There’s more to Andy Runkel’s job as The Bog’s pro than playing golf—such as teaching the skills of the game to a new generation of golfers—but still it’s all about golf
For every weekend hacker topping tee shots and three-putting greens, there are Professional Golfers Association pros like Andy Runkel there to help.
The wind-swept fairways, greens and 1,000 bunkers at Whistling Straits on the shores of Lake Michigan provided the perfect setting for the PGA Championship last weekend, but Runkel’s only trip to see the best golfers in the world was for a few hours on Friday afternoon.
The rest of the time, like almost every day in the summer for the past 15 years, Runkel was giving lessons, answering the phone and helping run the golf shop at The Bog in rural Saukville.
“A lot of people think this job is coming in and playing golf every day,” he said. “That’s not exactly the case.”
Although Runkel, a 4-handicap golfer, said he’s played Whistling Straits 40 to 50 times and can play most courses in the country for a low rate — one of the perks of being a pro — most of his days are spent on the driving range helping 18-handicappers try to break 90.
Runkel, who lives in Cedarburg, graduated from Port Washington High School and attended the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater for one year before focusing on golf.
In the 1990s, he cut his teeth as an apprentice at The Bog and Old Memorial Golf Club in Tampa, Fla., in the winter.
Runkel passed his PGA player ability test in April 2000 and was elected to the Wisconsin PGA section in 2004. He has spent his entire professional career at The Bog, one of the best courses in southeastern Wisconsin.
He is a co-professional with Chris Van Pietersom.
He has met Wisconsin native Steve Stricker several times and thinks Mequon’s Jordan Niebrugge — a senior at Oklahoma State University who finished tied for sixth at the Open Championship last month — will “be talked about for years to come.”
But the most satisfying thing about his job is teaching.
In 2006, he became the first professional in Wisconsin to be certified in instruction.
“I can’t get enough of teaching. It’s addictive,” Runkel, who also coaches golf at Ozaukee High School, said.
He stressed junior golf programs as essential to the future of the game.
Recreation departments in Port Washington, Grafton, Cedarburg, Jackson, West Bend and Slinger all partner with Runkel for clinics at The Bog in the summer.
“I teach the kids how to aim first,” Runkel said. “They can struggle and then hit a few balls in the air and the light goes on. That’s the most rewarding thing.”
In a bit of irony, one of the frustrating things about being a golf pro is not being able to play as much as he’d like, Runkel said.
“If I could fulfill all the golf I get invited to, I could probably play five times a week.”
This coming from someone who has played some of the most prestigious golf courses in the country, like Medinah Country Club in Chicago, which hosted the Ryder Cup in 2012 and PGA Championship in 1999 and 2002, and Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, site of last year’s Ryder Cup and several PGA Championships.
His favorite course is Copperhead at Innisbrook Resort and Golf Club in Palm Harbor, Fla., site of the PGA Tour’s Valspar Championship.
“I used to work about 10 minutes from the course and I would go over and hit balls there and play for pretty cheap,” Runkel said. “It is an unbelievably challenging course.”
Although he’s never played at Augusta National Golf Club, which hosts the Masters every year and is considered one of the best courses in the world, Runkel has attended the tournament three times.
“If you are going to go one place, it’s Augusta,” he said. “I think if you ask 90% of people out there who play golf, they would say the same thing.”
When he does get to play golf, Runkel enjoys competing in pro-amateur events around the country with members from The Bog.
He and some friends have taken a trip to Las Vegas the past 12 years for tournaments.
“It’s all about the amateurs, which is a lot of fun,” Runkel said. “It’s fun to play team golf and compete.”
In the winter, Runkel gives indoor lessons as part of a golf-specific fitness program.
“It focuses a little more on staying in shape and eating well than golf,” he said.
All the young talent that has taken the PGA Tour by storm over the last few years has spread to Wisconsin, Runkel said.
“Those guys just hit the ball so far,” he said. “I’m not a short hitter, but they’re hitting hybrid clubs when I’m hitting a driver,” he said.
He’s learned to work on his chipping and putting to stay competitive.
“I spent 15 minutes on the putting green for a month straight this year just working on my short game,” Runkel said. “That’s what keeps you competitive. If you can get up and down, there are a lot of ways to go from making 9s to playing bogey golf.
“A lot of guys would love to play bogey golf.”
Image information: GOLF PROFESSIONAL Andy Runkel, like Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, uses Nike golf clubs. The 46-year-old has been a pro at The Bog since 2004. He also coaches the Ozaukee High School golf team. Photos by Sam Arendt