AMATEUR GOLF: Difficult task: Picking today’s top N.D. golfer

FARGO -- When Mike Podolak, plaid pants and all, sank a 1-foot par putt on the 18th hole to win the 1989 North Dakota match play golf championship, it was his seventh state title in seven years. It was quite the run of dominance for one player in...


FARGO - When Mike Podolak, plaid pants and all, sank a 1-foot par putt on the 18th hole to win the 1989 North Dakota match play golf championship, it was his seventh state title in seven years. It was quite the run of dominance for one player in one sport.

These days, those days are a memory.

The state match play tournament opens today at Rose Creek Golf Course in Fargo and, once again, there is no clear-cut favorite. It’s been like that for a few years now thanks to the usual congestion of young talent and veteran golfers that can still play the game at a high level. It would take days of research for Vegas to put odds on a winner.

In the ‘80s or ‘90s, it would have taken five seconds: Mike Podolak, 2 to 1 favorite.


“I think he dominated like for 30 years it seemed,” golfer Rick Kuhn said. “It’s different now. There are just a lot of good players in the state of North Dakota. I’ve noticed it in the younger players. The younger players have gotten a lot better since I was younger.”

Kuhn pointed at himself as an example, saying he did not compete against the best North Dakota amateur players when he was priming his game for the University of Minnesota, where he played.

“I played Division I golf but I certainly wasn’t winning a state event like Bill Carlson,” he said.

Carlson, from Fargo, is an NCAA Division I golfer at North Dakota State. Perhaps the state stroke play championship in Mandan earlier this summer was a prime example of the diversity of talent in the state. Kuhn, now 43 years old, edged Carlson to claim the title at Prairie West Golf Course in Mandan.

It was the classic veteran versus kid battle.

“Rick can still play the heck out of it,” said Tim Doppler, the executive director of the North Dakota Golf Association. “But there is really no one dominant player. Some of that is because guys are going to try and play a tour and they don’t hang around and play a bunch of amateur events.”

Not Carlson, who for one said he appreciates the level of competition within the state. That’s why he makes the North Dakota state championships a priority. Doppler noted the importance of players like Carlson making the trip to the western part of the state to play in tournaments.

“It does mean a lot,” Carlson said. “I look a lot at all the past champions, and they’re all great players. I know there are other people that go out of state to tournaments and I respect what they’re doing but there is still very good competition here. I would like for them to stay here and play.”


Doppler said it’s the goal of the NDGA to make the state events attractive enough to keep all of the talent playing close to home. It means putting on more junior tournaments to help cultivate the younger generations that develop into eventual tourney clientele. That means putting on quality tournaments at every stop.

Prairie West hosted the state stroke play for the first time and the course, Doppler said, put its best foot forward. The speed of the greens were so fast, he said, that it caught players off guard.

“They set it up like a true championship,” he said.

The focus shifts to Rose Creek this weekend, which hosted one other state event – the senior match play two years ago.

“It’s an honor they choose Rose Creek, especially the match play, which is one of the more prestigious on their tournament schedule,” said Rose Creek head professional Matt Cook. “I feel like it adds a little credibility to the course. It’s come a long way and matured and has come into its own.”

Doppler said the state association has plans to continue with the variety of courses for future tournaments, rather than the old standbys like Riverwood in Bismarck or Oxbow in Fargo. Rose Creek had a few issues with flooding earlier in the summer, specifically on the par-5 fourth hole, but all systems are a go.

They’re a go – no matter what age.

“It’s hard for a guy with a full-time job that plays a couple times a week to compete against kids that play every day,” Kuhn said. “For me, I don’t expect to win anything. But I’ll do my best to give them some competition.”

Jeff would like to dispel the notion he was around when Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press, but he is on his third decade of reporting with Forum Communications. The son of a reporter and an English teacher, and the brother of a reporter, Jeff has worked at the Jamestown Sun, Bismarck Tribune and since 1990 The Forum, where he's covered North Dakota State athletics since 1995.
Jeff has covered all nine of NDSU's Division I FCS national football titles and has written three books: "Horns Up," "North Dakota Tough" and "Covid Kids." He is the radio host of "The Golf Show with Jeff Kolpack" April through August.
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