Despite having just two returning players in Tyler Thornsberry and Charles Hemple, Hazel Park’s golf team was off to a 5-0 start in the Oakland Activities Association Gold Division and 5-2 overall.
The Vikings walked away from last season with an OAA Gold championship to their credit, and although they have gotten off to a nice start in their title defense, coach Larry Dupke also pointed out that the team has to play everybody in the league a second time and that there is “still a ways to go.”
Regardless of how the rest of the season plays out, Dupke wants players to leave his program with more than just memories of how a record book reads.
“If they hand you a trophy at the end, that’s real nice,” he said. “But did you play as well as you could or work to play as well as you could? That’s always our goal. You’re not (going to) hit every shot great. I just want them to play as well as they can. If that happens to put them in a better place, that’s good. But appreciating the game and working as hard as they can has always been my goal with young golfers. (If) they can play 50 years from today, I feel I’ve accomplished something because they learned to appreciate and enjoy the game, and get as good as you can.
“I tell them there’s two rules in golf that really matter. One is to have fun — it’s a game. And number two is to play fast, so you don’t hold up the people behind you.”
Perhaps the most fun to be had the entire year comes in the postseason, and it won’t be too long before the Vikings will have their opportunity to enjoy the experience, as they are scheduled to begin district play later this month.
Dupke has a pretty good understanding of what teeing up in the postseason can mean to his players.
“They always set that as a standard of achievement, I guess you could say,” Dupke said of individuals attempting to qualify for regionals. “Six teams make it out of the district to the regional, and six individuals from the teams that don’t make it. Last year, our team didn’t make it, but three players qualified to play in the regional. That is, perhaps, an individual goal for some of the players that are lower scorers for the team. For the team to get in, everyone has to have a good day, and they all know that. It’s a fun part of the game. You have to adapt to the circumstances.”
Hazel Park junior Cody Brasfield has already given some thought as to what his postseason goals are.
“To lower my score, be a better player, (hit) nicer shots and be more affluent. I’m (getting) excited about this season. We have a nice golf team.”
While there probably aren’t a lot of coaches who will say they enjoy losing, sometimes defeat can bring with it future reward. Based on some of his observations, Dupke has tried to impart some lessons to his players that he hopes will pay dividends as they move forward.
“In the case of the returning guys, they understand the value of every shot a little more,” he said. “Today we lost (to Farmington Harrison) by four shots, and I tell them, every player doesn’t have to have a great day; you just have to make sure you don’t give away one shot. So riding back I said, ‘How many guys gave up a shot today? I did. I did. I did.’
“It’s not any one player that’s (going to) win or lose a golf match. You play six players, and four scores count. So if four players are one shot better, all of a sudden, it’s tied. You tap a putt sideways, you could have tapped in (because) you’re not concentrating, and that’s kind of the challenge of it.”
While the Vikings still have some big opportunities ahead of them this season, considering the roster of players he has on his squad, Dupke also expressed optimism about the future of Hazel Park’s golf program.
“We don’t have any seniors on the team,” he said. “They’re all juniors and sophomores, so in that regard, that’s good. They’ve showed interest and enthusiasm.”
Hazel Park is scheduled to play in a Division 2 district tournament May 30, hosted by Madison Heights Lamphere at Maple Lane Golf Club in Sterling Heights.