Coach enjoys sharing the game that teaches self control, humility

Thursday, September 12, 2019
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Jason Stuart photo

DCHS Red Devil golf coach instructs Scott Keiser at practice on Tuesday.

Meet the Coach

(Editor’s Note: With fall sports ramping up, we felt it was the perfect time to reintroduce our readers to the people who put in countless hours to prepare DCHS teams and athletes for success on and off the competition field. This is the fourth in a series about Red Devil fall coaches)

Rudy Stulc came to golf relatively late in life, not picking up the sport until he first moved to Glendive in the early 2000s, but he soon caught the “golf bug” and poured himself into learning the sport. Years later, he would parlay that into becoming head coach of the Dawson County High School golf team, where for the past three years he has been working to spread his enthusiasm for and knowledge of the game.

“I love golf honestly more than any sport I’ve ever played,” Stulc said.

Stulc, who graduated from Winifred High School in northern Fergus County, Montana, never played golf in high school himself, playing basketball in the fall and tennis in the spring. When he was in high school golf was a springtime sport, rather than a fall sport as it is now, and tennis was his spring sport passion at the time.

“I did not (play golf),” Stulc said. “It was a spring sport and I played tennis.”

He didn’t pick up golf after high school either, actually playing “a little college basketball” when he left home for college. He first attended Dawson Community College — his mother and her family are from Glendive — before moving over to the University of Jamestown in North Dakota for a brief stint before moving on to MSU-Billings, from where he would graduate with a degree in biology with a minor in chemistry. He later earned a master’s degree from MSU-B in education technology.

He first moved to Glendive in 2001, taking a job teaching at DCC, where he would work until moving over to DCHS in 2015. And while he said he had messed around whacking a few golf balls during his college years, it wasn’t until he came here that he took any real interest in the sport.

“I didn’t seriously start playing it until honestly, my first (golf) membership was when I moved to Glendive and started at DCC,” he said.

But with his very first set of clubs in hand, which he paid $99 for, Stulc was soon hooked on the sport. The challenge of the sport, the way each course is different, or how even the same course can play differently on different days and in different weather conditions, the way it constantly tests the limits of your skill and dares you to try to improve, all of that and more keeps Stulc wanting to come back to the links again and again.

“I play as much as possible. Because you never master it for one thing, therefore it’s never boring,” Stulc said. “It takes a lot of imagination, to be honest. It makes you use your brain and it’s way more athletic than people think.”

There are a number of reasons Stulc loves the game so much.

“It teaches you to control your emotions and it teaches honesty, because you are the only one in control of your rules violations,” he said.

And there’s one more thing about it that’s refreshing.

“And you’re out in the fresh air,” Stulc said.

So three years ago when the head golf coach position became vacant, Stulc jumped at the opportunity, submitting a letter of interest in the position which ultimately led to his hiring. He had first moved over to DCHS in 2015 to teach biology and earth sciences, which he still does when he’s not teaching golf swings. Stulc may have been a novice golf coach, but he was not new to coaching. He worked as an assistant basketball coach for 10 years, coached the junior high boys team for a year and is serving as an assistant for the junior high girls team this year.

As a golf coach, Stulc said he has worked to improve himself and his charges by studying the drills and techniques used by the pros — he watches a lot of the Golf Channel, he noted — as well as looking at what college golf coaches are doing and having frequent discussions with them about their methods. On Tuesday afternoon at golf practice at Cottonwood Country Club, Stulc was directing a putting drill to one of his players, a drill he picked up from watching professional golfers.

“That’s the way I try to model it,” Stulc said of using drills used by professionals, noting since they are at the pinnacle of the sport, it makes sense to follow their example.

Finding drills to use in practice to teach golf skills is the relatively easy part, however. Golf is a very individualistic game, but in high school competition, you are also playing together as a team, and that makes being a high school golf coach “challenging for a few reasons,” Stulc said.

For one thing, he noted, there’s very little time to work with his charges before the fall season starts. They don’t get to start practicing as a team until just a couple of weeks before the season begins, and then they hit the ground running for a whirlwind of golf meets in the short season.

“In (high school) golf, you’re trying to groom your skills and you really have a short time to do it,” Stulc said. “So you hit the ground running and it’s a blur.”

The hardest part, however, is making sure to try to spend equal time training with the players he has. A small handful of the kids who play are seasoned golfers who have spent plenty of time on the course with their parents or other family or friends long before they get to Stulc.

Those are few and far between, however, and he said “you’re lucky if you have three or four kids who know how to golf.” The rest are kids who decided to give it a try because they have an interest in it but have never really played. And therein lies the difficulty — trying to make sure to spend time honing the skills of the seasoned golfers while also making sure to teach fundamentals to the novices and bring them “up to snuff.”

“That’s the most difficult thing to do,” Stulc said of making sure to divide his time equally between the two types of golfers he is charged with training.

One thing all of his players do regardless of skill level, as fundamentals are so important to the game, Stulc noted, is hit lots and lots of golf balls at the driving range.

“We do a lot of range work,” he said. “I’ve talked to a lot of college coaches and they’ve all said they’re not going to get better if they can’t hit.”

While it may be challenging, Stulc hopes for a day in Glendive when even more kids are coming out for DCHS golf. Finding numbers to fill out the team is always another challenge, he noted, and he wishes more kids in the area would give golf a chance. Growing the sport so that DCHS can consistently compete as a team with some of the golf powerhouses in the state will, for one thing, take growing youth interest in the sport by exposing them to it at a younger age, he said.

“The town needs to start thinking about junior high golf,” Stulc said. “And if you think about it, the only school sport we don’t do in our P.E. program is golf.”

People also need to let go of some of their misconceptions about the game to help increase youth participation, he added. One common one is that golf is a “snob sport” only played by doctors, lawyers, and CEOs, and snooty ones at that. Stulc said that’s simply not true, especially in this area, where people from all walks of life, from doctors to carpenters to cowpokes can be found playing on any given day at Cottonwood.

“Another misnomer about golf is that it’s really stuffy, and it’s not, especially here in Glendive,” he said.

One of the other major misconceptions about golf is that it’s prohibitively expensive. Stulc said that’s simply not true, pointing out how his first set of clubs cost just $99. To that he added that even a “cheap” set of clubs that you’d pay that much for today would be better equipment than the $200-300 set someone bought 10 years ago, because the technology and materials used are constantly improving.

“I don’t think the price of the clubs or the equipment is the deterrent, it’s that people have a perception that it’s expensive,” Stulc said.

There’s also avenues to help kids get into golf for less cost. One is a program called Youth on Course, which offers low-cost youth golf training courses to kids aged 6-18, with $50 getting a kid a week of intensive training in the sport. Moreover, the program provides kids with a flat $5 fee for a round of golf at all participating courses affiliated with the program, which includes Cottonwood. More information about the Youth on Course program can be found on their website at www.youthoncourse.org.

Given the availability of such programs that can help lower the cost of participation, Stulc hopes more parents will take advantage of it for their kids. Young women, in particular, should really take a look at golf if they have an interest in sports, he said, as there are so many opportunities in the sport open to them if they prove to have talent at it.

“I don’t think a lot of parents realize that the most unused college scholarship for girls is golf,” Stulc said.

While he hopes for the game to grow amongst the area’s youth, Stulc will in the meantime continue working hard to teach those fundamentals and to impart to his charges the most important lesson he said they can learn on a golf course, one that serves in life as well — that you can never give up, no matter what.

“Always grind; you can’t quit,” Stulc said. “You can’t quit just because you had a bad hole. Everybody’s got problems.”

Reach Jason Stuart at dcedc@midrivers.com.

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