Long one of the top PGA teaching professionals in the St. Louis area, Wayne Ockovic has taken pride over the years in working with young players and seeing them develop at the high school and college levels.
Now, at the time in his life when most teaching professionals are working on their own games, Ockovic is taking on a new adventure in golf.
The long-time head professional at St. Clair Country Club in Belleville, Ockovic has been named as the new girls golf coach at Althoff High School.
“Althoff (athletic director) Greg Leib called me and asked me if I would be interested in being the girls golf coach. I was honored that he asked me,” Ockovic said. “I’ve taught golf for well over 20 years but this is the first time I’ve coached a team.
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I want this to be fun for the girls, but it won’t always be a social gathering. We’re going to work on our games and that all starts with having good fundamentals. I really stress working on fundamentals.
Wayne Ockovic, new Althoff golf coach
“At my age (66), I’m getting near the end of my golf career and so to have the chance at this new golf adventure, I’m excited.”
Ockovic is the first to admit that he’s got some big shoes to fill as Althoff’s new coach as he takes over one of the top Class A programs in the state from long-time coach Tim Gehrs.
Gehrs, the outgoing, fun-loving coach, announced his resignation soon after the end of the 2015 season. He led the Crusaders to a fifth-place finish at the Class A state state finals in 2015, one year after Althoff won the state championship.
Ockovic met with his new team for the first time on Tuesday. The Crusaders will return six players in 2016, including junior state tournament medal winner Tia Kimbrough.
“I really have to commend Tim Gehrs for the job he did in coaching this golf team. The girls enjoyed playing for him and he did just a great job in building this program into what it has become,” Ockovic said. “I met the girls for the first time last night (Tuesday) and we’ll have six players back. The good thing is that they will all be juniors and so it’s a good nucleus of which to start with. I’ve also worked with several of these girls and I’m also looking forward to seeing what freshmen we have come in.”
A native of Ohio, Ockovic spent 20 years in the United States Air Force. It was while Ockovic was serving his country that his love for the sport of golf grew along with his desire to teach golf.
“My parents didn’t have a lot of money, so I would caddy at a local club. Then when I went in the Air Force, I was fortunate that I had a job which allowed me to play golf. I’ve had the opportunity to play golf all over the world,” Ockovic said. “I was also blessed to have a wife who understood what I wanted to do with my golf and allowed me to do it.”
After retiring from the Air Force, Ockovic worked at St. Clair Country Club, then took jobs as a head professional at Fox Creek Golf Course in Edwardsville and at Stonewolf before returning to St. Clair Country Club, where he was the head professional for 12 years.
Ockovic has worked with many of the top young players in the Belleville area including former state champion Ashley Freeman, as well as Alex Anderson and Nichole and Michael Johnson.
“I’m still teaching and I will continue to do that in addition to coaching at Althoff. The one thing I’ve told the girls is that if they’re working with another professional I won’t interfere,” Ockovic said. “I want this to be fun for the girls, but it won’t always be a social gathering. We’re going to work on our games and that all starts with having good fundamentals. I really stress working on fundamentals.
“First and foremost I want these girls to be good citizens, then good students and then good golfers. In that order.’’