By Mike Deak
WINONA LAKE – I don’t know if Rachel Harvey knew what she was getting into. Or Noah Wright. Or even Tony Fishel.
Frankly, I didn’t either.
On Friday, I was bestowed a unique opportunity to golf with some of best amateur players in Kosciusko County as part of Grace College’s invitational to pair its college golfers with members of the community. For those who have been around me on the golf course, I try. Dangit, I try. I’m just not that good. My levels of self deprecation, as it seems is required for sports writers who are past their prime but still around the game, is ever-increasing. My seven-year-old even laughed at me playing last weekend.
I’ve long since kidded those on the course that I’m going to shoot JV scores, and then have to really work hard to not shoot 120 over nine holes. So when Grace College women’s head coach Denny Duncan signed me on to play at Stonehenge, initially he joked he was going to pair me with his No. 1 and No. 2 players from his 2X national qualifier squad. For about five weeks after that, I was in a panic.
As I pulled up to the first hole Friday seated with Harvey, who won the NCCAA Wood Award for both academic and athletic exploits in women’s golf, it was getting real. Then I was introduced to Noah Wright, who would also play in my group. Duncan slid over and mentioned, “I gave you a good group. Noah is our No. 1 on the men’s team, and Rachel is very consistent.” In my mind, I was praying our fourth, Grace golf dad Tony Fishel, wasn’t the ringer who hangs out at the driving range just for fun or related to Bryson DeChambeau. But all my cards were on the table.
See, I’m as competitive as they come, but I wanted to see whether or not I could play with everyday studs. Or at least not lose the nine brand new Nike balls I found in the side of my golf bag. In the scramble format, just let Wright drive it, let Harvey chip it, and let Fishel putt it. I could be the comic relief, maybe be the random 30-foot putt guy who gets us to one under.
So Wright and Harvey crushed their tee shots on the first, I didn’t see either of them land. Mine actually wasn’t bad, but most of my shots on the nine-hole ‘invite’ weren’t needed. And I wasn’t there to win anything. I was more curious what college golfers look like when they can unzip the nerves and just play golf.
“After our national tournament, coach (Duncan) told us we were getting more community support than before, and events like this prove that,” Harvey said, who is wrapping up her senior season before moving onto the next step of her life in moving onto occupational therapy. “I think this is a great event because community members can come out and see us play. It gives us some great exposure.”
At first impression, Wright doesn’t like to mess around when he’s golfing. I wasn’t there to grade him or judge him, but I found myself studying his approach to the game. He would refer to the angle of his club choice, and get really bothered when his seemingly (awesome) 150-yard iron shot would land 10 feet from the cup. And he wasn’t happy about it because he was aiming somewhere else.
I made a quip at one point to Fishel that I would love to shoot par at Stonehenge, mainly because I’ve never shot par at Stonehenge or McCormick Creek or Wawasee Golf Club or Putt Putt, and Fishel agreed. The golfers at Grace are locked in, and when Wright drilled long putts to both open and close out our round, he almost looked relieved like he was supposed to make 20-footers uphill every time.
“I think the kids felt a little sense of what it’s like to be in the corporate world a little bit,” said Grace college men’s golf head coach Denny Hepler, who also doubles as the general manager for Stonehenge. “The combo to make this for somebody else, to make it more enjoyable while they are playing golf. It wasn’t all about them all of a sudden. We hope they realize there is a lot of support for the program, we wanted them to see it and realizing it’s a blessing to be part of this.”
Our round ended either four or five under, I don’t remember to be honest. Harvey was keeping score, I wasn’t. I haven’t kept score on a golf card since 2019. Duncan was well aware of what everyone was doing on the course as he motored around, just happy to see people like me playing with people like Harvey and Wright.
“Really, all I wanted out of this was people to be exposed to our kids,” Duncan said. “It’s golf, not something like football or basketball where you know all the names and faces. We have amazing kids on these teams. If we can get people to know them, it’s good for the program, good for the school, and good for the kids to experience that.”