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Golf: Sondgeroth smashes it on the links

Digging the long ball

Looking for a golfer to fill out a foursome for a scramble?

Ben Sondgeroth just might be your man.

The former Rock Falls Rocket, Sauk Valley Skyhawk and Indianapolis Greyhound can hit a golf ball. A looooong way. I found that out Wednesday afternoon, in the latest installment of Links With Locals.

We played at Rock River Golf and Pool, which served as Ben's playground during his college years. He was on the grounds crew, cutting grass, building cart paths, and even getting into the occasional apple fight with some of his co-workers, when a break from work was needed.

"Some of the guys I worked with played baseball like I did," Sondgeroth said, "and you did not want to get hit with those apples. Sometimes you did, though. That did not feel good."

Much like when he stood at the plate with a baseball bat in his hands, the 6-foot-4 Sondgeroth does not get cheated with a Taylor Made driver in his paws. On the 485-yard 11th hole at RRGP, he blasted one over the creek that is really there to defend second shots.

It was with a healthy breeze at his back, but still, the ball traveled about 360 yards.

"That's the first time I've gotten it over the creek," Sondgeroth said. "I've come close, but that's a first."

On the 335-yard 16th hole, Sondgeroth's tee ball went over the green, on the back fringe, traveling approximately 345 yards.

Unfortunately for Sondgeroth, 28, those mighty blows were too few and far between. A good chunk of the time, the driver found the rough, either with a gentle fade or a wicked hook.

That resulted in some awkward approach shots, which led to missed greens, which led to a lot of 6-footers for pars. Not enough of those fell, and the result was an 11-over-par 81.

Me, well, I did what I do – short but straight off the tee, get it on the green or close to it in regulation, and make a bunch of pars. Four bogeys were offset by four birdies, resulting in an even-par 70.

Where the hell was that kind of scoring in the Lincoln Highway last weekend? That's going to sting for a while.

The beauty of golf, however, is there's another round right around the corner, and that led me to playing 18 holes with Sondgeroth. It's something we'd talked about doing the last couple of years, when he was head golf coach for the Morrison Mustangs.

In the 3 hours or so Sondgeroth and I were on the course, I learned some interesting tidbits. His golf highlight came as a senior in high school, when he carded an 80 to finish second in the regional tournament.

"It was a typical day down at Deer Valley, with the wind blowing about 30 miles an hour, and it was cold out," Sondgeroth said. "I shot 42-38 and finished second to some kid from Byron who had a 79."

While attending Sauk Valley Community College, and then the University of Indianapolis, Sondgeroth worked 6 days a week every summer at Rock River Country Club, as it was known then. The pay wasn't great, but it came with a nice perk – all the golf he could handle on Monday and Thursday.

"It was supposed to be just one of those days, but I played both," Sondgeroth said with a smile. "What a way to spend a summer, on the golf course all day. I loved it."

At SVCC, Sondgeroth started 53 of 56 games at catcher as a freshman, then split his time as a catcher and designated hitter as a sophomore. He was successful enough to earn a scholarship to the University of Indianapolis, where a coach asked him if he'd be interested in pitching, as he'd shown he could fire the ball as a catcher.

The experiment lasted about 25 pitches. He started throwing about 88 miles an hour, and ended it throwing 71, with a blown out elbow. He underwent Tommy John surgery, and missed the entire season.

By 2008, Sondgeroth was healthy enough to bat, with an occasional start at catcher.

As a senior, Sondgeroth was an All-American utility player, with starts at catcher, third base, first base, and DH. It was on offense, however, where he shined brightest.

He batted .377 with 17 home runs, 77 RBIs, 142 total bases, and a slugging percentage of .743 in 57 games. The season highlight was a game-winnning, three-run home run against Grand Valley State in a Division II regional playoff game.

"I can still remember it like it was yesterday," Sondgeroth said. "We're down 4-2, the count is 3-and-2, the pitcher hangs a curveball and I got all of it. It's a situation you dream about."

Sondgeroth finished his 2-year career at Indy with 23 home runs and 134 runs batted in. The RBI total is a school record at the 4-year institution.

In 2010, Sondgeroth came to Morrison, where he taught history and coached multiple sports (golf, junior high basketball, baseball).

Last November, the opportunity arose to become the Director of Technology for the Morrison School District, and he accepted it. The only coaching he'll do is varsity baseball, where the reigning Sauk Valley Media coach of the year is expected to guide a strong group of Mustangs in the spring of 2015.

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