Falk overcomes turbulent year

Published 1:00 pm Saturday, May 30, 2009

When asked what this season has been like for Albert Lea senior Mike Falk following the Section 1AAA tournament, the normally gregarious 18-year-old, paused for a moment of introspection.

“It was really a roller coaster year,” he said.

Falk, a self-assured young man who comes across as mature beyond his years, will make his first trip to the Class 3A boys’ state golf tournament Tuesday at Bunker Hills Golf Course. It’s a trip he almost never had the chance of making.

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When talking with Falk, who served as co-captain on the hockey and golf teams, it’s easy to forget that’s he’s still a kid who is about to graduate from high school.

Falk and teammate Grant Stadheim made a mistake many their age have made when they decided to drink at a post-prom party in March. The lapse in judgment put their seasons in jeopardy.

Under school policy Falk and Stadheim were suspended eight varsity contests (the Minnesota State High School League requires a two contest or two-week suspension, which ever is longer) and their season hung on the Minnesota spring weather. If the Albert Lea boys’ golf team had just two contests canceled they would not have been able to finish the season and would have missed the section meet.

The Tigers never had a meet canceled, which allowed Falk and Stadheim to return to the links in time for the Big Nine Conference tournament and the Section 1AAA tournament.

Falk was able to make the most of his second chance, finishing tied for second at the section meet to qualify for the state tournament Tuesday. He will arrive there a little more humble.

“Screwing up like that, it really puts you back in your spot,” he said. “You’re not invincible.”

The mistake put Tigers head coach Riley Worth in a precious position as to whether he should allow him back on the team. Worth said he had many people tell him that Falk shouldn’t be allowed back on the team.

“I had numerous people tell me, while they all know that Grant and Mike are good people, that they wouldn’t let them back on the team. I had a lot of people say that,” Worth said. “None of those people had to look at Mike and Grant in the eye and tell them, ‘You’re done,’ when they’ve done so many great things for so many years. There’s no way I was going to let one mistake take that away.”

Stadheim and Falk took responsibility for their actions and met with Worth at his home that weekend to tell him what happened.

“It was one of those I didn’t have to say much because they’ve been together for so long,” Worth said. “Any answering that had to be done went straight from the captains to the players because they are mature and realized they made a mistake. They just took care of it.”

The team had aspirations of a conference title this season and early in the season looked to be in good position to do so until Stadheim and Falk were suspended.

“Definitely felt like I let my team down,” Falk said. “If you look at our roster, look at our stats, we would have been — I don’t want to take anything away from the guys that stepped in for us, they did a good job — but I think if we would’ve had our top six going all year we would have had a legit shot at winning the Big Nine Conference. We cost the team and we know that. We feel bad for it.”

Still nothing was guaranteed for Falk when he returned. He would have to qualify as usual, but even that was no easy task.

“He, as a senior, didn’t know if he was going to be on the section team until the last nine holes of qualifying,” Worth said. “Now look at what he’s done.”

What he has done is find his game and tapped into the potential he’s shown throughout different stages of his career. The time away from competition helped Falk fine tune his game.

“Some people might say to come back from what they came back from would make it harder, but it may have actually given them more focus in some ways,” Worth said.

It gave Falk time to focus on his game around the green, something that has been troublesome for him in the past.

His first meet back was the Big Nine Conference meet and he shot an 84, but he got it together at the section meet and shot a 1-over 74 to lead the tournament after the first day. On the second day he shot 78 and finished tied for second with four others to advance to the state meet.

“The time away — I think it helped me,” Falk said. “I got to watch a lot of matches, with quality golfers, quality golf being played. I was allowed to work on my game and how I felt I should be able to work on it and what needed to be worked on.”

Falk’s ball striking has always been superb, but it’s things like managing the course better that have allowed Falk to elevate his level of play.

“I definitely feel that I’m much more level-headed on the golf course this year than I have been in the past,” he said. “I know what I’m trying to do. I’m not rushing, I’m not intimidated by the players I’m playing with. I feel much more at ease.”

Some would say Falk has caught fire at the right time, but Worth said that’s not entirely the case.

“I don’t think someone could say, ‘we’ll maybe he’s just hot right now,’” Worth said. “No, I think this is the player that Mike is supposed to get to and just never gotten to the roof of his potential. He’s just now getting there.”

Falk’s not ready to just be satisfied with making the state tournament, he’s determined to compete.

“Some people are happy to just say I made it to the state tournament and I went up and shot 90 both days,” he said. “I don’t want to do that.”