Cunningham finding success as men’s golf leader
Collegiately, the game of golf is a team sport. Beyond the friendly confines of a university team setting, however, the game becomes more centralized on individuality. From high school state finals, to GLIAC Freshman of the Year, to turning pro, Grand Valley State University junior Chris Cunningham has exemplified the process of improvement and what it takes to make it at each level.
“It is not an accident that good golfers are good golfers,” said GVSU head coach Don Underwood. “He definitely works hard and prepares and takes it serious. He wants to do well and he wants to win.”
In 2006, as a freshman at Milford High School, Cunningham established himself as the No. 5 golfer — behind four seniors. The upperclassmen took him under their wing and had a positive effect on the beginning stages of his golf career. Tying for second as a team at the Division I state tournament didn’t hurt, either. “It was then I decided I wanted to play college golf,” Cunningham said.
A few months later, he promptly began to play on the junior circuit, where he learned there was more to the game than reading putts and hitting the ball straight off the tee. There was sacrifice.
“Over the summer, since probably my sophomore year of high school, I have taken golf very seriously,” Cunningham said. “I’ve played in a lot of tournaments over the summers and practice ‘
several times a week, missed out on social events and taking trips with friends. Not that I regret it by any means. It’s all about your priorities. Taking a day off and going to the beach, that’s not what you can do.”
Throughout his play and travel on the circuit, Cunningham consistently found himself at one of the biggest events, the Trusted Choice Big I Junior Championship. A tough tournament to qualify for, he played in it three straight years.
The early experience is something GVSU teammate, sophomore Jack Rider, says has really contributed to Cunningham’s development as a leader and scorer.
“He is really a unique teammate in the sense that he came on this team with a lot of experience and the capability of playing a lot of good golf,” Rider said. “He came ready to play at a university which it is real seldom to see somebody come right in and succeed. Having him on the team, especially as an upperclassman, helps a lot.”
Calling GVSU home, Cunningham quickly made his name known to all golfers in the GLIAC by capturing the 2010-2011 GLIAC Freshman of the Year.
“The mental aspects and how to play the game and approach it, that was a piece he picked up fairly quickly,” said Chris’ father, Rick Cunningham. “We are proud of what he has accomplished and we still think he has more.”
His strong play, especially as the No. 1 golfer for GVSU this season, as well as his growing passion for the game, has Cunningham thinking about golf as a career.
“I know my game better than anybody else,” Cunningham said. “The first thing I look at is I have to get a lot better. Maybe getting sponsored at some point after college would be beneficial. I haven’t thought too much about it, I just know that I want to play golf after college.”
Besides experience, the competitiveness Cunningham shows is what sets him apart from pretty much everybody, and what Rider believes will help him be successful now and down the road.
“He can get along alone on competitiveness,” Rider said. “If there is one kid at the school who really has the drive and determination to do it, it is probably him. He is real talented. He does have the potential to pursue that career after school in golf. I wouldn’t doubt one bit to see him succeed at that level.”
From working his way to the No. 1 golfer on his high school squad, to earning his spot as the top performer for the Lakers, Cunningham has the framework and potential to make that dream come true.
“You don’t get drafted; you don’t get pigeon-holed as the protégé,” Underwood said. “It’s you doing the deal. It goes back to the time that is required to get good at the game. That time is his willingness to get up in the morning and to go to the course in the evening and to put his energy into the preparation.”