HomeCity NewsGolf Coach Remembers Friend James Caan

Golf Coach Remembers Friend James Caan

First published in the July 9 print issue of the Glendale News-Press.

Film- and TV-lovers this week are remembering James Caan as the actor behind the hot-tempered Sonny Corleone in Francis Ford Coppola’s iconic “Godfather” series, footballer Brian Piccolo in the tragic biopic “Brian’s Song” or perhaps the exceptionally unlucky writer Paul Sheldon in the haunting Stephen King adaptation, “Misery.”
Greg Osbourne, an instructor and onetime head golf coach at Glendale Community College, is instead mourning the loss of a friend, a longtime golfing partner whom he apparently paid $6 a day to help him relaunch the Vaqueros’ men’s golf team in 2008 and 2009. Caan died at 82 on Wednesday, his family announced this week.
“I’m really sad today,” Osbourne said in a phone interview Thursday, hours after the news broke. “I knew that he wasn’t doing well, but every time I talked to him, he was always upbeat. That’s what his personality was.”
Osbourne, a 1976 graduate of Hoover High School who played football on the Vaqueros’ Hall of Fame football team alongside fellow Hoover alumnus Bob Gagliano and future Superbowl-winning coach Andy Reid, recalled that he’d tried phoning his friend on Wednesday, to no answer. Caan, he said, had recently undergone back surgery that left him sidelined in bed. They’d last golfed together at El Caballero Country Club in Tarzana just before the procedure.
A well-regarded and award-nominated actor, Caan would first meet Osbourne in 1997, the coach recalled, after he applied for golfing lessons at Balboa Golf Course in Encino. Osbourne, who worked there, said he got the training session note and wondered whether this James Caan could really be the actor he’d enjoyed on the big screen.
“At my age [at the time], I was just too young to really appreciate ‘The Godfather,’ but when I was a kid, I used to watch Brain Piccolo with the Chicago Bears, because my grandmother’s maiden name was Piccolo,” Osbourne said. “When I saw ‘Brian’s Song,’ I felt like I was related to that character. And then when he did ‘Rollerball,’ I was fascinated with that movie. He was like a hero.”

Hoover High School and Glendale Community College alumnus Greg Osbourne is pictured with actor and golfing partner James Caan in a 2007 issue of Southland Gold Magazine. Caan, who died this week, was an assistant to Osbourne when he coached golf at GCC.

His trainee was indeed the actor, and after a session, Osbourne said Caan, having played an improved round since, returned to the golf course looking for him for more lessons. The friendship began.
Eventually, in 2008, Osbourne, who now heads the program at Mount San Antonio College, was tabbed to resurrect GCC’s golf program. When assembling a coaching staff, he brought in his onetime student Caan as an assistant. In a 2008 interview with Andra Verstraete for the “Gateways to Glendale College” program, Osbourne discussed Caan’s value to the team, which at the time included former Crescenta Valley High School standouts Josh Ward and Justin Yu.
“He gets really involved with the players, which is good,” Osbourne told Verstraete. “He’s very successful in what he has done as an actor and it’s to our benefit that he comes out. It’s given us a lot of exposure nationally for Glendale College, because of his presence. We wish we could have him out here all the time, but I know he’s working on a movie right now and he’s going to be leaving.”
Caan evidently brought his wisecracks with him to the Vaqueros as well. In the same program, Verstraete interviews and introduces Caan, whom she asks if she can call “Jimmy” — “‘Your holiness’ is OK, but Jimmy’s fine,” he deadpanned immediately.
Soon after, he immediately credits Osbourne for bringing him down to Glendale, where he proudly sported a classic “GC” baseball cap.
“Apparently I owed him some money, or something, he claimed,” Caan quipped. “I’ve been studying with Greg for a long while and I try to pay attention, so I learned what to say and what to do — not necessarily how to do it, but I learned what you’re supposed to do.
“I like working with kids a lot,” he continued. “I quit what I was doing for six years and coached kids, not in golf, [but] in football — which is very similar to this game. I don’t want to get into the intricacies of all that, but you’ll just have to trust me.”
As he explained this, Caan looked over his shoulder and observed some of the athletes practicing their drives, feigning disappointment.
“I see that I’m going to have to come out a little more,” he said.
In a way, Osbourne was returning the favor. Prior to this stint, Caan had spent four years leading the TV series “Las Vegas.” Since Osbourne at this point frequently golfed in tournaments with Caan, the two started talking shop one day when Osbourne revealed a Screen Actors Guild membership. Osbourne was then cast as “Greg, Security Guard” and appeared in 11 episodes from 2005-2008.
“James Caan was really unique,” Osbourne said. “He could assimilate in any situation. One day he could be with all these rodeo stars on set and then the next day be with a couple of NFL stars and the next day there would be MMA fighters. He would relate to all of them. Another day, some guys would come from New York, just some tough guys from New York and he’d always do the lingo. And yet, I could always talk to him about golf.
“He was always so cool to everybody,” he continued. “He would go to golf courses after being on set and he would treat the cart boy the same way he’d treat the general manager. He was just that kind of guy. Hanging out with James Caan was an absolute treat for me in my life.”

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