Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Kyler Ludwig has uncorked beautiful drives, slammed birdie putts and feathered wonderful wedges to greens during his still-young golf career.

I’ve seen many of the shots. He played extraordinarily well in helping the Kuemper Catholic High School Knights capture three state golf championships. At Lake Panorama two years ago he moved around the course brilliantly.

But the reason we play the game of golf isn’t that final score, the thrill of breaking 80 or even 70 for the first time. It’s what golf teaches us about life, what to truly value. Poise. Class. Patience. Resilience. And most of all, an appreciation of the game’s history, a celebration of generational connections.

Kyler Ludwig gets this.

If he didn’t, he couldn’t have delivered that spectacularly moving speech Monday night at the Carrollton Centre, an introduction of his grandfather, 76-year-old Larry Clark — the coach of the Kuemper Catholic High School golf team for the last quarter century. Clark earned the Carroll Chamber of Commerce’s Public Service Award.

Nobody in Carroll loves golf more than Larry Clark. And, after Monday night, it’s clear no one loves his grandfather more than Ludwig. Yes, Ludwig was speaking to a crowd of 275 people gathered at the Carrollton for pork, chicken, loaded mashed potatoes and a heaping helping of community boosterism. But Ludwig’s speech was at its core a one-to-one expression of love from grandson to grandfather. He spoke to his grandfather directly. The rest of us in attendance were just fortunate bystanders.

Ludwig, 19, a freshman on a golf scholarship at Grand View University in Des Moines where he is majoring in accounting, joined hundreds of us in Carroll in referencing Larry Clark as “coach” — even if, as Ludwig said, he never actually coached us.

“He wouldn’t ever let me call him ‘grandpa,’” Ludwig said of Clark’s coaching protocol. “I guess that’s why I’m using it so much (now).”

Clark, as Ludwig noted, has officially coached more than 650 kids — and he’s given countless hours of advice to others. One of Clark’s former players, Collin Hackett, a son of Carroll Broadcasting’s Kim Hackett, the 2011 Carroll Chamber of Commerce president, nominated Clark for the Public Service honor.

Hackett could have collected a 10-page petition had he needed it. Clark has been there for his players and the community with a passion few rival.

“You could call him on Sunday afternoon,” Ludwig said. “You could be 8 years old. You could be 80 years old.”

Clark’s work in Carroll didn’t end on the 18th hole. A military veteran who logged an admirable career with the Social Security office in Carroll, Clark, an Audubon native who moved to Carroll in 1973, has been active in the Kiwanis Club and Meals on Wheels among other endeavors.

“We didn’t want to make it all golf-related,” Ludwig, a son of Randy and Jodi Ludwig, told The Daily Times Herald following his speech.

In a forceful closing line, Ludwig left no doubt about why his grandfather stood for photographs at 9 p.m. Monday with a fresh Public Service plaque in his hands.

“They respect the hell out of you, and you deserve it,” Ludwig said.

Clark’s family tells us this will be his last year as golf coach at Kuemper Catholic High School as the school hunts down the remarkable possibility of a four-peat as Class 2A champions.

I’ll be watching the Masters this April. But I’ll take a greater rooting interest in the Knights’ pursuit. The reason is simple: I respect the hell out of Larry Clark, and he deserves it.