking about referees than he normally does when he talks to them from the sideline. "They're great guys," he said. "He worked the Villanova-Northwood game. It doesn't matter what profession you're in, when you're a good person, you're a good person."
Those words just came more easily on a golf course, a conciliatory setting. Corbett, a 15 handicap, plays at least once a week with fellow basketball officials. He and other Big East referees have made two golf pilgrimages to Ireland. "It's more than competitive. There's no holds barred, the language gets a little salty, but we have a great time. It's a special group of friends," said the man who works out enough to have worked 91 games last year at the age of 57.
Golf is a good complement to, and antidote for, the basketball season. "There's nobody yelling at you," Corbett said. "If you go out early enough in the morning, other than hearing the lawn mower mowing the greens, it's nice and peaceful."
It's also a place to talk shop. Massimino spoke of Stony Brook being an NIT team and NCAA contender last season. "That was my first coaching job," he said. "To see Stony Brook University surface as an NCAA team is really great."
Pecora said, "Basketball is a business like anything else, and a lot of business deals are done on golf courses. It gives you a great opportunity to mingle and work with your boosters, your administrators and other guys in the business."
Plus, golf is common ground for referees and the guys who give them an earful all winter. Pecora acknowledged the accomplished referees playing ahead of him: Corbett, Bob Donato, Tim Higgins and Tom Lopes. He just couldn't resist adding, "You can quote me on this. If that foursome has an argument, no one is ever wrong."