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Golf is a family affair for Charleroi sophomore

| Saturday, Dec. 14, 2013, 9:27 p.m.
Mike Kondratik has improved his golf game after a rough start as a freshman at Charleroi Area High School.
Mike Kondratik has improved his golf game after a rough start as a freshman at Charleroi Area High School.

Knocking knees and the heebie-jeebies.

Put them together on the golf course and the results will range from bad to really bad to “I'd rather not talk about it and forget that round.”

Charleroi Area sophomore Mike Kondratik remembers, with an obvious chuckle, his first varsity match with the Cougars as a freshman last year.

“I was super nervous,” Knodratik said, not even attempting to stifle his laughter as he gave an honest assessment of that initial toe-dipping into varsity competition. “I played really bad and shot in the mid-50s. But I made a big improvement by the end of the season and was happy with my progress as a freshman. By the end of the season I was shooting 40 to 41 consistently.”

Kondratik and Charleroi Area golf coach Joe Wiehl were on the same page regarding that first varsity match.

“I knew he was a decent player coming into the program,” Wiehl offered, “but he definitely started out slow as a freshman. He started out as our No. 6 man but his nerves really showed that first match (when he shot 55). But by the second half of the season he was playing better. The nerves were gone and he was in the low 40s.”

As a sophomore this past season, any semblance of Kondratik's freshman jitters were already a distant memory, as he climbed the ladder to play as the Cougars' No. 2 man, in part due to a number of local youth tournaments in which he played last summer.

“The more I played the less nervous I was,” he added, “and the more I improved.”

Wiehl also credited Kondratik's improvement to his growth and maturity, both physically and mentally.

“Mike played in some local youth tournaments with Gunnar Riley, our No. 1 man, and got more experience, playing both with Gunnar and with other area players his age,” Wiehl noted. “The fact that he played more and the fact that he had more exposure to different courses and different conditions helped. As our No. 2 man, Mike was consistently in the high 30s/low 40s. He was much more mature and calm this season. His nerves were gone, and he just went out and golfed. There was a real improvement from his freshman to sophomore years.”

Performing well as a sophomore in the section tournament, Kondratik qualified for the WPIAL championship at Sewickley Heights, where he shot 84 and tied for 15th place, which earned him a berth in the PIAA Western regional tournament at Tom's Run in Blairsville.

At Sewickley Heights, Kondratik admitted that he struggled with his irons and hit only four greens, and further struggled to get up and down.

“But even as a sophomore I was not satisfied with my score,” he said. “I could have played better, but it was a good learning experience.”

As was his showing at Tom's Run, where he shot 86.

“It was not a good day,” he said. “My driver was all over the place and everything was bad. But that will definitely improve over the next two years. My goal is to play well for our team and make it to states next year.”

While Wiehl and Riley represent Kondratik's daily mentors, he has the game in his blood. His grandfather, Mike Kondratik, golfed for the Cougars in the late 1950s and served as the team's golf coach in the mid-1980s, and his father, Scott, was a member of Charleroi's golf team, uniquely representing three successive generations to golf for the school.

“I never thought of it that much,” Kondratik said, “but that sounds pretty interesting, that my grandfather, father and I all golfed for the same high school team.”

Stepping out from under his grandfatherly cap and replacing it with his golf coach's cap, Mike Kondratik (the elder), 72, occasionally tees it up with his grandson and assesses his grandson's performance from that coaching perspective.

“He has a natural swing,” said granddad, referring to his grandson. “The power that he generates from his swing is effortless, especially for his size (5-8, 155). There is no effort in his swing at all. It's all natural, nothing mechanical about it. And he hits ball a long way. I've worked with him on his short game, trying to get him to get the ball on the ground quicker when he is close to the green. A lot of kids his age try hitting a flop shot at the pin all the time, which may not always be the best strategy. Sometimes it is easier to roll the ball onto the green rather than pitch it, and Mike is working at it.”

Kondratik averages between 285-300 yards off the tee and credits his grandfather with helping with his swing and how to hit certain shots.

“Early this year I was hooking my drives, and my grandfather worked with my grip,” Kondratik said. “He explained what I was doing wrong, straightened it out, and he got me to flatten out my swing. That got me to drive through the ball and let my club do the work.”

Kondratik's best score for nine holes is 37, which he shot at Carmichaels Golf Course during a section match this past season.

“My game was on that day,” he laughed. “When I play against my dad, it's back and forth as to who wins; but I usually give my grandfather some strokes.”

While golf season has ended, Kondratik will be swinging at a larger ball this spring as a member of the Cougars baseball team. As a freshman third baseman last spring, he was in the starting lineup and batted fifth.

But it's not just on the golf course where Kondratik excels. He sports a 4.0 grade average and ranks among the top 20 students in his class. Even though he will not graduate until 2016, he has his sights set on attending college to major in a professional golf management program to become a playing and teaching pro.

Les Harvath is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

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