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Golfers embracing relaxed approach

By Staff | Apr 4, 2014

Leah Johnson 4th year, varsity girls;

Editor’s Note: This is the second piece in a three-part series on the spring sports coaching staffs at Rugby High School. Part 1 featured the track and field staff in the March 29th issue. Part 3 will feature the baseball staff in the April 12th issue.

There’s an easily recognizable theme at the boys and girls varsity golf practices at Rugby High School. Players are encouraged to keep it loose and the teams are a mirror image of their cool and collected coaches.

Whether it’s with 13th-year coach Gary Myhre for the boys or fourth-year coach Leah Johnson for the girls, the Panthers are primed for top seasons under their enthusiastic, but calming influences.

Myhre coached track and field for 26 seasons before joining former head golf coach Peter Murtaugh in 2001.

“When I was a track coach, for awhile I coached the distance runners,” Myhre said. “Then I coached the jumpers for the last four years, so you adapt.”?Adapting to teach a different sport meant studying each and every rule.

Peter Murtaugh 25th year

“Rules are a big factor and I noticed when going to meets a lot of coaches didn’t know the rules,” Myhre said. “I said, ‘Gary, if you’re gonna do this, I’ve got to go through the whole rule book.”

Myhre looks to find a balance between instruction and letting his golfers learn on their own. Because high school golf seasons can be so short due to the climate, the coach doesn’t want to mess with his players swings too much. Summer and fall are the times for that and his approach during the season is built on fundamentals.

“I always preach that we don’t have to be super long,” Myhre said. “It’s easier to hit out of the fairway than out of the rough.”

Murtaugh and Myhre flipped roles about eight years ago. Murtaugh was ready for a lighter workload and enjoys preparing the junior high players for the next level.

“You start thinking about your own mechanics of golf and learn as the kids learn and hope that you develop a good program,” Murtaugh said. “I feel that (Gary’s) taken the program to another level and the last few years have been very competitive by winning the region and having some high places as a team and individuals in the state. The program has improved over the years.”

Gary Myhre 13th year, varsity boys;

Myhre said Murtaugh’s experience is invaluable.

“He does a wonderful job with those younger kids,” Myhre said. “He goes over rules, takes them to meets and does what’s needed. If the kids listen and work with him they’ll be better golfers.”

The Panthers took ninth as a team in the state tournament last year after placing second in the region four tournament.

RHS senior Jack McClintock is coming off eighth- and second-place marks in the state and region, respectively, last year and credits his coaches, with whom he’s been golfing since fifth grade.

“(Coach Myhre) really brings the team together and he likes the team perspective,” McClintock said. “He stresses fundamentals on the younger kids to keep getting better and works with them in the summer.”

Johnson’s program no longer just about fun

Breckenridge, Minn., native Leah Johnson laughs when describing herself as “not much of athlete.” But golf always intrigued her and she played in high school and continued to stay active in her adult life.

She knew the RHS girls golf program was in good hands with former coach Toni Stevenson, but let the school know she’d be willing to take over when Stevenson retired.

Her first year was all about youth. The core of her team was in eighth-grade.

“We were all about having fun and learning something,” Johnson said. “Our focus has changed and that’s really driven by them. It’s not about what I want, but what they want to do with their season.”?The team qualified for state the previous three seasons and expectations are rising.

“Up to this year, I haven’t really pushed them a lot, but now they’re experienced,” Johnson said. “Now there’s a balance of finding what they want to do as individuals, but also as a team.

“They know the game better now. They don’t always think about it, but they know to improve you have to play, play, play.”

Paige Johnson (no relation) of Leeds is officially a Panther this year through a co-op with Benson County golf.

“I just like (coach Johnson) so much,” Paige Johnson said. “She’s so nice and welcomed me in. She knows her stuff and will really work with you.”

The Panthers finished seventh in the state last year and won the Garrison qualifier.

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