Aug. 25, 2006
By Lauren Tillman
Former Baylor golfer Johnny Thornton was the 1955 Southwest Conference individual co-champion. A transfer from Vanderbilt University, Thornton joined the Bears in 1954.
As you can imagine, he was very surprised to see how much the campus has changed since he was a student.
"They have really expanded campus - There are so many new buildings!" Thornton said. "Back when I was there, Baylor was a lot smaller. I stayed in the dormitory my senior year, but it hadn't even been named yet. They just called it `New Men's Dorm.'"
Thornton comes back to Baylor at least once or twice a year. Both he and his wife are Baylor alumni, they sent their two sons to Baylor and now their granddaughter is a junior here.
"I actually came back and played in a fundraiser two months ago," Said Thornton. "It was at Bear Ridge, the same place where the Baylor Golf team plays."
Thornton said his time at Baylor was very enjoyable. While there, he majored in general business. He said if he could go back and re-live his Baylor experience, there isn't much that he would do differently.
"I might have been a little more involved in student class activities and the student government, but that's about it," said Thornton.
Thornton's two favorite memories of Baylor were winning the Southwest Conference in 1955 and meeting his future bride, Kay Espy, to whom he has been happily married the past 49 years.
"I met my wife in an extra-curricular golf program that I was instructing," Thornton said. "She was always very supportive of me, and we started going steady my last semester at Baylor in 1955."
Thornton still keeps in contact with some Baylor alumni from his graduating class who now live in San Antonio. However, one particular team mate still sticks out in his mind:
"My favorite teammate was Joe Cozart," Thornton said. "He never played too well, but `Cozy' was just one of those guys who never met a stranger. He was just really fun to be around. Sadly, he was killed in an automobile accident about two or three years after he graduated. He was a neat guy, I think about him a whole lot."
Thornton said that if he could have played any other sport, it would have been basketball, but he wasn't good enough to make the team. When asked if Baylor Golf has changed a lot since he played, he said that golf everywhere has changed a lot in 50 years.
"When I went to school, Athletic Director Bill Anderson told me that my scholarship would include three golf balls per match, and 10 cents per mile if I drove my own car," Thornton said. "Back then, there was no such thing as a golf scholarship. It was a relatively minor sport. Fifteen guys on a team sounds like a whole lot, because back then, you had to scrape to get five guys to join, and it was the same thing for tennis."
As far as current student athletes, Thornton says that there is a much greater interest in golf than there was when he played, but it is the exact same game now as it was back then.
"We loved the game just as much and were just as intense back then. We practiced on our own without supervision - there was not a golf coach per say, a professional at Ridgewood was our unofficial instructor. We traveled by ourselves without any staff."
Thornton said that his experience at Baylor definitely prepared him for life after school.
After graduating, he was in the military on active duty for two years in Korea, where he spent most of his time following the war. After that, he worked as a stockbroker for about 42 years, and he is currently retired. Now, he lives in Boerne, Texas, which is a small German community in northwest San Antonio.
"Some of my greatest accomplishments are 42 years in an excellent career, four children, five grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren," said Thornton.
His children's names are Claire Kreifels and Craig, Robert and Andy Thornton. Two of his sons played golf for Baylor. One now plays tennis, and the other teaches in the Waco school system.
Thornton is still very active in the community. He and his wife are both non-residential members of the Kerrville Country Club where they play golf, and he is a deacon at the First Baptist Church in Boerne. He also still keeps up the family brokerage.
"I still participate in golf fundraisers from time to time, but I try to avoid playing as much as possible. Nowadays, I'd almost rather just give them the money and not have to play," said Thornton.
When asked about his future plans, he offered some insight.
"At my age, I don't buy a whole lot of green bananas--you don't know whether or not you'll ever see them ripen... I just live day to day. My wife and I are still in great health, so we have a lot to be thankful for," said Thornton.