May 7, 2013
This featured appeared in the May 7 edition of the K-State Sports Extra. To subscribe to the service, please Assistant AD for Communications Kenny Lannou at email@example.com.
By Mark Janssen
For Curtis Yonke, he’s on to golfing’s next hole, he hopes on golf’s biggest stage.
The Kansas State senior just completed his Wildcat career with a 10th-place performance at the Big 12 Championships hosted by the Prairie Dunes Country Club in Hutchinson, Kan.
“I should say I’m pleased, but I’m not,” Yonke said of his final collegiate tournament. “I was in it going into the final round, and while I didn’t do anything horrible, my putter just went cold. I had four or five looks from 4- to 8-feet that just burned the edge. It was beyond frustrating.”
Still, the showing earned Yonke All-Big 12 honors for 2013, which was a season that truly started in January.
“I had a tough fall. I don’t know if I was trying too hard or it was just the pressure,” said Yonke, a product of Blue Valley West High School in Overland Park, Kan.
Then, he says, “It hit me. I have three or four months of competitive golf before I’m going out and doing this for a living. If I didn’t figure out things now, I was going to have no chance. It just hit me in the face that it was now or never.
“I started hitting golf balls at the age of 3 and playing competitive at 6 with a dream to play professional golf,” said Yonke, who is the grandson of former K-Stater Jim Colbert. “It just finally hit me that while now I was just playing for a trophy, the next step was playing for your life … earnings and making a living.”
Yes, at the age of six Yonke was playing in mini-tourneys, and at the seven he was using a women’s driver with a flimsy shaft and knocking the ball over 200 yards off the tee. At the age of eight, Yonke scored his first hole-in-one, and once shot a 9-hole score of 39 from the women’s tees.
His game progressed to the point he was a two-time Class 6A Kansas State High School champion, and finally landing a spot at Kansas State, where he plays on a course that carries the name of his grandfather-coach … Jim Colbert Golf Course.
“I could count the times I’ve called him ‘grandpa’ on one hand. Even at a very young age, he was always ‘coach’. Since I was born he’s been ‘coach’,” said Yonke of his grandfather, who placed second at the NCAA Championships for the Wildcats and has since totaled over $11 million in career earnings in professional golf.
Laughing, he added that not many of his golfing rivals know of the connection, or even who Jim Colbert is because he was in the spotlight 40 years ago. But that fact is Colbert and Bob Murphy just won a two-man tournament on the Champions Tour earlier in the month and they’re both in their 70s.
“He’s my biggest fan, but he’s pretty hard on me. Some people would think that we have a rough relationship, but that’s not true at all,” said Yonke, who averaged just under a 73 for 26 rounds played during his senior year, which included four Top 10 finishes. “It’s a relationship of coach and student, and I love that. He’s the one I look up to the most.
“He told me when I started playing golf somewhat seriously that I had the potential to make it a career,” said Yonke, who is graduating with a degree in Entrepreneurship. “That served as a great confidence booster.”
While Colbert is Yonke’s swing coach, Tim Norris is his Kansas State coach.
“It hasn’t been a problem at all,” said Yonke of his co-coaches. “Coach Norris knows the relationship I have with my grandpa. When it comes to swing, coach Norris leaves me alone. But if we’re at a tournament he gives me quick suggestions that have helped me a ton.”
While only a slender 5-foot-10 in size, Yonke pounds the ball in the range of 320 yards, and is a more than adequate putter. But he says, “My biggest improvement at the next level has to in eliminating mistakes around the green. You have to be able to save par and I’m not to the point where I need to be.”
Yonke says he plans to keep his amateur status through summer before entering Q School in the fall in hopes of earning a position on the Web.com tour, which is a minor league to the PGA.
The best advice that Yonke moves forward with comes from the wisdom of his grandpa … or coach.
“He told me the story of how he won two tournaments with a pull-hook. It’s not what he wanted, but he said as long as you know where it’s going, you can compete,” said Yonke. “It’s a hard game to play and it’s how well you do when you’re not playing well that defines how successful you can be.
“It just opened my eyes that you don’t have to be perfect, but it’s just about getting the ball in the hole,” he continued. “It doesn’t matter what it looks like.”
In looking back over the last four years at K-State, Yonke called it a “decent career,” but said after a single win as a freshman, “I wish I would have won a couple more times. But I’ve gotten smarter and wiser, and my time here has prepared me well for the next level.”