NOTE: The following story first appeared in the summer 2013 edition of Concordia's printed Broadcaster publication.
By Jake Knabel, Sports Information Director
Between the fall and spring seasons, something clicked for Concordia sophomore golfer Shawn Rodehorst, who transformed from good into one of the GPAC’s elite. Merely halfway through his collegiate career, the Kearney, Neb., native is already rewriting school record books.
The calm and collected Rodehorst turned in a one-under-par 70 at the final GPAC qualifier meet on April 25 to complete a spring run that included likely the best five-round performance in Bulldog history.
“This spring he put it all together,” said Concordia head golf coach Brett Muller.
In 2012-13, Rodehorst broke school records for lowest season average (75.2 in 13 rounds), highest GPAC qualifier finish (eighth) and lowest 36-hole score at a single meet (71-73–144 at the Blue River Invite) while becoming the first Concordia golfer ever to win the Blue River Invite.
“To be able to do that over the course of a season feels pretty good,” Rodehorst said. “I had one round that I feel like I kind of let get away in the fall. Besides that I feel like I really grinded it out throughout all the rounds and got the best score I could out of it.”
Rodehorst’s spring excellence (71.8 average in five rounds) is a product of more than just a few months of hard work. He grew up fully immersed in the sport of golf. His father Rex has served as a superintendent at Meadowlark Hills Golf Course in Kearney since about the time Shawn was born.
“Pretty much as soon as I could stand I was starting to hit balls and stuff,” Shawn said. “In my backyard we put a hole back there in the grass. We put a flag there and I’d hit whiffle balls and things like that in the backyard. So pretty much as long as I can remember I’ve been playing.”
Rex’s busy schedule at the course meant Shawn often tagged along at Meadowlark. Shawn began swinging with a plastic club as a toddler, often working on his chipping and putting as he got started. He even had his own swing coach – Meadowlark golf pro Scott Bruha – at the age of five. As Rex put it, “Ever since he was born he’s had a golf club in his hand.”
At a gathering at a family friend’s pool when Shawn was two years of age, the toddler showed no interest in swimming. He just wanted to swing his plastic club. He was hooked on the game his proud papa had introduced to him.
Through the game of golf, Shawn and his father grew closer. They continue to play rounds together whenever Shawn makes it back to Kearney and every year they compete together in a Father’s Day scramble.
“It got a lot stronger through the sport,” Rex said of their relationship. “It gives us five hours of one-on-one time on the course to talk about different things going on in life. Shawn is typically a quiet kid so I really cherish that one-on-one. It has really helped build our relationship.”
At the same time, Rex understands his role as father and not as coach. He often attends Shawn’s meets and simply remains in the background most of the time. He once attempted to calm his son down when he got flustered on the course in high school, but Shawn’s mental approach has matured considerably.
“He’s not really a coach,” Shawn said. “He’s never been like that. When I was really young he taught me a few things to kind of get me going. He’s never pushed me to go play. It’s always been like, ‘hey dad, let’s go play.’ We just go play and have fun. He’s not trying to fix anything.”
There hasn’t been much lately that’s needed fixing as it pertains to Shawn’s well-rounded game. Only GPAC medalist Neil Malenke of Northwestern posted a lower two-round total among the field of competitors at GPAC Qualifiers Nos. 3 and 4. The Kearney native seemed to boost his mental focus so high that he almost never found himself in murky situations on the course.
“Shawn did a great job of staying out of trouble off the tee,” Muller said. “His accuracy with his driver has improved, allowing him to be more aggressive with his approach shots. He has come to understand that you do not have to hit a perfect shot every time. How you respond is what makes the difference.”
While Shawn earns high praise for his work on the course, his coach and his father gush about his personality and character. He was voted the team captain as just a sophomore and is noted for his exemplary sportsmanship and for shying away from the headlines.
“He always wants to do well individually but he’s not boastful,” Rex said. “He is embarrassed by the spotlight. He wants it to be about the team, not him as an individual.”
The business administration major and former Kearney Catholic prep standout also achieves high marks in the classroom. Muller feels blessed to have the opportunity to coach Shawn and not just because of his continually plummeting golf scores.
“Shawn is an outstanding young man and the type of student-athlete every coach wants on his team,” Muller said. “He was selected as team captain at the beginning of the fall season and he embraced this role. Shawn defines a leader by example both on and off the course.”
Shawn possesses the modesty and sense of humor to smile now about his score of 82 at the first GPAC qualifier held this past Sept. 13. He then posted a 78 in the second qualifier, putting him in 30th place as his goal of reaching the top 10 looked like a longshot.
How did he improve so much, so quickly?
“Well I can tell you how the 30th happened,” Shawn said. “I started off with an 82 the first one, which I think was like 40th. Then the next one was a 78, so it was a little bit better. I knew coming into the spring that I had to play well to reach my goal. I had my goals and I really tried hard to reach them.”
What will Shawn do for an encore with two full seasons when he’s already established himself as an all-time great at Concordia? Well, he’d like to someday be the GPAC medalist and golf at the national championships, but everything will be just fine even if he falls short of that aim. He’s found the right place for him.
“When I visited Concordia there was something telling me that this is where I was supposed to be,” Shawn said. “It’s just some kind of feeling that I can’t really describe. When I visited here I just knew I was supposed to be here.”
That comfort and assuredness as a sophomore helped Rodehorst etch his name into Bulldog record books. Considering how far he came in just one season, the prospect of what he can do over the next two years is in a word: tantalizing.