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Tuesday, May. 21, 2019
Gonko brothers pursue golf dreams together
by Randy Pascal

The pursuit of a career as a professional golfer is not an easy one, not in the least. So if siblings Mike and Steve Gonko are to tackle this challenge, they would just as soon do it together.

Separated by some eight years – Mike is 32, Steve 24 – the Gonkos have been synonymous with golf involvement, locally, for well over a decade, in the case of older brother, and roughly eight years or so for Steve, who actually started to seriously devote time to the game only in his later teens.

Over the course of that span, they have followed a road that so many young aspiring golfers can relate to, a mix of trying to find their way to tournaments or a tour that allows for equal part of professional development, fine-tuning every aspect of their game to take a real shot at the upper golf echelon, all while balancing the need to try and carve out a living doing so.

In the minds of the Brothers Gonko, the advantages of tag-teaming this adventure are many.

“First and foremost, it's easier because you have someone to share all the costs with,” noted Mike, a candidly honest young man who opens up easily about the reality of his journey. “We travel a ton, on the road just about every week, with all of the expenses. And having someone to shoot the breeze with isn't bad either, when you're on an eight hour car ride every other week.”

Part of the convenient synergies that develop with the two local lads lies in the fact that they are at eerily similar levels, both targeting, in a very realistic sense, the possibility of taking a shot at one of the higher end qualifying schools later in 2018, be it the European Tour, Tour, or perhaps an option in Asia.

“Our golf games are very similar, not in terms of how we play the game, but in terms of scores and everything,” said Mike. “We're exactly on the same page.” That page, at the moment, sees the local tandem competing regularly on the Circuit Canada Pro Tour, based out of Quebec. “It (CCPT) allows you to play for a good enough amount of money that you can sustain your expenses,” stated Mike.

A testament to the relative proximity of their abilities can be seen with a quick glance at the CCPT Coors Light standings. In a field that numbers some 200 competitors in all, the Gonkos are separated by just eight placements in the standings, Mike in 10th (939.77 pts) and Steve in 18th (746.97). While most recent summers have seen the brothers based out of Oviinbyrd Golf Club in the Muskokas, 2018 finds them much closer to home.

Thanks to the support of long-time local golf course owner and Sudbury Sports Hall of Fame member Sam Yawney, the Gonkos will intersperse their tour stops with plenty of time spent at Timberwolf Golf Course in Sudbury. While Stephen may not possess the same length to his golf resume as his older brother, he has rapidly closed the gap on life lessons.

“I basically feel like I'm an old 24 year old,” he said with a laugh. “I've learned a lot from Mike, even just being with him for the past four years of my life. I almost feel like I've lived through his experiences.” That filter has allowed him to view golf in a dramatically different way than when he first ascended to prominence, as an ultra quick study, around the age of 15 or 16.

“Once you play the game long enough, the flashy stuff doesn't become as important as just getting the ball in the hole,” said Steve. And though many who pursue this dream do so on the back of time spent south of the border, garnering at least partial scholarships to any of the gazillion or so U.S. institutions that recruit talent from almost each and every continent, the pathway ultimately leads through some of the exact same mileposts.

“I think when it comes right down to it, winning is winning,” said Steve. “I think it takes a lot to be able to pull that stuff off. Whether you're playing in Quebec, southern Ontario, or anywhere across the globe, it really takes a lot internally to pull that stuff out of yourself, to actually win. Once you start realizing that you can do that, you figure out that it's the same ball, the same holes, and you just try and find a way to shoot the lowest score you can.”

It's clear that little brother has assimilated a good portion of the wisdom shared with the one who went before. And in return, Mike has reason to lean on Steve. For better or worse, on this voyage, they are linked. “From the competitive standpoint, we kind of push each other, which helps a lot,” said Mike.

“The only real downfall is that having someone you are emotionally invested with. When you're competing and he's having a tough go, you have to make sure it doesn't affect you. Sometimes, that's tough to do.” Equally as tough is the realization that this pursuit can only be endured for so long. Yet both men have no trouble identifying compelling reasons not to let the dream die, not just yet.

“I don't try and tell anyone I am God's gift to golf,” shared Mike. “It's something I work really, really hard at, and I have a passion for it. I got tuned up pretty good recently, in Montreal, and usually that stuff would stay with me for weeks, it would affect me at the next event. Now, whether it's good or bad, it's already gone. You've got to move on, create new goals for the next tournament.”

“I feel like I am not trying to prove myself to anybody other than myself,” chimed in Stephen. “Once you kind of jump over that part of it and you're not feeling the exterior pressures, then you start to realize it's just a game that you play because you love it and love to compete.”

And to share it with your brother, well, that's pretty special. Perhaps even priceless, if Mike and Steve Gonko were prone to shooting a Mastercard commercial.

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