It is Dec. 26, 2019, the day after Christmas spending quality time with family. You’re in the middle of Christmas break from school, there is three feet of snow on the ground. You are a varsity golfer for Lakeland Union High School, you are 97 days from your first day of 2020 WIAA practice, and you’re thinking about what to do.
It is a no-brainer, you call your fellow teammates, load up your clubs, jump in the car and drive three hours south to Lake Windsor Golf Club near Madison and get in some practice on the course. This is not a dream, it was reality for five varsity golfers whose commitment to their school, community and sport apparently takes a back seat to nothing.
These proud Thunderbird golfers, whose team, under the leadership of coach Scott Howard placed second in the WIAA Division 2, State Boys golf championship tournament in 2019, missed bringing home a state championship by only three strokes. They are hungry, they are excited for themselves, their school and their community to overcome that final sand trap and bring Lakeland Union a state championship. How do you accomplish this? You commit to practice.
Securing 12:15 and 12:30 tee times at Lake Windsor on a sunny and breezy 47 degree day (to begin), these five young men set out to better themselves and their game. Shortly before tee time this strange guy came over and asked which three of the group had the 12:15 tee time, he would be joining them to fill out the foursome. Immediately, Kaeden Nomm, Cody Olson, Kyle Bengtson, Ansen Nomm, and Jake Collins (dressed in holiday cheer) struck a conversation and welcomed this lone ranger to join them, making him feel a part of the team.
They soon learned they were golfing with career United States Air Force (retired) combat veteran Jeffrey Unger of DeForest, who competes on the Veteran Golfers Association nationwide tour. They also learned he was a service-connected disabled veteran held together by 24 screws a result of his military service, having served in 54 countries and on every continent on earth. Being a combat photojournalist will keep you traveling quite a bit, I told them.
First, no Wisconsin golfer ever expects to be on the golf course at the end of December in Wisconsin. So this opportunity was literally a Christmas gift to all of us. Winds were up, the sun went away and a cold front came through right in the middle of the round which changed the dynamics and made the challenge a little tougher. But these T-Birds with their mental toughness, work ethic and character, kept them in the game. Above and beyond that, their character, knowledge, individual skill, and great competitive attitude truly showed their dedication to their craft.
I for one am keenly aware it is tough enough for a northern Wisconsin school district to successfully manage high school spring sport schedules because of weather. It seems to put athletes at a slight disadvantage in comparison to southern state athletes. You have limited access, resources and in the case of golf, courses that still have snow and ice. Nevertheless, it was a distinct pleasure and honor to golf with five of northern Wisconsin’s finest young athletes. They represented themselves, their school and their communities extremely well. Keep up the great work, remember in golf the grind never stops. In the words of someone smarter than I, “Quitters never win, and winners never quit.”
Kaeden Nomm, Olson, Bengtson, Ansen Nomm and Collins, all the best to you in your WIAA Boys golf competitions this coming year. I will look forward to seeing you at University Ridge come June 14-16, and thanks for the memories. Fore!