FORT WAYNE – Bishop Luers’ two golfing Joes are so close that separation doesn’t come easy.
Senior Joe Leja and junior Joe Korjenek are both talented left-handed players who have SAC championships to their credit, Leja in 2011 and Korjenek in 2012. Their 39-stroke nine-hole average last season was the same and each even belongs to Chestnut Hills.
So when it came time for Knights boys golf coach Tom O’Brien to list a No. 1 and No. 2 for an invitational last weekend, O’Brien went with age as the tiebreaker giving Leja the nod, for now.
It has been that similar since Korjenek burst onto the scene last year with a couple of tournament titles, including the SAC championship.
I like playing with him a lot at practice just to get the competitiveness going because we are so evenly matched, Leja said. Our games are pretty similar, but he is the more short-game master. That’s what I need to work on a lot. I have ball-striking down a little more. But it equals out.
During practice rounds and working on their games outside of tournaments and matches, the two team co-captains are almost always together.
They are as the pros call it, a comfortable pairing,’ O’Brien said.
Even after practice the two will head to Chestnut Hills to get another round in or go to the driving range at Bobick’s.
It is fun to play with each other, Korjenek said. We always push each other and crack jokes with each other if we hit a bad shot. Right now, we are doing a little bit of a match play thing where we are keeping track of holes for all the practice rounds, and we are going to see who wins at the end of the year.
Even in the offseason, there are times they play together in Indiana Golf Association tournaments.
The closeness in skill level wasn’t always there, though. A year ahead, Leja had already established himself as a team leader when Korjenek arrived. Leja added some more distance when he won the SAC title as a sophomore while Korjenek was still on the junior varsity team. But that changed in the summer of 2011 when Korjenek decided to follow Leja’s lead and worked harder on his golf game.
I wanted to get better, so I hit all winter my freshman year at Bobick’s, and I putted on the carpet at my house all the time, and it paid off, Korjenek said. I watched just how (Leja) practices, and how he works hard and dedicates himself to the game. I try to emulate that.
The improvement was obvious.
They are a great testament to putting in the time, and it paying off, O’Brien said. You don’t have to worry about them giving up or getting down on themselves. They stay with it. They are pretty mature for their age, both of them.
And it is not only good to have them for the (team) scores, but most of the team now at least plays in (Fort Wayne) Parks and Rec or the IGA. It got transformed to the whole team.
Both are also lovers of the game, with each giving up other sports in pursue golf. The differences might start after high school. Leja signed to play at Marian University and wants to be a professional golfer. Korjenek is not sure if he will continue his golf career after high school.
I really started to play more, and I just loved it, Leja said. I love getting practice in; I can never get enough of that.