Final Point: Bayard golf team gains big Czech mark with Konvicka
     2014-04-24      By Terry Gaston   
Photo by Terry Gaston/for the Citizen - Bayard golfer Roman Konvicka (right), ann exchange student from the Czech Republic, and Bayard coach Jim Roberts discuss strategies before Konvicka's tee shot on the second hole during the Mitchell Invitational on April 15. Konvicka won medalist honors at Mitchell and took first again Tuesday at the Morrill Invitational. 
Remember the iconic Coca-Cola commercial, released during the Super Bowl in January 1980, with Pittsburgh Steelers defensive tackle “Mean” Joe Greene limping his way back to the locker room , holding on to a railing to keep from falling after an apparent leg or foot injury?

And then there is the kid who offers the hurting, obviously disappointed Greene some verbal accolades that his Steeler hero hears but obviously considers unimportant under his health and playing circumstances.

The boy offers Greene his bottle of Coke, which Greene initially rejects but, after further encouragement from his young fan, takes his cola, guzzles it while the boy turns back toward the game saying, “See you around.”

And then that moment in one of television’s greatest advertising ventures: Greene calls out, “Hey kid,” to which the boy turns back toward his hero while Greene grabs his soiled Steelers jersey, tosses it to his new friend while saying, “Catch.” And the finishing look and words of the boy, “Wow, thanks Mean Joe!”

Have you ever been fortunate to have one of those happenstance moments when you run into someone famous and they give you an autograph or, at the least, just your attention in their busy lives?

Roman Konvicka, an exchange student at Bayard High School, is from the Czech Republic. He also happens to be playing golf — we should say, really good golf — for the Tiger boys’ team this spring.

So far, in Bayard’s first three tournaments, Konvicka (pronounced kon-VICH-ka) has medaled in all three, including his winning the medalist honor at the Mitchell Invitational on April 15, leading the Tigers to the first of their two team titles in four days.

In the season-opening Bayard Invitational on April 8, Konvicka finished third on a tie break, helping the Tigers finish second as a team to Mitchell. Chimney Rock Golf Course is where Konvicka has shot his lowest round in western Nebraska with a 6-under-par 66.

Bayard won Friday’s Bridgeport Invitational, in which Konvicka finished second individually. And at Tuesday’s Morrill Invitational, Konvicka gained medalist honors with a season tourney low of 73, leading the Tigers to a second-place team finish.

“Roman is great to work with because he comes to us with a well established set of golf skills,” 23rd-year Bayard golf coach Jim Roberts said. “His swing is excellent and just requires the occasional adjustment to keep him on track.

“The ability to manage the course effectively is one of his strong points. His golf maturity helps him make proper decisions and manage his game on the course, keeping strokes lost to bad choices to a minimum.”

As it turns out, Konvicka has his own “Mean Joe” moment. But first, but let’s introduce you to this pretty sharp 18-year-old from Eastern Europe who is not afraid to set his goals high.

“I really want to become something,” said Konvicka, who — after returning to the Czech Republic to complete his pre-college education — would like to attend a golf college in Florida and join a professional tour.

So far, he is off to a good start. Konvicka started playing golf at about 6 years of age. He said his grandfather was one of his major golf influences, and young Roman would play with him at the time, “with clubs bigger than I was.“

“During my early years, I learned a lot of things,” Konvicka said. “I see the best players and how they do it and I try to copy them.”

Roberts said Konvicka told him that he has been in many tournaments in the Czech Republic and also won many awards. However, he “is particularly proud of how he is doing here,” when referring to his early success on the high school spring circuit, Roberts added.

Although he is of age at which most American high school students earn their diplomas, Konvicka will have several years of schooling left when he returns to the Czech Republic.

Konvicka is from Zlin, a city of about 80,000 residents in the southeast part of the Czech Republic just a few miles from the border of Slovakia. The i in Zlin is a long e sound, thus pronounced “Zleen.”

He is a long way from home in Bayard, sporting a population of 1,209 as of the 2010 census.

While in Bayard, Konvicka lives with the family of Blaine and Amy Quick, along with host brothers Tristan and Karsen Hunter and Holdyn Quick.

“He loves his host family and would like to keep in touch with them, and they feel the same about him,” Roberts said.

So, how has Konvicka been able to grasp success on the nearby courses he has played? The answer is, well, multi-continental. “They’re just longer, like par-3s are 250 yards, par-5s are 600 and something,” Konvicka said of his home country’s courses.

“At home, it’s much, much harder,” Konvicka said after winning the Mitchell Invitational. “This course (Scenic Knolls) is really nice, and the Bayard course is really nice. Pretty much all of them (at home) are like hilly and it’s very hard there.”

Roberts said the Tiger team is like a second host family to Konvicka. And that even includes times when they don’t all get along.

“Roman says that his favorite athletes are the ones that are on his team,” Roberts said. “He says this half-jokingly and half not: He respects everybody on his team, especially looks up to his team member senior No. 1 player Trae Blanco.”

Konvicka replied: “They treat me well. Trae thinks he is better than I am. He’s not, so we’re fighting a lot about that.”

Roberts said the battle for Bayard’s No. 1 position, held by Blanco since the start of last season, offers more of a “friendly competition” between he and Konvicka than anything physical.

“I am happy to be with Coach Roberts, and I hope to make it a long way,” Konvicka said.

“We call him the ‘Czech Connection,’” Roberts said. “His maturity level is pretty good in the way he thinks about the game. He’s had some good training. The difference between talking to him and talking to other student golfers a lot of the time is he will be thinking on more specific level.”

Konvicka has an open period at the same time as Roberts’ planning period, so they talk quite a bit then and at other times during a normal school day.

“In our spare time discussions we talk about the differences in our societies and the many social aspects that make life interesting when you go from one culture to another,” Roberts said.

“There is never a dull conversation when you talk to someone that not only sees things from a foreign perspective but also that of an inquisitive teenager.”

Roberts cited the Czech-English language barrier in describing some of Konvicka’s classes at Bayard, which includes American Government and English literature. “He has to fulfill a lot of those Nebraska standards,” Roberts said.

“In English, when they have to read a novel that’s in English, a lot of times even the high school kids have trouble understanding, like Beowulf, and he may require some extra time to read and understand it,” Roberts said.

“It’s much easier here than school in Czech,” Konvicka said, to which Roberts jokingly replied, “It’s only as hard as the classes you take. You don’t take any classes.”

“We have 15 classes in Czech,” said Konvicka of a typical week of studies, which may include some classes that are conducted just one time per week while others meet multiple times. “We go to different classes on different days. It’s just hard.”

All that said, let’s return to Konvicka‘s home and his meeting with his European golf hero: Spaniard Miguel Jimenez, a friend of one of Konvicka’s Czech coaches who primarily plays on the PGA’s European Tour.

“Miguel also threw him his golf ball he was playing with during a professional tournament — kind of a Mean Joe Greene commercial moment,” Roberts said.

So who knows? Someday, in the next 10 to 20 years, we might see or hear of Roman Konvicka performing a “Mean Joe” gesture to a young, admiring fan in the form of an autograph or perhaps his golf hat, glove, ball or a tee.

As for now, and upon the final time we will see him play as a Bayard Tiger in late May — hopefully for the Tigers, at the Class C State Tournament — we will be able to say, whether in person or just under our breath, “Wow, thanks Roman.”

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