Rehling died as a result of congestive heart failure Tuesday morning at 7 a.m. ET, April 3, in Hiawassee, Ga., where he and his wife of 62 years, Maxine, retired and reside. He was the father of three daughters and was a grandfather and great-grandfather. A memorial service will be held on Saturday at 2 p.m. ET at McConnell Memorial Baptist Church in Hiawassee, Ga.
Born on February 6, 1920 in Peru, Indiana, Rehling's professional coaching career began in Gainesville, Fla., where from 1949-69 he was employed at the University of Florida as professor of physical education, golf chairman, and, from 1956-63, the head coach of the Florida Gators. His golf team went 66-26-1, and among the PGA players he produced at Florida was Bob Murphy. Murphy credited Rehling with straightening out his natural hook and making him develop a fade. "He taught me everything I know," said Murphy, an NCAA and U.S. Amateur champion of Rehling in a 1968 interview when Murphy was a PGA Tour rookie who'd just won the Philadelphia Golf Classic. "He saw I had fire and guts and desire and he taught me how to use them."
Rehling coached Florida to the 1956 Southeastern Conference Championship. His 1960 Florida team finished fourth at the NCAA Championships. His collegiate coaching career included a stop at the University of West Florida. In 1972, he was named the head coach at the University of Alabama and would later head and establish Alabama's first women's golf team as well. He coached the Tide men until his retirement from coaching in 1988.
He would go on to coach Alabama to its only SEC golf championship to date, the 1979 SEC title. Alabama advanced to the 1973, 1974, 1975, 1981 and 1983 NCAA Championships during his tenure, and had its best school finish in 1975 when it finished in a tie for third. Rehling coached future PGA players Steve Lowery, Tom Garner and Lee Rinker at Alabama, and his most famous Tide golfer was Jerry Pate who won both the 1974 U.S. Amateur and the World Amateur while he was a Crimson Tide golfer. Pate, who played for Rehling and Alabama from 1972-75, currently plays on the PGA's Champions Tour and had a PGA career that included eight titles on the PGA tour, including the 1976 U.S. Open and 1976 Candian Open, among others. Pate and Rehling have maintained a close relationship these 30 years since Rehling coached him at Alabama.
In 1992 Rehling won the PGA's Horton Smith Award which gives special recognition to "an individual PGA Professional for outstanding and continuing contributions to professional education." He was the SEC Coach of the Year in 1979 and 1983. In 1980 he was among the first class of inductees in the inaugural Golf Coaches Association of America Hall of Fame. In 1999 he was inducted into the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame. And in 2005 the PGA of America honored Rehling again by giving him the Lifetime Achievement Award for his contributions to Special Olympics in the sport of golf and establishing an award in his name, the Conrad Rehling Award. Rehling was one of the founding fathers of the Special Olympics golf program. In his retirement, Rehling dedicated his time in coaching physically challenged golfers as well and authored books on the topic.
Alabama's current head coach, Jay Seawell, has long been familiar with Rehling's legacy, not only from his perspective as Alabama's head coach but as a former University of South Carolina golfer. "I'm saddened to hear of the passing of Coach Rehling," said Seawell whose 2007 Alabama team has tied Rehling's 1974 team with a school single season record four team championships and who honors Rehling's legacy with a fundraiser and scholarship each year. "It's a sad day for Alabama Golf. I believe he's the father of Alabama Golf. He's the one who put Alabama golf on the map. Coach Rehling positively affected so many players while he was a coach here. These men who played for him are a big influence on Alabama Golf today. He was a great coach and, more importantly, a great man."
Dick Spybey was hired as Rehling's assistant at Alabama and was hired as Alabama's head coach, upon Rehling's recommendation, when Rehling retired in 1988.
"Every coach has mentors along the way and my coaching mentors along the way were my college coach, Dick Gordon, and Conrad Rehling. He and Conrad were good friends. In fact Doug Gordon, who is currently coach at Florida Southern was an assistant at Alabama as well, so that was my initial tie with Conrad," said Spybey who established a tournament in Rehling's honor. "It was just a great working relationship from the get-go. Conrad taught me so much about life in general. I remember he always said, ‘you've got to remember that you've got to give back to the game,' that the game was a special game and that you needed to give back to it. That's why I always felt an obligation to work in the Golf Coaches Association, because of his advice. I owe an awful lot to Conrad. I owe so many wonderful memories of coaching at the University of Alabama to him because he was willing so many years ago to hire this young guy."
Spybey, who coached Alabama to seven NCAA appearances before making a career change to teach and coach at Tuscaloosa's American Christian Academy, said Rehling has remained a favorite with his former Alabama golfers. "There's no question about that. He's a Hall of Famer. And all Hall of Fame members are a step above, so to speak, in what they do. So there was a great respect and still is for Conrad, what he stood for and his knowledge of a good golf swing. He will be deeply missed, but the memories will go on for a long, long time."