Local legend; N.D. golf icon, Oakes native to be inducted
Mike Podolak’s “wild ride” has taken him all over the country.
Not bad for a Class B kid from Oakes.
Podolak, 60, is set to be inducted into the North Dakota Sports Hall of Fame on Saturday night at the Jamestown Civic Center.
“I was totally shocked that I was being considered,” Podolak said. “Completely surprised.”
Now considered one of North Dakota’s most decorated amateur players, the Oxbow resident nearly steered his college career to the University of North Dakota after his senior year at Oakes.
“I played a lot of baseball, football and basketball,” he said. “I knew I liked to play (golf), but I didn’t know how good I was or how much skill I had. I was thinking about doing something different.”
His brother Doug convinced him to join other North Dakotans at Odessa College, a junior college in West Texas. When he arrived, he didn’t exactly get the red-carpet treatment.
“The coach wasn’t gonna let me play — he said, ‘I don’t know who you are,’” Podolak recalled. “He had a couple guys from North Dakota, but he only had room for so many players.
“I said, ‘I came 1,300 miles and I’m enrolled in school. Give me a chance.’”
The team used his score at the first meet and Podolak took off, eventually becoming a junior college All-American. He parlayed that into a scholarship to Southern Methodist University, where he played his final two seasons.
As a senior, a promising freshman named Payne Stewart joined the team. Stewart was a two-time U.S. Open champion on the PGA Tour. He was killed in an airplane accident in 1999.
“Everyone knew he was gonna be a rock star,” Podolak said.
“I used a fifth year to finish school and I hung out with the team and played with Payne. I graduated and then came back to North Dakota.”
He tried the pro circuit for a while, but “didn’t make a lot of money.” He eventually turned amateur again and won the 1984 U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship.
Podolak credits Oxbow Country Club professional John Dahl for taking the time to polish his game.
“He’s a big reason why I won the national mid-amateur down in Atlanta,” Podolak said.
He earned a spot on the Americans’ side for the Walker Cup Match, which puts the best amateur players from the U.S. vs. Great Britain and Ireland. After that, an invitation to the 1986 Masters came.
Though he didn’t make the elusive cut, Podolak said it’s still one of his fondest memories, especially with his brother Doug as his caddy.
“It was a wonderful experience,” he said. “It doesn’t seem like it’s been 30 years. It seems like it’s been five, maybe 10. It was really cool, something I’ll never forget.”
In 1999, he won the Trans-Mississippi, another prestigious amateur tournament that was held in Oklahoma City. He had been runner-up in 1994.
Podolak has numerous amateur tournament victories across North Dakota to speak of, but has slowed down considerably over the past 10 years. An insurance salesman, he became busy with life.
“I started having kids and establishing myself in the insurance business,” he said. “I had my fun early and I went so hard for so long, I had to slow down. I still play some of the amateur tournaments.”
Coaching became part of his life in 2012 and 2013. He took the reins of the Kindred girls golf team, helping it win back-to-back state championships. His daughter Laura was medalist at both state meets.
“We never lost a meet,” said Podolak, who also had a daughter Kate that played at UND. “I said I’d only do it two years because the spring is busy for me with crop insurance. … I think they learned how not to get so revved up and trust your game and have fun.”
The witty Podolak will have his wife Brenda in attendance this weekend, and he’s hoping he can keep his speech short.
“I’m just trying to figure out how I can make my hour and 15 minute speech into 20 minutes,” he said. “They’ll probably have to bring out the hook.”
Sun sports writer Chris Aarhus can be reached at 701-952-8462 or by email at email@example.com