Did a Local Restaurant Help a Pro Golfer Win Big?
How a taste of home made the week memorable for two Web.com Tour golfers when they played at the KC Golf Classic.
When the Web.com Tour made its annual stop for the KC Golf Classic in August, it was an opportunity for Sepp Straka and Max Rottluff to continue a tradition they started on tour this season. Straka, from Vienna, and Rottluff, from Düsseldorf, Germany, have visited a German/Austrian restaurant at every stop that has one.
“We obviously miss the German cuisine a little bit,” says Straka, a product of the famed Georgia golf program who turned pro two years ago. “Some of the weeks they just don’t have them because it’s not a very common food. But we started finding German spots when we get there early in the week, and a couple people tag along, so it’s been a pretty fun deal and some good food.”
While they were in Kansas City, they decided to check out the place that had the best Yelp reviews which was Günauer in the Freight House District. Co-owner Nicholas Grünauer, an avid golfer who plays to a 10-handicap, says the bar manager let him know that some of the Web.com guys were in the house the Tuesday night before the tournament began.
Needless to say, the two friends from neighboring countries made the right choice.
“We just went in and we were blown away. It was awesome,” says Rottluff, a Web.com Tour rookie from another college golf juggernaut, Arizona State. “I’d say so far this year the best spot we’ve been to from an authenticity standpoint.”
Straka’s ranking is the same. “It’s number one, for sure,” he says. “Had a lot of Austrian beer too, which was nice to see.”
This kind of feedback from guys who have a shared heritage makes it all worthwhile for Grünauer.
“We know that taste of nostalgia is fun and comforting and the way we try to do our restaurant, we really try to make it as authentic as possible and create an authentic experience,” Grünauer says. “I think when somebody’s used to living over there and they see the little things, it reminds them of home and that connection to nostalgia. It’s cool that we can do that. It’s always been our mission and that’s how I started this, to somehow replicate those traditions of my family’s restaurant in Austria. It’s quite an honor when people acknowledge it and enjoy it in a similar way.”
Straka got a traditional pork dish in brown sauce called schweinebraten, while Rottluff chose the schnitzel. Rottluff enjoyed Grünauer so much that he came back on Saturday with a whole different crew of golfers. Playing in the final group on Saturday, Straka finished his round too late in the day to join them.
“We ventured out a little bit more on the appetizers on Saturday,” Rottluff says. “There were six of us, so we ordered a bunch of appetizers for the table, and four of the six were Americans, so they’ve never really had any German food. They read the names and they’re like, ‘Uh, this is a little out of our comfort zone.’ And then they order it and put it in front of them and they couldn’t stop eating. That was fun to watch.”
Before the repeat visit on Saturday, Rottluff tweeted the restaurant about the possibility of making them his favorite dessert, kaiserschmarrn (also known as Emperor’s Mess), a sweet, scrambled-up Austrian pancake sprinkled with sugar and served with a fruit compote. Grünauer usually only serves kaiserschmarrn on Sundays, but the restaurant went the extra mile and tweeted him back: “It’s in the oven now.”
Rottluff then tweeted out a picture of his plate along with a word of thanks. “It was unexpected,” he says, “but an awesome surprise.”
It should be no small coincidence, then, that these two players would have the best tournament of their Web.com Tour careers. Rottluff finished in a tie for fourth at Nicklaus Golf Club at LionsGate, and Straka? Well, Straka actually won the dang thing.
Straka’s best result this season before the KC Golf Classic was a tie for 27that the Rex Hospital Open in June. He jumped out of the gates quickly with rounds of 64 and 65, and then battled the heat and wind on Saturday with another scintillating 64 to get to 20-under and within one of Kyle Jones’ 54-hole lead.
“Going into the final round, I really knew if I played a solid round of golf, unless Kyle did again what we had been doing the last three days, I would have a pretty good chance of winning the tournament,” Straka says. “During that final round, I really felt like I had a shot at it.”
With the prevailing wind sticking around, Straka played steady golf under pressure. Tied with Jones at 22-under going to the 72ndhole, Straka got up-and-down for par from the greenside bunker at 18 while Jones made bogey, clinching the first win of any kind in his career.
“Even in college, I never won. I finished second a couple times, but I never really put it all together,” Straka says. “I felt like I was close all year, honestly. I made quite a few cuts, and the cuts I did miss were right on the line. So I knew my game was solid, especially heading into Kansas City. I knew I was playing better than the results were showing, but I was a little worried about whether the results weregoing to show. It was definitely a relief to have it all come together.”
As for Rottluff, he felt like all parts of his game were working, welcoming the southerly breezes and the lightning-quick greens. He drove the ball nicely, putting himself in good positions for the strength of his game: his iron play and wedges. His 17-under par total was five shots back of Straka’s winning score.
With apologies to the famous Nike commercial with Michael Jordan and Spike Lee, it’s gotta be the Grünauer that fueled Straka and Rottluff. That may be said in good fun, but knowing where Straka and Rottluff are from, there’s at least something to it.
“It was a nice little icing on top of the cake, I guess,” Rottluff says. “It was a fun week and then you have stuff like that happen as well, it’s just great.” Grünauer has previously honored Austria’s best-known golfer, Bernd Wiesberger, with a cocktail at its Wunderbar called the Wiesberger Tee (or Wiesberger Tea): Bärenjäger Honey Liqueur with lemon juice, bitters and water. Technically the restaurant already has a drink named for the country’s latest winner since they have wine by the glass from a Straka family in Austria.
“But,” Grünauer says, “We will definitely try to put something together to commemorate Sepp’s win.”