Grand Haven Tribune: Spring Lake Invitational Tournament preview
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Spring Lake Invitational Tournament preview

Alec Brzezinski • Jun 17, 2019 at 12:15 AM

Pulling into Spring Lake Country Club, one gets a refined 1970’s west-coast vibe with a clubhouse reminiscent of famed Riviera County Club in Los Angeles. The pristine practice range lurks in front of the well-guarded course. Even club members sitting on the patio, enjoying a meal or beverage, wouldn’t be able to see much of the golf course. The secret is kept safe.

But this week, Spring Lake Country Club will again be revealed for the 98th annual Spring Lake Invitational Tournament, the second oldest women’s match-play event in the United States. Women of all age groups are welcome to compete. The tournament takes handicaps from zero all the way up to 27, allowing some of the more casual golfers a chance at elite competition.

“It shows how special the tournament is that, regardless of age, players keep signing up to come back,” said Spring Lake Country Club head professional Josh Lathwell. “We are unique in that we take really good players, and we take players with higher handicaps. Some of the competitors with higher handicaps don’t get to play in the Michigan Amateur, and other events that read their names off on the first tee, so we pride ourselves on giving them that opportunity.”

Last year, Texas State University’s Sarah White claimed the title after defeating Spring Lake grad and current University of Indianapolis star Anna Kramer 4&2 in the championship match. White dominated the field in 2018, winning her last three matches 5&3, 7&6 and 4&2. She, however, is not in the field this year.

Instead, Lathwell said Kramer enters this year’s edition of the S.L.I.T. as the favorite. He also pegged Butler star Megan Skoog, Joan Garety, Caiya Dewitt, Shelly Weiss — the 2017 champion — and Valparaiso University and former Spring Lake stalwart Kayla Krueger, the older sister of the Lakers’ top boys golfer, Nick Krueger, as threats to hoist the trophy.

“We have a good field, but we are a little light on the younger crowd this year,” Lathwell said. “We have been hosting since 1919. The club loved women’s golf, which is why we are also hosting the Michigan Women’s Amateur later this summer. This course is a good length for women’s golf, and we always like promoting their skills.”

This past season, as a junior at Valparaiso, Krueger led the team in season scoring average with an 81.53, She will enter her senior season ranked fifth in program history in career scoring average at 82.1. She finished second on the team at the MVC Championship with a 54-hole score of 239, and she carded a season-low 76 in the opening round of the Indiana State Invite, which tied for the best round by a Valpo golfer this past season.

Kramer and Skoog have also enjoyed collegiate success, while Dewitt could be a sleeper. The Zeeland native just completed her freshman season at Lewis University, and she will likely be a factor throughout the week.

While the young guns stole the show last year, some of the more veteran players are still here to win. Michigan Golf Hall of Fame member Joan Garety, a four-time champion at this event, leads the pack, but she has not won here since 2008. Still, the mixture of experience and young talent makes the event special.

The S.L.I.T. begins today with a stroke-play qualifying round. The top individuals from today's action will then begin a match-play competition starting Tuesday, ending on Thursday. Most golfers are well versed in both formats, but playing them both in the same event can pose a mental and strategic challenge.

“I think the pressure of the stroke play event is tough,” Lathwell said.” You can be more aggressive in match play because bigger numbers only result in the loss of one hole. Match play allows you to make more mistakes, but you still have to string a few good holes together.”

Spring Lake Country Club features 18 beautiful and challenging holes of golf, but Lathwell believes the key stretch will be holes 12 through 14, which features two lengthy par 4s and a par 3.

“If someone has a lead in their match, they usually grow it or lose it during that stretch,” he said. “They are tough driving holes with difficult greens to find.”

Most of the competitors will play from the silver tees this week, which top out at 5,563 yards. However, in an attempt to even the playing field for some of the high handicaps, they will play the green tees, which end up about 500 yards shorter overall. While 12-14 may be an important stretch, holes six through nine could be the most entertaining to watch.

The sixth hole is a short par 5, likely reachable for most of the younger players, and even some of the long-hitting veterans. Birdie will be important on that hole come match play. The seventh is a 131-yard par 3 with a tough green, and the eighth is a long, 337- yard par 4. Concluding that stretch, the ninth hole, features a 490-yard par 5. If a player can play this intriguing quartet of holes at even par, they will likely win their match.

Steeped in tradition, allowing women the opportunity to compete in a prestigious golf tournament before they even had the right to vote, this week’s Spring Lake Invitational Tournament should be another enthralling installment of top-level golf in the state of Michigan with 78 individuals competing for a shot at glory.

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