By Mark Janssen
Playing with "aggressive intelligence" may sound like a bit of an oxymoron when it comes to golf, but that's exactly what Wildcat freshman Curtis Yonke is trying to achieve heading into today's Big 12 Championships at Trinity, Texas.
It's a term that Yonke got from his coach, and simplified, means there is a time to "go for it," but other times to "play smart."
When Yonke says "coach," he's not always referring to Kansas State coach Tim Norris, but instead to his coach, who just happens to double as his grandfather.
That's a guy named Jim Colbert, an eight-time winner on the PGA tour and 20-time champion on the Champions Tour, not to mention finishing second in the NCAA Championships in 1964 while a member of the K-State golf team.
"He's 'coach' to me," said Yonke, a product of Blue Valley West High school and two-time Class 6A state champion. Laughing, "I think he would get upset with me if I called him 'grandpa' to his face. I've been calling him 'coach' since I was young. I think back then he thought 'grandpa' made him sound too old."
It's 'coach' Colbert who three years ago changed his grandson's swing from the normal turn, to his style, which is more of a shift of the body.
"That allowed me to understand my swing more," said Yonke.
But while it worked at the high school level, there has been plenty of doubt in this rookie season.
"Incredibly frustrated," said Yonke, who has a stroke average of 74.62 through nine tournaments. "I don't want to sound cocky, but in high school I was always in the top two or three. On a bad day, I could scramble and still shoot a decent score."
But that was then, and this is now at an entirely new level of play.
"I started finishing in the bottom half of fields and making mistakes I haven't made in years," said Yonke. "It really did wear at me."
Finally, his friend/girlfriend - "She's kind of both," laughed Yonke, of Jordan Jackson, a soccer player at Nebraska - gave him a pep talk/scolding.
"She just told me that I need to go back to having fun with the game; to go out with a smile," said Yonke. "Then she said, 'I don't want this to come out wrong, but I don't think you're as good as I think you are.' "
In the Mizzou Intercollegiate two weeks ago, Yonke went out and had a blast becoming the first freshman in K-State history to win a tournament. Playing at the Old Hawthorne Golf Course in Columbia, Mo., Yonke shot rounds of 69-71-71 for a 5-under total and won in a four-hole playoff.
"It was a big deal to me because I had been struggling all year," said Yonke, who had enjoyed only one Top 20 finish all year, and that came during the fall season on his home course of Colbert Hills. "It was great to pull everything together. I felt completely under control with every part of my game. Every shot may not have been my best, but by far it was the most relaxed and confident that I've been. It was my turn."
While Jackson may get an assist on Yonke's individual win, he's quick to give grandpa ... or coach ... the most credit.
"It's incredible how much he's helped me," said Yonke. "He's real hard on me as a golfer, but I don't mind at all because he wants nothing but the best for me. He gets after me quite a bit and says some things you don't necessarily want to hear from your grandpa, but he has all the best intentions in the world."
Yonke says that Coach Norris knows who his coach is, and understands that no one has a better feel for his swing better than 'coach' Colbert.
So, is that extra pressure to have a professional golfer, not to mention a grandpa, as a coach?
"I always want to play well for personal pride," said Yonke. "Do I want to play well for coach? Yes, but I'm not sure how many golfers I play against know who my coach is."
And, who wins the matchup between the 19-year-old golfer vs. the 69-year-old coach?
Laughing, Yonke said, "That depends on the day. It's really amazing what he can still do with a golf ball. I go out and hit it a lot farther ... 260 yards is a pretty good crunch for him, but then he'll put a 3-wood shot inside my 8- or 9-iron shot. He can still do some unbelievable things."
And, Yonke adds, "He's living proof of someone I know that has been on the PGA and still playing on the Champions Tour. Because of that, it makes it seem that much more possible and I can achieve my goal to be a professional golfer."