After taking second place at their regional tournament, a full Laker five-some will head to the Meadows at Grand Valley State University for the two-day, 36-hole tournament today and Saturday.
The two-day format is new territory for the team, as regular season competitions typically cut off at nine holes and the regional stops after 18.
This Laker squad has been one of the better teams in the West, but heady play and mental toughness have left head coach George Bitner worried at times during the season and poses concerns for the coming weekend of competition.
“We have had four solid scores in every tournament we have played, but they rotate around,” Bitner said.
The fluctuation has produced a competitive atmosphere at tournaments and even within the team, with golfers routinely engaging in challenge matches for the right to score in the next tournament. Most recently, the final state team spot was up for grabs, just two days before tee off. The match finalized the state team of Nick Krueger, Zack Lisman, Sam Walters, Chancellor Fry and Jack Johnson.
“Not a lot of other teams have the competition we do within our team,” Spring Lake standout sophomore Nick Krueger said. “It really gets your game ready. It keeps you on your toes. In a way it is good and bad, because you don’t get to relax in practice so much, you have to come out and perform to keep your spot.”
The competition has brought this team closer together, demanding a true love and appreciation for the game of golf. With competitive practice and relaxed rounds that respect for the game just might be the reason this squad managed to grab Spring Lake’s first team qualification in recent memory.
“We have a pretty good time out there. We are all friends and we enjoy playing together,” Krueger said of the team chemistry. “When you get a group that talks more out there but then gives you space to make your shot, it is the best kind of group to play with.
“At meets, we all love coming in and talking about our rounds. We are a pretty well-rounded team. We are really competitive when fighting for our spots and because it is so much more relaxed at competitions, it feels a lot more like we are just out playing on a Saturday rather than, ‘wow, we are at the state meet right now.’ That helps us play consistent coming into tournaments.”
The Lakers hope that consistent play continues this weekend with a top 10 finish within their grasp.
“We could be easily in the top 10,” Bitner said. “If they shoot their averages.”
The Meadows brings a high degree of difficulty to the state meet, with narrow fairways and hidden hazards, both things Spring Lake hopes to be prepared for.
“Right off the first hole there is a hidden ditch, you got to know where that ditch is,” Bitner said. “This group should know where that ditch is. It is placement golf out there and you have to know where to place it.
“There are a few good bogeys and a few good birdies out there.”
Spring Lake has played multiple rounds at the Meadows this season, while their young ace in Krueger has extensive experience at the heather-lined course.
“The back nine is harder than the front,” he said. “The front nine, you can put it in the fairway and work some shorter clubs in there. On the back, the fairways and heather starts to close in on the last couple holes, so you have some tough closing holes.
“If you get in trouble, you just have to get yourself to a place where you can do something. If you get in the weeds, just get out of trouble as fast as you can.”
The advice hopefully will not have to be employed, but likely will. With a par score of 72, the course is one of the more difficult in competition. That fact does not deter the confidence or goals of Krueger and his coach.
“I would like to be right around even par,” Krueger said. “I always shoot for even par. I don’t want to go in with too high of expectations. I am just looking to play solid.”
As far as team scores, Bitner and the boys are just looking to compete.
“When he (Krueger) shoots a 71, you always have a shot,” Bitner said. “Forest Hills, Country Day, Cranbrook are always up there in the hunt. There was only one ranked team from our region, and no one from our league made it through. So, we will worry about those west side teams that made it through.”
With opening tee-off set for 9 a.m. today, the boys will be getting an early start to their final team outing.