A late charge gained the Hillsdale College golf team a third place finish at the Kyle Ryman Memorial tournament, finishing just eight strokes behind first place.
The tournament was played at the Mohawk Golf and Country Club in Tiffin, Ohio. The team’s three-round score was 877, which tied for third place with Tiffin University and put them only eight strokes behind the tournament winner, Wayne State University.
Grand Valley State University, which finished second, beat Hillsdale by one stroke. Last time the Hillsdale golf team faced Grand Valley, at the Watrous Intercollegiate tournament on Sept. 9, they fell 18 strokes behind.
Head coach Nathan Gilchrist said the team has to beat the best schools, like Grand Valley and Wayne State, if they want to win the G‑MAC.
“They have finally seen enough competitive situations that not too much bothers them,” he said. “They are very hungry to beat Grand Valley and the other top teams in the country. They have the ability to do so, they just have to eliminate all mistakes during every round. There is no room for error when chasing down the top teams.”
He said the team is growing accustomed to the stressful tournament environment.
“They have made less mistakes this season, but they are also mentally tougher this year than in the past,” Gilchrist said. “Being such a young team, it takes time to develop calluses in a competitive environment.”
Gilchrist said each tournament’s roster changes based on who’s playing the best each week.
This week, juniors Andy Grayson and Henry Hitt earned spots, as well as senior Logan Kauffman.
“We decided to put Logan and Andy in the lineup because they played very well at the Irish Hills Intercollegiate,” Gilchrist said. “We have a system that any player that finishes in the top 10 of a tournament is exempt into the next tournament. We conducted a three-day qualifier for the final spot at Tiffin and Henry was the low man for that qualifier.”
Grayson shot 219 and tied for 17th. He shot an even par the first two rounds and three over par in the final round. His first round score of 72 was his best round of tournament college golf.
“The last round I started hitting the ball a little bit sideways compared to the first round, and it was much more of a ‘grind it out’ round,” Grayson said.
He said he’s been learning this year from the team’s leaders.
“The biggest thing I’ve tried to improve this year is my course management,” he said. “Watching Joel and Liam play these past couple years I’ve noticed they keep it in play a lot and I tried to follow their lead on that. I’ve learned I don’t need to hit driver on every hole because I can make birdie going with a 3 iron, then 9 iron as easily as I can going with driver, then sand wedge.”
Grayson said it’s disappointing to lose to Grand Valley by such a small margin.
“I could easily find two shots in my three rounds I could’ve cut that would have helped us beat them, and I’m sure the other guys could, too,” he said. “As a team, I think we can play with them now, and if we play our best, then we can beat them, and this week shows it.”
Hitt scored 233, and Kauffman scored 230.
Junior Joel Pietila, who has struggled with shoulder pain, led the team for the second time in three tournaments. He placed third as an individual with a score of 212.
“I haven’t had any pain the last couple weeks, which is very encouraging,” he said. “This weekend was probably the best I’ve hit the ball since my injury, and I felt much more comfortable.”
He said the team’s competitiveness with Grand Valley has focused his game.
“It’s very motivating to keep focusing on every shot, because every shot truly does matter,” Pietila said. “I’m excited to see our confidence levels rise as we finally are seeing the results from the work we’ve put in. We are very competitive, not only against other teams, but also against each other, and has helped us shoot better scores. We just need to stick to that mindset and not get too far ahead of ourselves, and we’ll keep climbing the leaderboards.”