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Longtime Mahnomen golf coach still has what it takes

VERN STRANDEMO watches closely during a recent Mahnomen practice.

Mitch Kochmann promises that no matter what's wrong with his golf swing, his coach, Vern Strandemo, can fix it in 30 seconds.

That's just one of the advantages of having a coach that's been around golf for a long time.

"He just makes it so simple," Kochmann said. "He'll take a look at what you're doing and it'll be fixed."

Players often joke about having coaches that have seen it all. Strandemo has pretty much seen it all when it comes to Mahnomen's golf scene.

From raising sons that played in the program to becoming a coach in 1988, the 85-year-old Strandemo is hoping to write the latest chapter in the Indians' golf history by leading the team to state for the fourth time.

"Golf is something that's just been in my family," said Strandemo, a Mahnomen native. "My dad and my grandfather both played, as did I, and so did my sons and my grandson."

Strandremo's son, Guy, played college golf at Texas Christian University. His nephew, Jim, is a three-time Pine-to-Palm champ and his grandson, Thomas, won the 2010 Minnesota Junior boys title with a 140 score over two days.

Strandemo's association with golf in Mahnomen goes back as far as 1939, when the Mahnomen Country Club was built.

Strandemo proved it by telling stories Wednesday in front of the half dozen people in the clubhouse. He left them hanging on every word.

Strandemo said the now T-framed clubhouse was built as part of the Works Progress Administration, a government act that spurred the nation's economy during the Great Depression.

"I was 10 years old when they first built this course," Strandemo said. "The part we're sitting in wasn't built until much later. It used to just be a big, open patio."

The woman operating the snack bar then asked Strandemo if there used to be a swimming pool. Strandemo nodded in agreement.

Strandemo worked for Mahnomen County in the welfare division for more than 30 years and retired in 1988 when he took over the girls' high school golf program.

Strandemo took over the boys' program a few years later.

"I wanted to do something to keep me active," Strandemo said. "I wanted to be up and around doing something with my time."

Strandemo has run a program that has achieved success and has also found a way to make the game fun. Golf is often times viewed as a stuffy, elitist sport where everything has to be proper.

At Mahnomen, the boys wear jeans during golf practice.

"Coach is pretty cool about stuff like that," said sophomore Jacob Pavek. "We're not real formal. We wear our golf shirts and stuff like that but he allows us to be ourselves."

Pavek, who shot a 39 on Tuesday to open the season, said the team has used Strandemo as a resource over the last few years.

The team has learned many things, like the right way to grip a club, how to overcome a bad hole and the most important lesson of all: Coach still has game, even at age 85.

"We played him and he beat us by a couple of strokes," Pavek said with a laugh. "We were able to out-drive him, but he beat us in the short game, which some of us had to get better at."