LOUISVILLE, Ky. — For decades, Ernie Denham could be seen roaming the fairways and greens throughout the Louisville area as the head golf coach at Bellarmine and before that at the University of Louisville, counseling many young golfers along the way.
"I've got so many stories through the four years of traveling and playing collegiate golf that I could go on for days and write a book about it if I needed to," former University of Louisville golfer Kris Maffet said.
Maffet, who played under Denham at the University of Louisville from 1995-1999, said the coach was one of the reasons why the die-hard Kentucky Wildcats fan from Elizabethtown became a Louisville Cardinal. He said he learned from a friend who had been a golfer at Bellarmine under Denham that their coach had died.
"I had all these emotions come through me when I heard about the situation and the first thing that came to my mind were all the times I played in golf tournaments and there he was sitting on the par 3s waiting for us when we came through," he said.
Denham, 75, was found dead in his third-floor home in the Highlands after another condominium in his complex caught fire. He died from apparent smoke inhalation.
Firefighters said a candle had dropped onto a comforter and ignited in one of the first-floor homes. Other residents were reported to have jumped out of windows to escape.
Maffet said his coach was a math guru who would use statistics to help his players improve their game, but players remember him for more than just helping them with their golf swings.
"He helped in a couple situations that a lot of people may turn their backs on but he was always there for me and I'll always remember that," he said.
"Caring is a very special talent," Bellarmine basketball coach Scotty Davenport said. "It's a very incredible trait shared by those who were truly, truly superstars. Ernie Denham was a superstar because he cared."
Davenport said Denham didn't only have a passion for golf.
"There are so many Ernie stories where he would just walk into my office and say, 'That was an incredible play,' or 'That referee missed that call.' Ernie cared," he said. "No matter what their status, Ernie put young people first. He just gave and gave and gave."
"He was there to kind of encourage you and say, 'Hey, you've got this far where you're at so let's keep your head up and let's keep fighting,'" Maffet said.