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May 8, 2013

Utica golf hopes to establish strong tradition

By Mark Vest
C & G Sports Writer

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Matt Baldwin, a regional qualifier last season, is one of Utica’s five seniors on the golf team.

According to coach Robert Morin, Utica’s golf program hasn’t won a league or district championship in approximately seven years.

And with Chieftains off to a 0-2 start in the Macomb Area Conference White Division, a league would be a tall order.

But from the perspective of players and coaches, perhaps one of the best things about high school sports is the fresh start the postseason provides.

The Chieftains will have their opportunity May 30, which is when they are scheduled to compete in a Division 1 district tournament.

If Utica is able to hoist a district trophy, Morin thinks it could impact Utica’s golf program even beyond this season.

“It would be wonderful,” he said. “That would establish, going forward, that we have a program here that’s been building over the years, and it can be part of golfers that are coming up. They can see that the program is being established, and they can be part of a good thing. Hopefully, that’s (going to) be happening in the next year or two.”

Zach Baker, Matt Baldwin, Kurtis Van Drunen, Justin Bogedin and Nick Gafner represent the five seniors on Utica’s squad, and the kind of intangibles Morin thinks they bring to the team are ones that can make a coach’s job much easier.

“We have five seniors that have some great leadership on the team,” he said. “There’s some experience there, so they’re taking the younger kids under their wing and, hopefully, leading by example.”

Utica takes to the course with a roster of 12 players. Aside from the team’s five seniors, the squad is made up of four sophomores and three juniors.

Morin has liked some of what he has seen from younger members on the squad, which helps him think there could be some good days ahead for Utica’s golf program.

“We do have some younger talent,” he said. “Golf’s one of those games where, at their age, they can blossom in a summer and come back the next year and be six, seven, eight strokes less than what they were (the) previous year. It’s fun to watch as they develop. Some players develop faster than others; some players don’t develop. But it’s the work they put into it and the dedication they (want to) put into the game.”

Regardless, as the season winds down, Morin wants players to leave his program with the same kind of love and respect for the game of golf that he has. While, according to Morin, he is a “competitive person,” win or lose, he also wants his players to be able to look back with fondness on their time as members of Utica’s golf team.

“I really (want to) make these guys appreciate the game and take it with them, (because) it’s one of those games you can play the rest of your life,” he said. “If they’re getting the sportsmanship out of it, and learning the game and improving, that’s all I can ask. Every year, I get those players calling me or emailing me, saying, ‘I really had a great time, and I’m glad I was on the team.’ It’s a great sport to be a part of.

“I want them to feel it like I did when I was younger, and now I look back and I enjoyed my experience as a golfer. I want them to do (the) same thing. Those are the life-long lessons I (want to) teach these guys, too — that it’s more than just a sport. It is also something that can be part of the rest of your life.”

Utica is next scheduled to be in action at 2:45 p.m. May 13 against Port Huron Northern at the Port Huron Golf Club.

You can reach C & G Sports Writer Mark Vest at mvest@candgnews.com or at (586)279-1112. Twitter Follow Mark on Twitter.