At this point, golf is just second nature for Ross Kukula.
The senior on the Seattle U men's golf team grew up on a golf course and never thought about what life would look like without his sport.
“It was just how life was,” Kukula said. “Even our house was about 100 yards away from the course. It was on one of the holes.”
As early as he could remember, Kukula's dad started working at a golf course, and he continued to work at Surfside Golf Course in Ocean Park, Wash. when the family moved to Long Beach, Wash. when Kukula was seven years old.
By the time he was 10, Surfside became a family business when his dad took over the public course.
For the Kukulas, golf has always been a family affair.
“Ever since I could walk, my older brother, me and my dad were all golfing together and going around to tournaments in Washington,” Kukula said. “It was really just second hand because I literally grew up at the golf course every day. Instead of staying at home, I went to the course all day.”
Growing up and to this day, Kukula is incredibly active. He played basketball and golf throughout high school, and also grew up playing baseball, although he had to give that up in high school when it overlapped with the golf season, since, he said, “it was obvious to me that I was going to be a golfer.”
Playing at the next level was a goal of Kukula's in high school and, as an established golfer, he knew he would be playing in college.
But he didn't want to stray far from home.
“I always knew I wanted to go somewhere local. Where that was exactly, I wasn't sure,” Kukula said. “Staying around was the only thing that made sense to me.”
Kukula's initial plan was to go play at Willamette University in Salem, Ore., where is older brother was on the golf team.
But at the end of the day, Kukula wanted to go another direction. For him, as much as he likes his brother and thought it would be fun to play with other high school teammates who were choosing Willamette, he wanted to change things up.
“It was either I'd follow or make my own path, and I think my biggest decision was that I wanted to do my own thing,” Kukula said. “I see myself as a leader and somebody who creates his own path, so it wasn't a tough decision for me.”
Kukula started talking to other coaches, and by his senior year of high school, he visited Seattle University. It was only his second trip to Seattle ever, but he was hooked.
Four years later, Kukula describes his collegiate golf experience as “humbling.”
Coming out of high school, Kukula thought he was going to be a star in college. He quickly learned how tough the Division I competition truly is for a golfer.
“When you start competing and you realize the depth of other golfers throughout the country…it's a very steep learning curve,” Kukula said. “That took me awhile to gather, and I really didn't get it until my senior year.”
At the same time, his four years as a Seattle U golfer have made him realize that he wants to be part of golf for the rest of his life.
Kukula plans on securing a graduate assistantship somewhere within the next two years so he can gain experience before looking for assistant coaching opportunities. Eventually, he wants to become a Division I head coach.
Watching his own coach Marc Chandonnet work has been something that will stick with Kukula.
“Seeing somebody who has to work hard like that and still has the time to show us how much he cares about us and wants us to play well and represent our university in all these great ways has just really shaped me,” Kukula said.
The relationships Kukula has gained through Seattle U athletics – whether with others on the golf team, or coaches, or athletic administration – are the ones he says will be with him throughout his entire life. It's something he values highly.
As he thinks about graduation, Kukula hopes he leaves a mark.
“I want to be thought of as an ideal student-athlete with grades, academics and the relationships I created,” Kukula said. “I want to be remembered by teammates as somebody that they could always lean on, somebody that they always had in their back pocket as a leader, as a teammate, as a friend.”