By Dean Holzwarth
Hope College's Josh Gibson and Oregon's Norman Xiong talked with each other frequently a few months ago while competing together in the Barbasol Shootout in Columbus, Ohio.
Through their conversations, Gibson learned there was a distinct difference between their athletic programs at the NCAA Division I and Division III levels.
"I asked him about his program and he said that being an athlete there was being part of their (golf) program and that was it," Gibson said. "At Hope, I'm an athlete, but I also get involved around campus, which is nice. I can still be an athlete, and I feel like I'm getting the whole college experience and not just the athletic side of it."
Gibson — the 2017 individual national champion and 2018 National Player of the Yea — leads the Flying Dutchmen heading into the 2018 season. He is joined by fellow seniors Andrew Goble of Brighton, Michigan (Brighton HS) and Ben Kramer of Spring Lake, Michigan (Spring Lake).
Hope begins play on Friday-Saturday, August 31-September at the 36-hole Lou Collins Memorial hosted by Olivet College.
Photos by Alan Babbitt
Gibson's involvement in the Barbasol Shootout was made possible by being named the Division III recipient of the Jack Nicklaus National Player of the Year award.
The native of Grandville, Michigan (Grandville HS), is the first Hope College golfer to receive the honor. He had the opportunity to meet and chat with the legendary golfer during the award presentation that was part of the PGA Tour event, The Memorial.
"It was awesome," Gibson said. "I didn't grow up watching Jack since he was a little before my time, so I didn't know what to expect. He was awesome to talk to for a while and was very gracious with his time.
"It was a really big honor, and it was cool to see my hard hard work pay off. Obviously, meeting Jack was a cool way to do that."
Gibson played with four other National Player of the Year recipients in the five-golfer shootout at Scioto Country Club, where Nicklaus played as a youth.
"I got to play with some good players and great people and pick their brains a little bit," Gibson said. "It was a top-50 course that we played on and it was a great course."
Gibson helped lead the Flying Dutchmen to a program-best, sixth-place finish at the NCAA Championships. He placed 10th individually at nationals one year after capturing an NCAA title as a sophomore.
Gibson competed this summer in various events in preparation for his senior season on the links.
"I had a couple good finishes this summer," Gibson said. "It's nice before the school season to have a chance to work on my game and I'm encouraged by the progress I'm seeing."
Gibson's best finish came at the Michigan Amateur where he finished among the Final Four in bracket play.
He lost to Beau Breault 5 & 4 in the semifinals.
"I played a lot of good golfers on my way to the semis and I think they were all Division I golfers," said Gibson, who's majoring in electrical engineering at Hope. "It was a good experience to beat some high-quality players."
Gibson's junior season included a pair of school-record rounds. He shot rounds of 61 and 64, but is still working to fine-tune his game before the fall season.
"I expect myself to play better," Gibson said. "I definitely played good, but with improvements, I've made this summer hopefully I can see even better play. I've worked a lot on my chipping, my short game in general, and that has come a long way."
Since arriving on campus, Gibson has made significant gains in his overall game. He's shaved seven strokes off his average since he was a freshman and averaged 70.5 last season.
"Coming into college I knew I was a good player and I wanted to do well, but I don't think I expected to do as well as quickly as I did," Gibson said. "I won nationals as a sophomore and I changed my mindset from being a good Division III player to being a good overall amateur player.
"It drove me to work a little harder and I had to mature my thinking about golf and how I went about practice."
Hope College men's golf coach Scott Lokers attributes Gibson's progression to a number of factors.
"It starts with his God-given talent, he is a gifted player," Lokers said. "And it continues with an incredible amount of hard work because Josh loves to practice and play golf. A third factor leading to Josh's success is a mindset to shoot the lowest score possible every time he plays."
Lokers added that Gibson more than just a stellar golf game to the program.
"He is a great teammate and leader on our team," he said. "He is also a person of faith, and his family and friends really matter to him. It is a privilege to have Josh on our team."
Gibson will be the No. 1 player for Hope entering the fall season. He said he has aspirations to possibly turn pro after graduation.
"I'm thinking about it for sure," Gibson said. "I think it depends on how I play this season."