Coach and Me is a series of stories during the 2021-22 school year that reflect on the relationships between coaches and their children. It will also be a reflection of memories for Tony Chapman and his dad, who passed away July 6, 2021.
THE INTERSECTION OF GOLF AND LIFE — If there was one thing that coach liked to do in the summer, it was drop his boys off at Jim Ager Junior Golf Course in Lincoln.
He’d have a coaches clinic, or Lincoln errands with mom. A $20 bill could last them the whole day, green fees and lunch included.
“Learn how to get the ball in the hole,” he’d say. Little brother took to those lessons much better than me.
Two days before district girls golf — Saturday, October 2 — I am back at Jim Ager for the first time in well over a decade. It’s better than I remembered, thanks to the University of Nebraska turf school doing much of their learning out here.
Rusty as ever, I set out to play a few holes with the defending Class A state champion, Nicole Kolbas and her mom — coach — Steph. There are too many Pinehurst hats too count; coach would have loved this pairing.
“What kind of game are we playing,” Nicole quips before teeing it up on the first. She’s ultra-competitive. Mom is not sure we stand a chance, and, over the next hour or so, Nicole proves her right.
The Kolbas kids grew up here too.
Nicole is four years younger than oldest brother Nathan and two years younger than Jason — who plays at Iowa Western CC. Sister Natasha — five years younger than Nicole — plays, too, but her fall sport might be volleyball.
“We would just hang out here all day,” Nicole said. “Just out here playing and trying to stay up with my brothers. A lot of games on the putting green. I had to fight for myself a lot, probably where I got my competitiveness.
“I had to stand up for myself. ”
Steph came to Lincoln from Ontario, Canada. Then boyfriend, now husband, Vlad followed her and they haven’t left.
Her standout golf career at Nebraska included an NCAA regional appearance, as well as academic All-American and all Big-8 honors for the Huskers. She played in the 1999 US Women’s Open and was recently inducted into the Nebraska Golf Hall-of-Fame. She’s coached the Pius boys and girls since the late 1990s and previously taught Spanish and French at the school.
Down the first, Nicole is intent on beating her two opponents.
“I don’t ever remember not playing (golf),” she says. “Ask my mom, but I think she brought me here and to practice in one of those slings and carried me around.”
Steph confirms and looks back on those early years fondly now.
“To look back on it, makes me a little emotional,” the coach says. “My players back then, always said it would be neat to have our kids grow up and win state championships.”
At the second, Nicole rams in a 12-footer to go 2-up and gives her mom a wink as if coach has seen this a few times before. The talk intensifies.
“I don’t think I have ever beat her,” Coco says, with a wide grin, asked if she remembers the first time she might have beaten her mom on the course. “She doesn’t really play with me that much.”
When her opponents finally get a half at the third, we turn for home and play holes 8 and 9 before retiring to the putting green to get sharp for districts. The Kolbas’ teach me how to play 21. Always pushing to get better, a score must be kept.
And, while the competition is always fierce, the coach knows what she wants for her daughter, and all the kids she has coached over the years. To have fun and get better. Their thoughts on this overcast Saturday seem so far away from Nicole repeating as state champion.
“It’s just been so fun,” Steph says. “We always focus on improvement and how you can get better. This year has been like that a little bit. She is trying to change a few things to improve her game, but still be out there competing.
“Your best, sometimes, isn’t always winning.”
Sage advice this coaches son has heard a time or two.
Two days later, Nicole shoots a 70 at Holmes Golf Course to win the A-2 district. Tomorrow, she’ll begin defense of her state title at Norfolk Country Club with a loaded field of Class A girls golfers; maybe the best field in state history.
Millard North’s Kate Ruge (Kansas), Omaha Westside’s Kaitlyn Hanna (Iowa) and Lincoln Southwest’s Kate Strickland (Oral Roberts) are all Division I commitments. Hanna was a co-champ in 2018 and a champion in 2019 before Kolbas ended her run last year. Ruge and Strickland likely play on the two best teams that will compete in Norfolk.
And, sure, a repeat title would be nice but it’s the competition that keeps Nicole Kolbas going. Those girls are her friends, too. It’s the game she loves; the lessons she has learned that make golf great.
It’s even more special for Nicole that “coach” is along for the ride.
“I can’t imagine getting to do this with anyone else,” she says. “To have my mom be my coach has been one of the best things ever. I wouldn’t want it any other way.”
Maybe, just maybe, that’s more special than even the championships. All those memories and lessons — the time on the course — with Coach and Me.
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