Golf plans to improve through experience
In golf, the lowest score— not the lowest age—wins.
Last season, between the 18 combined student athletes comprising the Grand Valley State University men and women golf teams, seven were true or redshirt freshman and four more were underclassmen. Both squads still managed to capture GLIAC championships despite their collective youth, yet it’s no secret that a little seasoning can go a long way.
“With Kelly (Hartigan) and Gabrielle (Shipley) both being underclassmen last year, as good of a year as they had, I’m looking forward to them coming back,” said GVSU head women’s coach Rebecca Mailloux. “They’re both really hard workers, they’ve had pretty good summers—I’m looking forward to see what they can do.”
Hartigan, now a junior who last spring became the sixth Laker to be named GLIAC Women’s Golfer of the year, spent 10 days of her summer in Scotland perfecting her stroke. Hartigan went on the trip with her coach, teammate Cassady Kauble, the team’s lone senior, two graduates from last year’s program, six other Division II women and 12 Division II men, The touring Lakers competed against the Scotland club team across a challenging barrage of venues, including the Old Course at St. Andrews.
“It was an amazing experience,” Mailloux said. “To take that (playing at St. Andrews) off the bucket list at their young age is something to be proud of.”
Shipley, now a sophomore who last year joined Hartigan as a member of the All-GLIAC first team, didn’t make it across the pond, but did spend time attending a leadership seminar hosted by the GVSU athletic program, maturing as both a golfer and a teammate.
“Gabrielle’s got her freshman year behind her, she’s more experienced, she’s gained a tremendous amount of yardage and I think she’s going to be a more mature golfer,” Mailloux said. “She’s really been working her tail off this semester.”
With three new freshman set to join the ranks this fall, providing the women’s side with a fully stocked eight-golfer roster and plenty of depth, the growth is thought of as a cycle and not a destination.
“It kind of just works,” Mailloux said. “We don’t necessarily put anything in place that says ‘here’s what you’re going to do,’ but we do have a big sister-little sister relationship that we establish – one underclassman paired with an upperclassman. We kind of use that as our training grounds for the underclassmen, especially the freshmen, to kind of learn the ropes and what’s expected.”
On the men’s side, returning all-GLIAC first team performers seniors Chris Cunnigham, Joel Siegel and junior Jack Rider lead the charge. The trio hold three of the GLIAC’s top five stroke averages, which gives confidence to the Lakers to be contenders in virtually every tournament they enter.
“Last year between myself, Jack and Joel we had a pretty solid top three pretty consistently throughout the year,” Cunnigham, an All-American Honorable Mention last season, said. “Last year we had a couple freshmen who were in and out of the lineup so there were quite a couple of rounds where we were looking for that fourth scorer. Those freshmen are now a year older, they’ve had a chance to get a little better, so hopefully that starts to become a little more consistent where we can have four of us perform at a high level.”
Neither the men or women have had much formal team interaction yet this year, but with invitational opportunities on the horizon, there’s no time to stand unchanging like manicured blades on a well-groomed green. With sights set high, the time for GVSU golf to grow is now.
“The goal every year is always to win a GLIAC championship, to be competitive at the regional level and advance to the national championship, but I focus more on the day-to-day things and taking things one process at a time,” Mailloux said. “I’m always looking to develop team chemistry and improve everyday that we go out there. Keep it simple that way.”