BOB WEST ON GOLF — Jerry Honza leaving notable stamp on area junior golf

Published 12:04 am Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Golf in Southeast Texas, especially youth golf, is about to lose a good friend whose contributions to the game – seen and unseen – for nearly two decades will leave an indelible imprint and a lasting legacy worth shouting about.

Port Neches-Groves golf coach Jerry Honza is departing what he once labeled as the dream job for a coach in this area to become head golf coach at Kaufman. The decision was 100 percent tied to moving closer to his dad and other family members in nearby Ennis.

It’s not so much what Honza did at PNG, or his club jobs, but the impact he made on the First Tee of the Golden Triangle and the genius of the Babe Zaharias Junior Golf Awards that define his contributions. He was an innovator able to orchestrate significant accomplishments without fanfare and was quick to share the credit.

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The First Tee, in particular, was a tribute to Honza’s organizational skills and vision. Though the loss of a sponsor snuffed the operation after 11 years, it grew from 35 kids and one course to scores of young players encompassing all area golf facilities, and ultimately into physical education programs.

Honza is quick to tell you he didn’t do it alone, praising the Port Arthur YMCA, Emanuel Preston, Brad Bailey and other area leaders. But he was the catalyst. Among other things, he had the expertise to get area junior players like Felicia Sauceda, Karlei Hemler and Braden Bailey into a major First Tee event at Pebble Beach.

“Jerry was a Godsend to junior golf in our area,” said current Babe Zaharias pro Mitch Duncan. “He was instrumental in getting the First Tee established and was the creator of the Babe Zaharias Awards. On a personal level, he was a great colleague and friend over the 15 years I knew him. He is going to be clearly missed at The Babe.”

Ed Campbell, who hired Honza to work in the Zaharias golf shop when he was head pro a decade ago, was equally glowing in his praise.

“Jerry was an absolute expert at keeping things organized,” Campbell said. “ He did all the detail work on junior tournaments. I don’t think we’d have been able to put on the junior winter tour without him. The First Tee couldn’t have gone where it did without him. He was all for helping making things better for junior golfers.”

Honza, whose first golf job in Southeast Texas was operating Belle Oaks Golf Club in late 2002, took high school golf to another level with his idea for the Babe Zaharias Awards in 2011. It is a project still going strong in 2022, with PNG ex Chris Stroud due to be the guest speaker at this year’s event next Tuesday at 5 Under Golf Center.

Jerry wanted to add prestige and recognition to high school golf and did so by partnering with W.L. Pate Jr. and the Zaharias Foundation with awards saluting playing excellence and leadership. He added luster by bringing in high profile speakers for the awards dinner.

One year, when a certain sports editor/ golf writer was retiring, and realizing said writer was good friends with CBS’ Jim Nantz, he contacted Nantz about doing a retirement salute to be played at the Zaharias dinner. Nantz had the video shot from a tournament CBS was airing and Honza blindsided me with a truly special moment.

That’s who Jerry Honza was and is.

Honza will depart this summer feeling blessed for the time he spent in Southeast Texas and the friends he was able to make.

“I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to experience the things I’ve been able to and meet and work with some of the most amazing people over the 20 plus years that me and my family have lived here,” he says. “And the PNG job was icing on the cake.

“I feel so proud to know what we were able to teach future young leaders through golf – that a handshake means something, that integrity means doing the right thing even when nobody is watching. And that sometimes things don’t go your way and it’s how you respond that defines you – not the adversity.”

CHIP SHOTS: MJ Daffue looks like he’ll be the next former Lamar star on the PGA Tour. Daffue, a 2012 LU graduate, finished outright third in the Korn Ferry Tour’s Visit Knoxville Open last weekend and climbed to eighth on the season point list.

All players finishing in the top 25 earn a PGA Tour card for the 2022-23 season.

Tim Turner of Beaumont authored the most recent hole in one at Babe Zaharias, sinking a 7-iron from 137 yards on the 12th hole. Witnesses for what was Turner’s fifth ace were Randy Monk, Scotty Ray and Warren Flowers.

In the Monday Senior 50 Plus 2 ball at Zaharias, the team of Aubrey Ward, Rusty Hicks, Raymond Darbonne and Harrell Guidry won the front with minus 5 and tied the back with minus 4. Also minus 4 on the back was the foursome of Kenny Robbins, Gary Fontenot, Troy Touchet and John House.

Closest to the pin winners were Fontenot (No. 2, 14-8), Don MacNeil (No. 7, 10-5), Robbins (No. 12, 8-8) and Bob West (No. 15, 5-10).

The Friday senior 2 ball saw the team of Fontenot, Hicks, Cap Hollier and Brad Royer take the front with minus 3. On the back, the foursome of Joe Gongora, Rufus Reyes, Jeff Rinehart and Keith Marshall placed first with minus 4.

All points count was the format for the Wednesday Zaharias Dogfight. Grabbing first place with 32 points was the team of Randy Monk, Rusty Hicks, Royer and Marshall.

There was a tie for second with 28 points between the team of Keith Mullins, Brian Grant, Richard Menchaca and Larry Foster and the foursome of Ed Holley, Richard Malone, Jake Selensky and a ghost player.

Closest to the pin winners were Brian Sweeney (No. 2), Mack Osborne (No. 7), Mike Brown (No. 12) and Monk.

Golf news should be e-mailed to rdwest@usa.net.