Mike Holder never met a better quail hunter than T. Boone Pickens.
For many years, the two Oklahoma State legends spent countless days together in the fields, building their friendship. It was a bond that will never be broken, even after Pickens passed away earlier this month.
Their time together in the quiet fields helped build the relationship between the pair of OSU alumni. However, it also made Holder realize he was walking those pastures with one of the best quail hunters.
“He’s the best ever,” Holder said Wednesday before the Boone Pickens Celebration of Life inside Gallagher-Iba Arena. “He’s the greatest of all time. You give him 15 shells and take him out there with whoever wants to try, and he’s going to come back with more birds. You may get 15, but if you do, he’ll get 16 or 17. He’ll get two with one shot or three with one shot. He was very, very competitive.”
Hunting was just one of the loves Holder and Pickens shared together, but it was actually the sport of golf that built their friendship many years prior. It began when Holder, OSU athletic director, was hired as the Cowboys’ golf coach in 1973.
Holder was talking to former OSU golf coach Labron Harris, who coerced him to become the coach of his alma mater despite a small salary, and they were talking to Jerry Walsh, who asked Holder how he could help him with the program. Holder told him he was going to host a pro-am to raise much-needed money.
Holder said when Walsh showed up to the pro-am in the following fall, he brought two friends – Sherman Smith and Pickens – who now have OSU football facilities with their names on it.
However, it wasn’t until 1995 when Walsh died in a car accident that the relationship between Holder and Pickens, who lost his best friend in Walsh, began to blossom. Pickens asked Holder to go hunt quail shortly after Walsh’s accident. It was an offer Holder couldn’t refuse.
“That left a huge hole in his life,” Holder said. “I’m not saying that I made up for Jerry Walsh. I was there at the right place, right time, and we started hunting quail together. That’s when I got to know him.
“… We shared that mutual love – not me at first – of hunting quail. That’s really competitive when you do it with Boone Pickens. That’s where we spent a lot of time together and did a lot of dreaming together.”
Holder talked about how competitive Pickens was when it came to quail hunting, especially on his Texas ranch. It was that competition that drove both of them to attempt to best each other in the field.
That’s forced Holder to get better at hunting quail, and share time with his new friend that later became his best friend.
“I started out at the very bottom of the pecking order of quail hunters,” Holder said. “But you’re going one of two ways if you’re going to hunt quail with him. You’re going to get in the game and get better or you’re going to go find something else to do.”
Holder and others, including OSU football coach Mike Gundy, shared numerous stories and lessons learned from Pickens during their interactions with the business tycoon and benefactor.
Pickens is arguably known by most for his donation of $70 million in 2003, which set the wheels in motion for what became the Cowboys’ football stadium that bears his name. It was re-dedicated on Sept. 5, 2009.
During Wednesday’s event, Gundy said the biggest joy he saw from Pickens, in person, was that day in Stillwater. Gundy said he saw something different in Pickens’ eyes and smile prior to and during the dedication ceremony.
“We’ve been fortunate enough to have some good players and win some games, and now it’s better than it’s ever been and it all started in the early 2000s with his vision,” Gundy said. “His pride, on that day, was through the roof.”
Gundy continued, talking about the ways Pickens has helped shape and improve the OSU athletic village, beginning with the football stadium. He said that Pickens’ legacy should not only be about his gifts to football, but about how he helped make Stillwater what it is today.
“The effect that he has had on Stillwater – beyond just Oklahoma State – the pride he has instilled in all of us, the community, the hospitals, the population, the property value of Stillwater, and the effects he’s had on us in general is astounding,” Gundy said. “I’ve been around Stillwater for all but five years of my life since 1986, so I’m not conditioned to say I know a lot about coaching football, but I know I’m conditioned to say I know a lot about Stillwater because I’ve been here a long time, I know a lot of people, I’ve seen it grow and I’ve seen what’s happened. None of this has changed as much as it has since he got involved – obviously through Coach Holder – and the gifts he’s given to football.”