on the green

Now wrapping up his fourth season as Mt. Lebanon High School girls golf team coach, Matt Kluck has been gratified to see the team grow bigger and better each year.

“The team won a WPIAL championship in 2006-07, but then five years ago they almost didn’t have enough girls to field a team,” Kluck says, a master PGA pro. “So I gave a free clinic and got 11 girls, and they asked me to be the coach.”

Over three years, he grew the team to 13 girls and turned around their record from 3-14 to 11-4. Last year, they beat Peters Township, which won the section, on Peters’ home course. At this writing, the team’s short, 14-match season, which ends this month, was just beginning, but Kluck and his players were looking forward to a possible spot in the playoffs, with four of the top five players returning.

“I make [golf] very low pressure,” Kluck says. “There’s very little tension involved in what they do. [Our attitude is] we’ll do better the next time.

“Golf teaches life skills such as respect, honor, self worth, friendship and personal interaction with a lot of other people,” he continues. “It takes them to wonderful places, where they associate with very, very nice people—and it’s a lifetime sport.”

This year’s top five qualifiers were Maggie Gannon, Lily Oppenheimer, Marie Erickson, Kathryn Cushman and Chloe Hoffman. Oppenheimer, daughter of Kathy Hrabovsky and Michael Oppenheimer of Orchard Drive, is a senior whose grandmother introduced her to the sport at age 11. She joined the team as a freshman and has played a big part in recruiting new members and organizing team fundraisers. This past summer, she caddied at storied Oakmont Country Club.

Like many of the team members, she is multitalented and focused. She plays piano and flute and is in the orchestra “because you can’t do golf and marching band.” She hopes to play golf in college at a Division III school—Northwestern is tops on her list—because she wants to focus on academics.

To her, the golf team means more than competition. “There aren’t any cliques. We’re all very close,” she says. “The best part is the bus rides—we laugh a lot, and even if it’s a bad day, we still support each other.”

As with  Oppenheimer, golf is just one of many activities for sophomore Marie Erickson, Forest Glen Drive. An aspiring educator, Erickson was student council president for ninth grade last year, writes for the school’s literary magazine and tutors at the middle schools.
Coincidentally, it also was Erickson’s grandmother who got her hooked on golf at age 8 when she took her to a driving range in Indianapolis. Grandma, now 85, still plays golf, as do Erickson’s parents, Mark and Kathy.

What does Marie like about golf? Well, just about everything. “I like the social aspect—you can play your whole life and use it in business,” she says. “And I think golf teaches you to work hard. Golf doesn’t come naturally to a lot of people. You have to have a good work ethic because the amount of time you put into it correlates with how well you play.”

And you never get bored, she says, especially at Mt. Lebanon’s course, which she likes because it’s “challenging,” especially the 8th hole, the longest par 4 on the course with a narrow fairway. “Golf is unpredictable—you never have the same shot twice, you just go with it,” she says.

Kluck helps the girls deal with the unpredictability, she says. “He’s taught me a lot of different ways that I can approach the game,” she says. “Since he has been playing for so long and is a PGA pro, he has a lot of imagination for the game. He can pull out a lot of amazing shots.”

Kluck may be able to help the girls envision different ways of making the shot, but from his perspective, the key to one day becoming a scratch golfer is practice. “I like to put a lot of time on the girls,” he says. “I try to get them to practice their skill sets over the weekends.”

For most golfers, practice never makes perfect, so Kluck hopes that, win or lose, the girls on the team feel the same way about the sport as he does:  “It’s a lot of fun!”