There are times, Dr. John Konsek admits, when he allows himself to ask “what if?”
What if his passion for golf matched that of medicine? What would he have been able to accomplish?
“You always think of that,” said Konsek, the most accomplished amateur golfer to ever come out of Buffalo. “I made up my mind early that I was going to go into medicine. A lot of the people that I grew up with playing junior golf and amateur golf went on to have pretty good professional careers and you always wonder what could have happened if I tried that, but I don’t dwell on it.
“I really never felt that I made the wrong decision. It was the right decision for me. I was not enamored with playing golf as a career. It was no big deal for me at the time.”
Now 75, Konsek is happily retired from a distinguished career as an oncologist and living in Pawley’s Island, S.C., with his wife, Marlene. He spoke with The Buffalo News this week on the occasion of being selected to the New York State Golf Association Hall of Fame.
“I was surprised. You can’t help but think about those times and the memories that I have from playing competitive golf,” Konsek said. “It’s a wonderful honor.”
A well-deserved one, too.
Although short, Konsek’s amateur career is unmatched in Western New York. Using a simple swing he fine-tuned over rounds at Grover Cleveland and practice sessions at his father’s driving range, his ball-striking was flawless.
From 1957 to 1960, Konsek won four straight NYSGA championships – the junior amateur in ’57 and then three straight men’s amateurs from ’58-60.
In that same period of time, he won the inaugural Porter Cup in 1959 (he added another championship in 1961), became the only player to win the International Junior Masters three times (with his title in 1957 joining those he won in 1954 and ’55), the first of two Monroe Invitational championships in 1959 (with the other coming in 1964) and competed in the U.S. Open twice (1958, 1960).
In the 1960 Buffalo District Golf Association championship at Park, Konsek carded a round of 61 that included a 9-under 28 on the par-37 front nine.
He also dominated college golf, winning three straight Big Ten championships from 1958-60 while playing for Purdue University, being named an All-American in each season. During his senior season with the Boilermakers, he defeated an Ohio State junior named Jack Nicklaus two out of three times in head-to-head matchups. After splitting on their home courses, Konsek shot a 33 on the final nine holes of the Big Ten championship while Nicklaus carded 35. The third-place finisher was 15 strokes behind Nicklaus,
“Had John turned professional, he definitely would be in the Hall of Fame by now,” Nicklaus told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel in 2004. “I think John missed the opportunity to be one of the greatest golfers to ever play the game.”
“That was very gracious of him to say,” Konsek said. “It really made me feel good, but you never know. There were a lot of good players at that time who went on to try to play golf – they were as good as I was – and they didn’t do nearly as well. But I feel very complimented that he said that. Jack is a really neat guy. He and his wife have been friends for a long time.
We’ll never know if Konsek and Nicklaus could have continued their rivalry as professionals, though. That’s because Konsek had a different calling. After graduating from Purdue, he came home to attend medical school at the University at Buffalo. With that, his days of competitive golf were just about over at the age of 20.
“I didn’t have the time to play golf – much to my parents’ chagrin,” said Konsek, who turned down an invitation to play in the Masters in 1961. “With things as they’ve evolved over the past 50 years, you know, you always wonder. Especially with the purses now being so huge not only in regards to the winner’s share, but going all the way down to 30th, 40th, 50th place. It wasn’t that way back in the ’60s.”
Konsek left the area after finishing up at UB, and eventually settled in Wisconsin. He became a weekend golfer before eventually giving up the game for more than 20 years while he and Marlene raised their three sons.
“The kids were growing up. They were interested in sports other than golf,” he said. “In between my work and trying to stay interested in what they were doing, I couldn’t justify playing.”
That started to change in 2000 when Konsek retired. He had hip-replacement surgery that allowed him to swing again. He and Marlene also became snow birds, buying their current house in South Carolina. They made it their permanent home four years ago.
“It didn’t take too long to come back,” Konsek said of his swing. “I play with a group of fellas down here two or three times a week. It’s low key, but we have a lot of fun. It’s basically pleasure golf more than anything else.”
Konsek, who was inducted into the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame in 2005, is once again a scratch player at his home course, Caledonia Golf and Fish Club.
He hasn’t been back to Western New York since 2008, when the Porter Cup invited all former winners back for its 50th anniversary.
“It will always hold a special place in my heart,” Konsek said of growing up in Buffalo. “I made a lot of friends there, so I’m looking forward to coming up and reconnecting with some of them.”
Konsek’s formal induction to the NYSGA Hall of Fame will take place Oct. 10 at the Country Club of Rochester.
Zlotek makes an ace
While rare, a hole-in-one isn’t unheard of in golf.
However, the significance of the accomplishment goes up as the age of the golfer goes down.
So a big congratulations goes out to 8-year-old Luke Zlotek of Depew. A member of the PGA Junior League, he aced the sixth hole at Orchard Park Country Club earlier this month, using a driver on the 134-yard hole.
Zlotek is a member of the East Aurora Country Club PGA Junior League team that’s coached by John Daddario and Chris Kulinski. The league, which is new to the area, gives boys and girls age 13 and under the opportunity to learn the game under the direction of PGA or LPGA professionals and compete in a two-person scramble format. Zlotek’s ace came in a match against Orchard Park.
• Randolph’s Nolan Ditcher was medalist during a recent qualifying tournament for the 73rd New York State Golf Association Junior Championship with a round of 2-over 74 at Lancaster Country Club. Also qualifying for the tournament, which will be held Aug. 4-5 at Cedar Lake Club in Clayville, were: Mitchell Smith (Orchard Park Country Club, 76), John Dantonio Jr. (Fox Valley, 76), Casey Woodard (Lancaster, 78), Jacob Mertz (Park, 78), Zach Farkas (Brighton, 78), Joey Rinaldi (Country Club of Buffalo, 79), Ryan Gibbons (Lancaster, 80), Alex Prise (Crag Burn, 80) and Chris Yustin (Transit Valley, 80).
• The website buffalogolfer.com ran a poll recently asking golfers to vote on their favorite public course in Western New York. The winner was Terry Hills in Batavia, followed in order by Willowbrook, Sheridan, Byrncliff and Hickory Stick. The website itself offered its own list, with Diamond Hawk topping it. Hickory Stick came in No. 2, followed by Harvest Hill, Arrowhead and the Links at Ivy Ridge.