After excelling as student-athletes at St. Thomas More, several alumni have continued their love of golf after graduation
By Maria Missurelli (STM ’14)
There are approximately 25 million golfers in the United States, but only 0.1 percent of them reach the level of becoming a member of the Professional Golfers’ Association (PGA). Golf is a sport that many enjoy playing, but very few can master.
It hasn’t been documented whether there’s something special in the St. Francis drinking water or in STM students’ favorite pasta lunches, but St. Thomas More High School has produced a significantly higher number of alumni who have earned PGA status than the sport’s national averages.
One of St. Thomas More’s PGA superstars is John Burns (TM ’98), who started playing around the age of seven, learning the game from his family. A first-team all-Conference golfer for three years, Burns won the WISAA State Tournament during his senior season and received first-team all-State honors. He led the Cavaliers to their first conference championship since 1986 and a third-place finish at State. During his time at Thomas More, Burns worked at Oakwood Park Golf Course in Franklin, which was (and still is today) the school’s home course.
After high school, Burns moved to Arizona and launched his golf career. He currently works as one of the lead golf instructors at McDowell Mountain Golf Club in Scottsdale. Even after all his years in the Valley of the Sun, Burns claims that Oakwood Park Golf Course is still his favorite course to play. STM inducted Burns into the school’s Athletic Hall of Fame in 2014.Another ’98 STM graduate who found success on the fairways is Craig Czerniejewski. Czerniejewski went to Morehead State University in Morehead, Kentucky, seeking a degree in business. It was late in his schooling when he decided to pursue a career in golf.
“I realized I wasn’t going to fit in a business office cubicle setting,” said Czerniejewski. “I worked at Naga-Waukee Golf Course in Pewaukee, and they always asked if anyone was available for golf lessons. One day I said I would give lessons, and that started a career.”
Czerniejewski entered the PGA program in 2007 and graduated as a class PGA professional in 2011. Now he is a golf pro at Washington County Golf Course in Hartford, WI. Czerniejewski enjoys teaching golf and creating meaningful relationships with people on the course. “If you can do what you love, you’re never going to work a day in your life.”Another PGA standout golfer and 2008 STM graduate is Keith Buntrock, who picked up the sport around the age of three. Buntrock recalls at an early age being dropped off at the course during many summers playing numerous rounds of golf. All that practice paid off for Buntrock as a Cavalier; he competed at the WIAA State Tournament during his sophomore, junior, and senior years.
Buntrock earned his PGA status in 2015 and is now an assistant professional at Tuckaway Country Club in Franklin, WI.
“My friends have nine-to-five jobs, and it sounds boring to me. I can’t imagine doing anything else, really.”
Like the Old Course at St. Andrews, St. Thomas More has a rich history of producing avid golfers across all generations. After starring alongside 2016 WIAA State Champion Stanley Wang (STM ’16) at St. Thomas More, Aimee Gerschke (STM ’16) continued golfing competitively as a student at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa. Throughout her time there, the team traveled often, allowing Gerschke to play various courses around the country. Gerschke placed in the top-10 in her final three tournaments at Drake and finished 12th at the Missouri Valley Conference Championship in 2019. “All in all, it was an awesome experience that I was very fortunate to have and something I will never forget,” recalled Gerschke.
Other alumni who have golfed professionally include Jason Brindowski (TM ’02), a golf pro at River Club of Mequon; Bill Kokott (PN ’71), an assistant coach for the Edgewood Women’s Golf Team and an instructor at Nine Springs Golf Course in Fitchburg, WI; James Komorowski (STM ’10), an assistant golf pro at West Bend Country Club; Joe Robison (TM ’73), owner of Pocket Pro LLC; and Gary Sowinski (PN ’70), an instructor at The Hodges Golf Learning Center in Escondido, CA.One common thread in the success of golfers at STM was Coach Robert “Bob” Clarey. “He was always the most positive guy,” remembered Czerniejewski. “I could never say enough nice things about a man who would give everything to help kids out on the team.”
STM golfers often reminisce about memorable times with their coach. “We had fun van rides with him,” said Buntrock. “He would make us call his wife on the way back home from every meet to let her know when we were coming back. I still remember their home phone number.”
Czerniejewski recalls entertaining practices with Clarey. “If you ever pared the seventh hole, he’d buy us a candy bar. It didn’t matter what you shot in that practice; it only mattered that you shot par on the seventh hole. There’s no better coach than Bob.”
“Coach Clarey was my favorite,” continued Burns. “He made us feel like we were the guys that were going to win it all.” Led by Burns and Czerniejewski, the ’98 team was one of his best, winning its conference and finishing third at State.
Clarey coached golf at St. Thomas More from 1988 to 2012. He passed away in 2014. From beginners to PGA professionals, Clarey’s memory lives on in the hearts of all his Cavalier golfers.
Even if you’ve missed your shot at becoming a professional golfer, you can still show off your swing at the 2021 Thomas More Open (TMO). On Monday, August 9, golfers of all ages and skills levels will come to Ironwood Golf Course for 18 holes of friendly competition. This year’s event will even feature live scoring!
Registration is now open at TMO2021.givesmart.com. Supporters can also sponsor the inaugural TMO course map (shown below)!
The TMO supports the recipients of the Legacy Scholarship, created in 2007 to award qualifying families of STM alumni. The success of the event directly benefits the number of scholarships awarded which could lead to another STM alumni becoming a PGA professional. Thank you “fore” your support!
About the Author: Maria Missurelli (STM ’14) is the Senior Client Reporting Specialist at Artisan Partners in Milwaukee and a member of the STM Communications Committee.
Her brothers Louis (STM ’12) and Joseph (STM ’21) also graduated from St. Thomas More.
Sponsor the 2021 TMO Course Map
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