Golf teaches lessons in life

By Steve Sell
May 19, 2015

Loyal followers of this column are well aware of my passion for golf.

If possible, I would play every day and twice on Sunday (I almost do now, except the twice on Sunday part, those 36-holers are a killer). 

Even at age 58 and a breaking-down body that has been battered from playing the sport at an exhaustive pace for 50 years, I’m anxious all day until work is over and I can step on to the first tee. Every day you start at even-par and go from there — there’s no carryovers.

So if I overindulge in writing about golf at times in this space, I apologize. But it’s such a great game and can teach so many life lessons.

That brings me to the topic at hand. McPherson High’s golf team competed in Monday’s Class 4A regional at Abilene, a laborious affair that consumed some six hours on an overcrowded nine-hole course.

It probably didn’t help matters that conditions were tough, as a freshening north-easter blew through and produced some baffling ball flights, but remember conditions were the same for everybody. It was adapt and survive at its best.

The scores reflected that as impatient golfers perhaps lost their concentration at times or even took naps when the pace of play couldn’t keep up with the slowest snail. This tournament proved to be as much about mind over matter than anything else, keeping a level head during trying times.

McPherson High was able to qualify two golfers, CJ Steiner and Kaden Warren. Steiner made it by one shot and Warren hit the cutline on the nose.

The reward for them is 18 holes on their home course next Tuesday and a chance to win an individual state medal.

But I’m sure both players would also rather have the rest of their teammates with them. They only award two team spots to state from the regional and the Bullpups were third, though they weren’t that close to second, not enough that it was painful.

But as I said, having played golf for 50 years and against fields that have included some of the best Kansas has had to offer, my heart is hurting for two Bullpups.

The first is Casey Cheek, who missed the state tournament by one stroke. Having played many tournaments where I finished one stroke out of the money (losing a playoff for the McPherson City Championship against the late Ray Hague comes to mind), the first thing you do is retrace your steps of your round and find shots that simply were not executed or short putts that were missed simply because not enough time was taken. I’m sure Casey has done that over the last 24 hours, especially knowing he would have had a great advantage of playing state on his home course.

But I really hurt for Jacob Lackey, who I think has a bright future in the game. Lackey was coming off a powerhouse performance in winning the AVCTL Division III title and has spent much of his season shooting in the 70s. He got off to a bad start Monday, had it corrected for a while, but the wheels came off on his 10th hole with a 10, a score he probably hasn’t had on a hole in years.

Having helped coach the McPherson High golf team to a state championship in 1991 and played with some of the current Bullpups — including Lackey — I can tell you he could be the hardest-working player at MHS since those state championship days of Skip Pankewich, Brian Stauffer and Chandler (Chicken) Nelson.

 We had quite a crew of characters back in 1991 (which also included Craig Harms, Rory Berke and Phil Fendt) and while we had a lot of fun, the hard work they put in paid off. They spent countless hours on the range and on their short game and we played some interesting and highly competitive games during practice. All six of those players were capable of shooting low numbers on a given day, with Pankewich eventually winning the state championship and Stauffer taking second on my childhood course at Independence Country Club.

Lackey is always on the range or the putting clock trying to get better. I always liked to kid former McPherson High star golfer and reigning McPherson City champion Treg Fawl if he ever practiced, he could have been a Division I player. Fawl was blessed by God with an amazing gift of hand-eye coordination and everything he touches on the course turns to gold. He could take two weeks off and go out and shoot 68 at The Creek with his eyes closed. If he ever practiced, he would be rattling off 65s consistently.

I’m sure Lackey never thought he’d be spending next week being a good teammate by urging on Steiner and Warren (which I know he will, he’s such a great kid), that he would be in one of the final groups of the day with a swelling home fan base watching his every shot and perhaps seeing his name called when it came time to recognize the tourney champion.

But as they say, life isn’t always fair. He should be there, he knows it and other golfers and coaches know it. He had an off day and it happens. I’m sure this will only make his drive greater and I have no doubts he’ll succeed.

Having played with him — and remember he’s only a sophomore — he’s long and lean and once he matures and gains weight and strength, he’s going to turn courses into pitch and putts. He also has the desire to be great and wants to be great. I think I’ve learned and watched enough golf in my 50 years of playing the game to know a potential great player when I see it. And I see it with Lackey.