Former Albert Lea golfers at college reconnect

Published 8:53 am Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The annual Shortstop tournament at Green Lea Golf Course always provides the opportunity for people to reconnect using golf as the backdrop. That opportunity to reconnect is especially rewarding for a group of a dozen golfers that played college golf at Texas Lutheran University in the 1990s.

The players are: Steve Lee, Jeff Stadheim, Mike Oothoudt, Phil Schmidt, Andy Peteresen, Steve Petersen, Eric Sullivan, Joey Caldwell, Chris Baas, Brian Knudsen, Riley Worth and Kirk Mosenthin, each year all of them meet at the Shortstop and reminisce. Most of the players came grew up in Albert Lea, but over the years some have moved away, but the Shortstop is their time to catch up.

Their story is a lengthy one with many connections, but at its center are the talented players that Albert Lea produced for the better part of a decade.

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Jeff Stadheim started it all when he decided to attend Texas Lutheran in Seguin, Texas, a town east of San Antonio.

“It was a mid-size, small school that looked outside the normal recruitment and focused on upper Midwest players,” Stadheim said. “Guys in the upper Midwest, even though we spend four or five months of winter up here, they can play, they can compete with the guys from the South.”

Stadheim became a three-time, second team All-American while at Texas Lutheran and also helped lead the team to a second place finish in the 1990 NAIA National Championship. The second place finish is still the best the team has achieved.

Brian Knudsen followed Stadheim to Texas Lutheran, then Mike Oothoudt made the trip. After Oothoudt came Steve Petersen and the others.

“It was always a really good place for kids to get a chance to play that wouldn’t get a scholarship somewhere,” Petersen said.

The Albert Lea boys did quite well at Texas Lutheran with Phil Schmidt making a run at an individual NAIA title in 1998, but a lot of what prepared them for college golf came from playing at area golf courses and high school coach Kenny Ulman.

“Kenny Ulman had a lot to do with the success of the high school players,” Stadheim said. “He’d spend a lot of time with the kids.

The golf courses are pretty receptive to letting kids play. That’s a big benefit.”

Playing for the Albert Lea High School team was stiff competition when Ulman coached. Ulman played the top four golfers from the previous tournament, but the last two spots were a free-for-all. The final two spots were determined in practice and given to whoever played the best that day. Petersen recalled a time when a senior co-captain didn’t play in the conference tournament because he didn’t make the top four in the last tournament.

“It didn’t matter if you were the No. 1 guy or not,” Petersen said. “It didn’t matter how good he thought you were. If you didn’t do it, you were out.”

Ulman wasn’t so much about refining mechanics or technique as much as he was about making players tougher and better through competition.

“He’d send you out in the rain, it didn’t matter,” Petersen said. “It made us all kind of hate to lose.”

While Ulman toughened the players the golfing environment around Albert Lea was conducive to young golfers. Older golfers at the old country club and Green Lea would take the time to help a young man out with his game and give him something to aspire to become.

“We don’t know how good we have it,” Lee said. “It’s been a long process of generation after generation of looking up to these players like say a Dick Davies who won this tournament many times.”

Schmidt appreciated what those golfers did for him in his day and he tries to do the same now to help maintain Albert Lea’s ability to produce talented golfers.

“Albert Lea has produced a lot,” Schmidt said. “It has been a golf Mecca in Southern Minnesota.”