The Spring Lake golf team took on their Division 3 regional championship at Katke Golf Course on the campus of Ferris State University on Thursday. The Lakers finished in first place, carding a 372, while sweeping the individual podium for good measure.
Host Big Rapids finished second at 380, ahead of Coopersville in third at 418 to round out the state-qualifying teams. Belding just missed the cut at 420, ahead of Whitehall with 429, Forest Hills Eastern at 450, Comstock Park at 455, Alma with 473 and Tri-County at 481, rounding out the full teams. Fremont, Ludington and Sparta all entered less than five individuals, not carding team scores.
The win was finally enough to appease Spring Lake head coach George Bitner, who was impressed with his players’ focus in what was a closer match than expected.
“Fourth in a row feels good after we lost three starters from last year. We still have to work on the four and five spots, but we stuck with it and played fairly steady,” he said. “I thought it would be a bigger spread, so did they, so we still have some work to do. I am hard to please.”
The Lakers got it done with solo star-power, as their top three golfers finished as the top three individual scores. Hannah Klein carded an 84 to take medalist honors, just ahead of Madelyn Nelson at 87 in second place, while Phoebe Saunders carded an 88 for a three-way tie at third place.
“I’m glad, ‘cause we only won by eight,” Bitner said of the top-three sweep. “It is getting closer and scarier all the time.”
Alana Sprague finished with a score of 113, while Kayla Raschke turned in a 132 to round out the regional team.
“It is awesome to win it again,” Klein said. “Winning is so much fun, especially with these girls.”
The overall victory marks back-to-back medalist finishes for Klein, who operated as the Lakers’ No. 2 golfer for most of the season. She credits the sudden drop to improved strategy and controlling her mental game.
“I’ve been playing smart,” she said. “When I have a bad hole, I don’t let it get to me. Every hole I shoot for par and then if I can take the birdie, I go for the birdie. Just playing safe instead of taking bizarre risks and blowing up has helped me a lot.”
Conditions were less than ideal Thursday. Strong winds following heavy rain on Wednesday created inconsistencies from hole to hole, and finally typical October temperatures made the round less than comfortable.
“We need to play the course smarter still,” Bitner said. “I told them two times before they went out that we had strong winds and a lot of rain yesterday, so the lowlands would be wet with not a lot of roll on the fairways, and the higher holes would be dry and fast.”
“The cold was especially hard,” Klein said. “You have to try and keep your ball and hands warm in pockets or gloves. It was cold. Bitner also told us about the high and low greens, the rain and wind made every hole different, which was hard to deal with.”
For Klein, putting was the issue Thursday. Despite lethal accuracy from the fairway, hitting her first nine greens from regulation, finishing holes was a problem on the inconsistent greens.
“I wish I putted better,” she said. “It has been off the past few weeks. I was leaving everything short. I think I was a little nervous to put it past the hole. I left 40 putts out there, that’s almost half my score. That’s a lot of putts.”
While the top three teams earn a bid to the state tournament, the girls were feeling the pressure of their three previous regional titles as scores piled up in the clubhouse.
“We were all nervous adding up the scores because we have that history of winning, and we all really wanted to win,” Klein said. “We were watching the scores come in and Big Rapids didn’t have their last one in for a while. We were nervous because we had our total already. It was so nerve wracking just sitting there with our calculator just waiting.”
With their conference and regional hardware secured, Spring Lake can finally turn their full attention to their true goal: securing a four-peat at the Division 3 state finals.
Step one for Bitner is nailing down his championship roster. Even a hand in a regional championship doesn’t secure a permanent postseason spot on this team. Step two is short game.
“This round was good enough for first, but it wasn’t good enough for me,” he joked. “We will have more challenge matches this week for the state team roster. Then, boy are we going to practice putting, and some chipping for good measure.
“They told me they will do better next week, and I think they can play better.”
“We want to go for four,” Klein said. “We have to make some putts, and I think we have a shot.”