GVSU golf trio shines at Michigan Amateur
Cunningham ousts Rider in final four, finishes second
In some ways, the Grand Valley State University men’s golf team has had a summer like never before. Former head coach Don Underwood resigned after 20 years at the helm, leaving the squad to find a new coach for the first time in team history. It was unfamiliar territory for members of the Laker golf crew, so they ventured back into waters they knew to be more comfortable: competition and success.
Charlevoix, Mich. was the place to be for Michigan’s top amateur golfers from June 16-20. The 103rd Michigan Amateur Golf Championship was the event, and, for the 40th time in its illustrious history, the tournament was held at Belvedere Golf Club in Charlevoix. The coastal town at the tip of the Mitten’s ring finger welcomed in a field of 156 amateur golfers from ages 15 to 67 for the oldest and most prestigious amateur tournament in the state.
Amidst that mass of 156 were three members of the 2013 GVSU men’s golf team. Recent graduate Chris Cunningham, senior Jack Rider and junior Austin Eccleton ventured up the coast after qualifying for the tournament and various courses around the state.
The first two days of the tournament featured groupings of three golfers participating in two separate rounds of stroke play. At the end of stroke play, the field was trimmed to 64 participants who paired off head-to-head under match play rules in a March Madness-esque bracket.
The course on the coast, while scenic, was under siege from the weather in the early stages of competition. GVSU’s representatives powered on, however, and at the end of the first day were all in contention to make the cut barring any disastrous results on day two.
The results were anything but.
Rider led the charge with a 71 while Cunningham and Eccleton carded 73 apiece, good enough to move all three Lakers into the final 64.
Eccleton snagged the 11 seed – highest among his teammates – while Rider and Cunningham were slotted at 23 and 47, respectively. Eccleton paired off against 30-year-old Joe Balaskovitz, and, after 18 holes yielded a tie. Eccleton fell in the first hole of the playoff to see his run end.
The other two Laker representatives found themselves with more fortunate results. Cunningham squeaked out tight victories in his first two matches to set himself up in the Sweet 16. Rider took his first match by two strokes before eliminating Michael Zoerhoff to advance to the Sweet 16 as well.
As is tradition at the Michigan Am, a dinner is held for the final 16 golfers. The two Lakers took a look at the bracket, and, as fate would have it, were just one win away from squaring off against each other.
“We knew the night of the Sweet 16 dinner that if we both won our morning matches we’d play each other,” Cunningham said. “We were fortunate enough to both win those matches and we were able to have a little fun out there against each other.”
Cunningham went up four strokes with three holes left to move onto the Final Four, eliminating his friend and long-time teammate Rider. Fair is fair, however, Rider was staying at Cunningham’s cabin for the weekend.
The run ended there for Cunningham, as he lost to eventual champion Henry Do, who plays collegiate golf at the University of North Carolina. Cunningham’s exit marked the end of the road for the last of the Laker trio, but the group did plenty to bring pride to the program.
“We represented GVSU really well,” Eccleton said. “We had as many in the round of 64 as any Division I school in the state and got two to the Elite Eight. That’s something to be proud of.”