While interviewing to become Oklahoma State's basketball coach in 2016, Brad Underwood was presented with this scenario: You're 250 yards from the pin. It's all carry with water short of the green. Are you laying up or going for it?
Going for it, Underwood replied.
"Good," responded Mike Holder, who became athletic director after winning eight NCAA titles as the Cowboys golf coach. "I can hire you."
Sure, Zach Johnson won the soggy 2007 Masters by laying up on all the par-5s. But babying a couple of wedges to the green was no formula for flipping a basketball program coming off a 3-15 Big 12 campaign.
Or at least proposing that would not have sounded macho.
"If I were really smart," Underwood said, looking back, "I would have asked: Depends if I'm up or down (in a tournament)."
Indeed. The result matters, not the final score. Last season Illinois beat Rutgers 99-94 in overtime and then suffocated Ohio State 63-56 five days later.
After two rough seasons to open his tenure in Champaign, Underwood is ready to win.
Andy Katz of NCAA.com ranked the Illini 21st in his latest preseason prognostication.
"It's really nice to deal with expectations," said Underwood, who is 26-39 at Illinois. "We forgot who we were a little bit."
Underwood believes the 2019-20 Illini will be an upper-third Big Ten team. Top guards Trent Frazier and Ayo Dosunmu return after Underwood stressed long-term thinking in regard to Dosunmu's NBA wanderlust: "It's not about getting there; it's about staying there."
Vivacious big man Giorgi Bezhanishvili is back after breaking Deon Thomas' single-game freshman scoring record with 35 points against Rutgers.
"He averaged nine points in high school," Underwood said. "Never doubt a kid who works hard and has a high IQ."
And really big man Kofi Cockburn (pronounced KO-burn) brings his 6-foot-10, 310-pound Shaq-like frame to the State Farm Center. The four-star native of Jamaica turned down Kansas, Auburn and Pitt.
"A unique guy," Underwood said. "He has a 7-foot-6-inch wingspan. And he's bouncy."
Underwood took a break from the recruiting and evaluating grind long enough to squeeze in 18 holes at Olympia Fields Country Club's North Course, which will host the area's PGA Tour FedEx Cup playoff event in 2020. (BMW's sponsorship agreement ends after this year's tournament Aug. 15-18 at Medinah.)
"World class," Underwood said of the south suburban course, which has hosted six majors.
Underwood's game is occasionally world class. After taking off nearly two weeks and hitting no warmup balls at the range, he blasted his first drive 310 yards onto the fairway. But then the guy who played only once last year because of excruciating knee pain (he got a replacement before last season) showed up.
"I'm really day to day," he said.
Quite literally. On the first day of a Coaches vs. Cancer event at Shadow Creek in Las Vegas, Underwood shot a 90. The next day, a 74.
Underwood, 55, won the club championship at Macomb Country Club in 2000 while coaching at Western Illinois,. But now he mainly plays for camaraderie — and cash.
Mike Small took him for $60 at Lincolnshire Fields in Champaign recently by shooting 7 under — on the back nine.
"The ultimate tight-a--" Underwood joked of the Illinois golf coach, who would surrender only four shots for the nine holes.
After Underwood mishit an 8-iron into the 158-yard 13th at Olympia Fields, he steamed up and screamed: "Money! Money! (Short irons) are how I make my money on the golf course. And I don't know where they're going!"
Underwood has taken some bold strokes in reworking his roster. But his work on the greens could use a few more.
If he got T'd up for every putt he left short, Underwood would not witness much live basketball.
"Son of a biscuit!" he hollered after leaving an uphill putt short on No. 3. "Story of my life as a putter."
Nothing is off the record during a round with Underwood, who joked that media relations official Derrick Burson "downgraded to us" when he switched assignments from golf to men's basketball.
Underwood's funniest line came while speaking of his beloved Tommy Armour 845s irons. He used them for decades, getting them regripped every year. One day they went missing, so he asked wife Susan if she had seen them.
"I put 'em in a garage sale," she replied.
Are you kidding me?
"Got five bucks for them," she said proudly.
Underwood was crushed, joking: "Almost grounds for divorce!"
They'll celebrate their 33rd anniversary in August during a team trip to Italy that features exhibition games in Milan, Florence and Rome.
"I'll probably let my assistants coach," Underwood said. "I'll sit back, evaluate and enjoy some vineyards."
Underwood faced about a 60-foot putt from the fringe on the par-3 sixth, saying as he eyed it: "I feel like I'm playing at Purdue."
He three-jacked but got a better result at No. 9 after blistering a drive down the left side of the fairway.
"Almost reached the 'Tiger bunker,' " observed Mike Bruni, who will chair the 2020 PGA Tour event.
Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods played a round on a Monday afternoon, when the club was technically closed, for Woods to prepare for the 2003 U.S. Open.
Olympia Fields lore has it that Jordan pointed to a bunker about 300 yards from the tee and said the club had added it at the behest of the USGA. After Woods blew a drive past it, he supposedly told Jordan: "Now you can call it the 'Phil bunker.' "
Underwood made par on No. 9 but scuffled on the back, finishing with an 86. One day later, he shot a 74.
"Golf," he said of the ultimate infuriating game, "is great."