Don Kotnik, right, instructs A.J. Riley at Toledo Country Club. Kotnik has been voted in as a member of six halls of fame.
Detrich / Toledo Blade Enlarge
Bear Bryant s first preseason football camp at Texas A&M, all blood, sweat and tears, inspired the movie Junction Boys. But the Bear may have had nothing on former University of Toledo coach Frank Lauterbur when it came to being a taskmaster.
Don Kotnik was there, starting his sophomore year, when Lauterbur arrived at UT.
About 120 guys came out hoping to make the 45-man travel squad, Kotnik recalled. At the start of camp we had three-a-day practices.
Two were on the field and one was on the asphalt parking lot next to White Hall. And, yeah, it was full-go, even on the asphalt. We got to the first game and there were 38 guys left.
The men were separated from the boys and those who survived emerged with a new attitude.
In his office at Toledo Country Club, Kotnik has a plaque sitting on a shelf behind his desk. It is inscribed with one word: Attitude.
Don Kotnik has been at Toledo Country Club for 35 years, 33 as head pro.
Detrich / Toledo Blade Enlarge
I think it s the most powerful word in our language, Kotnik said. I truly believe that how you approach things, what attitude you bring to your job and to life, will determine whether or not you re successful.
No one can question that Kotnik has the right stuff in that regard.
The dean of golf professionals in the Toledo area, Kotnik is starting his 35th year at Toledo Country Club, his 33rd as head pro.
He was honored as the nation s PGA Professional of the Year in 1993; was named the Bob McNally Award winner, co-sponsored by the PGA and Tommy Armour Golf, for service to his community and fellow man in 1997, and is a member of six halls of fame.
Now, Golf Magazine has named Kotnik to its prestigious list of the Top 100 Teachers in America.
Right there, on the same list with Peggy Kirk Bell, Jim Flick, Hank Haney, Butch Harmon, Peter Kostis, David Leadbetter, Jim McLean, Dave Pelz, Rick Smith and Bob Toski is the name Don Kotnik.
Being named Professional of the Year, the highest honor from the PGA and my peers, was a tremendous honor, Kotnik said of the 93 honor. Being one of the top 100, well, that comes pretty close. It s the culmination of a lot of years and it s very special.
Kotnik came to Toledo from Barberton, Ohio, in the fall of 1962. Jack Murphy, then a UT assistant football coach under Clive Rush, won the recruiting battle for the center-linebacker because he was the only college suitor to promise Kotnik he could also play golf.
Barberton was a big factory town with a great athletic history, Kotnik said. It was a lot like Massillon. You grew up to play high school football. Basically, the only way you got out of Barberton was through sports. That s how you got to college.
I didn t start playing golf until I was 14. I was riding my bike home through a field after a baseball game and there was a guy hitting golf balls. I stopped and watched. He saw me and said, You want to hit some balls?
The first shot I hit was with a 7-iron and it shot up in the air and went forever. I hit about five or six more balls and I was hooked right then and there. I fell in love with the game. The first summer I played I broke 80. The second summer I started winning tournaments. It eventually became my life.
Lauterbur s first two spring football practices prevented Kotnik from playing much on the UT golf team, but he did play close to a full-time schedule and lettered as a junior and senior. Later, he served as the Rockets golf coach for 17 seasons, during which time he says 95 per cent of his players earned a degree.
Kotnik feels his UT degree played a large role in his rapid rise as a golf professional.
Kotnik was two years out of college, having worked at clubs in Hawaii and Michigan, before returning to Toledo for a two-year apprenticeship under Norris Denno at Toledo CC. In March of 1972, still shy of his 27th birthday, he became head pro at Highland Meadows, but stayed just seven months before heading back to the south end to replace Denno.
It was a little different back then, Kotnik said. There were probably 9,000 PGA professionals compared to about 28,000 today. And less than 1 per cent of the golf pros back then had college degrees whereas today it s a standard requirement. It definitely put me on a faster track.
Now 60 years old, Kotnik has been at Toledo CC ever since and he ll be there as long as he wants. In 1980, the club awarded him a lifetime contract.
Well, I don t think that s how it was stated, but they pretty much told me I would have a job as long as I needed one, Kotnik said.
At least during the warmer months. For the last decade, Kotnik has split his time between Toledo and Port St. Lucie, Fla., where he generally spends two days a week teaching at PGA Golf Club. Most of his students there are fellow professionals.
It s amazing what an extra set of eyes can do, Kotnik said. Everybody needs a teacher, even teachers. And I ll spend about 10 hours a week doing research on teaching, whether it s through formal education of working with other teachers. We re always trying to develop new techniques.
Don Kotnick as a UT student in 1964.
Kotnik also serves on the Titleist Golf Company s teaching staff, presenting seminars, testing equipment and, of course, teaching.
It s what he does.
Of course, he uses the winter months to play and practice and, yes, take lessons.
The teacher s teacher? Kotnik s son, Michael Don, is an assistant professional at Caves Valley Golf Club near Baltimore and is the only pro entrusted with the elder Kotnik s swing.
He started caddying for me when he was 6 and virtually grew up here, Kotnik said of Michael Don, who spent a year on his father s staff after graduating from Bowling Green.
Michael Don is one of Don and Rochelle Kotnik s three children.
My family is the thing I m most proud of, Kotnik said. Rochelle has been there every step along the way. Being the wife of a golf professional is not always a nice thing. The job entails a lot of hours.
Part of that job, a large part, is training his always-growing extended family. Nearly 30 of Kotnik s former assistants at Toledo CC are either club professionals or teaching pros, with a couple pro tour players mixed in. One of the teaching pros is Rick Smith, also on the Top 100 list and the mentor to PGA Tour star Phil Mickelson.
I m very proud of what my assistants have gone on to accomplish, Kotnik said. At least 50 per cent of my job is teaching my assistants how to teach. Whenever they give lessons, we go over it in detail before and after. Often, I ll go out on the range with them [during a lesson]. It s a pretty constant learning experience and it goes both ways. I learn from them too.
In fact, I think one of the most important traits of a good teacher is to never stop learning. There has to be a constant thirst for knowledge. You can never stop bettering yourself.
Kotnik should know. In his chosen profession, few are better.
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