As the Hillsdale College golf team transitions to the Great Midwest Athletic Conference, the players’ focus has been on earning a spot in this weekend’s tournament.
Junior Joel Pietila, who made history last season with the team’s first-ever individual victory in the GLIAC Championship, battled a shoulder injury this offseason, but he said it hasn’t changed his mindset from putting up low scores at the team’s first tournament.
“The injury has been on and off since Christmas break. I had to do some makeshift therapy to keep me going throughout last season, then it started to get worse about late May, early June,” Pietila said. “I didn’t play much for about two months. I kind of chipped and putted around a little bit, but even that was a little bothersome.”
After visiting the doctor and receiving an MRI and physical therapy during the summer, Pietila has decided to keep playing this season.
“MRIs came back, nothing major in terms of tears or anything, but there were definitely some areas of weakness and stress in some parts of my shoulder that need to be strengthened to keep it stable,” he said. “I’m gonna have to play through some pain.”
Junior Liam Purslowe is fighting injuries going into this season, too. He has back pain that has hampered his play.
Pietila said he and Purslowe have used pushcarts because carrying golf bags causes them too much pain.
The golf team played its qualifying rounds this week to determine which golfers will play in this weekend’s tournament. Pietila qualified, despite playing only a few full rounds of golf all summer. Purslowe qualified, too.
“The swing isn’t where it was at the end of spring when I was playing really well, but the putting is still there and that’s been my biggest improvement throughout the last 18 months,” Pietila said. “So, that’s all good news, and hopefully I can keep that up.”
The team added freshman Luke Girodat to its lineup this season. Girodat comes from Jackson, Michigan, where he attended Lumen Christi Catholic High School. He played high school golf with junior Henry Hitt, who is his teammate once again.
“We recruited Luke because he is a great player, a very strong student with high test scores, and overall he is a great fit for Hillsdale College,” head coach Nathan Gilchrist said.
Girodat said he was attracted to Hillsdale’s relentless academics and talented golf program.
“I knew I would be challenged in both aspects, and nothing is more satisfying than succeeding in a tough situation.” he said. “The one thing that I couldn’t have been prepared for was all the reading and writing that we are assigned regularly.”
He said his transition to collegiate golf has already taught him a lesson.
“Most people who come to play golf not only at Hillsdale, but at most Division II and Division I schools, are probably coming from a high school team where they were the best player,” he said. “That’s an interesting dynamic that a dozen or more kids who are used to being the best player on their respective teams have to become accustomed to whatever position they fall into on their new team.”
The team retains a young, yet strong, lineup going into its first tournament, as it didn’t graduate any seniors last year.
“We do have a young team in age and class, but they are experienced on the golf course. The underclassmen have played in a lot of tournaments during their time here at Hillsdale,” Gilchrist said. “That, along with the seniors, provides a lot of tournament experience for most of the players on the the team.”
Gilchrist said the switch to the G-MAC won’t change anything for team.
“We still play in the same tournaments and against the same competition that we have in the past,” he said. “The only change is the conference championship is against some new teams and is formatted different than the GLIAC’s.”
Gilchrist has decided to send Pietila, Purslowe, sophomores George Roberts and Ryan Zetwick, and senior Joe Torres to the team’s first tournament this weekend. They will play in the Al Waltrous Memorial Invite at Saginaw Valley State on Sept. 9-10.
Pietila said the team can put together a winning season if they get mentally tougher and make better decisions around the putting green.
“Talent-wise, we’re no different than Grand Valley,” Pietila said. “We have the talent, we need to believe we can win, and when we see it happen things will start falling into place.”