Mark Laesch, founder of Golfstat and friend to college golf, died March 4 in his home in Noblesville, Ind., after a lengthy battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, an incurable disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. He was 62.
Laesch founded Golfstat in 1984, and his programs essentially took the guesswork out of college golf. From live scoring to detailed statistics and rankings, Golfstat provided new methods for NCAA coaches and committees to advance the game.
“I think what he did simply was a labor of love for him,” said Florida State men’s coach Trey Jones. “He changed college golf.”
Laesch is survived by his three children – Jordan, Brian and Kelsey – and fiance Jennifer Porter. His father, sister and uncle all died from ALS. Laesch’s sister Diane was diagnosed last May and died four months later at age 70.
Laesch graduated from Indiana University where he was an all-Big Ten baseball player. After charting his own detailed statistics in baseball and golf, Laesch got the idea to sell the service to college teams. He charged his first client, Illinois State, 25 cents per round.
A recent visit with Laesch at his elegant brick home on the outskirts of Indianapolis revealed a man at peace with what was to come. Lasech credited a strong faith for keeping his sense of humor and perspective intact. He spoke often about the strong relationships he had developed in his 30-plus years in college golf.
“I wish I could go another 10 years,” he said.
It’s difficult to walk into the home of a dying man and know what to say. Laesch made it easy on guests with his rich storytelling and calm demeanor. There was an unexpected strength radiating from a wheelchair-bound man, who at that point used only his left index finger to motor around the house and reply to emails.
Eventually, it was Jennifer who wrote back to well-wishers and served as a voice for Laesch, who had difficulty speaking in his final days.
“No one can understand what I’m going through unless you go through it yourself,” Laesch said during that November visit. “But the good news is that it is not anywhere near as scary as you would think it would be.”
For a man who made his living out of numbers, Laesch wanted anyone who would listen to know about that which can’t be quantified: His faith in God.
Three or four days before Laesch’s sister died she repeated “Papa” as she went in and out of consciousness.
“There was nobody in the family named ‘Papa’,” Laesch said. “My brother-in-law, when she finally woke up asked, ‘Who were you talking to?’ ”
“I was talking to God,” Diane replied.
Laesch took comfort in that exchange.
Donnie Wagner, the NCAA’s associate director of championships and alliances, first met Laesch 15 years ago and said the scoring guru always strived to do what was best for college golf.
“First word that comes to mind is passionate,” Wagner said.
Laesch noticed his first symptom on Dec. 27, 2015. He tried everything to combat the disease – even flying to China for stem cell therapy. Laesch worked 10-hour plus days as long as he could and died knowing that his impact will carry on for years to come.
“I happen to believe that the instant we die is probably the single greatest moment of our life,” Laesch once said.
Inspiring to the finish.