by Eva Dean Folkert
For the three seniors on the No. 12-ranked Hope College men's golf team, the end of Saturday's final round of the MIAA NCAA Division III Qualifier was as emotional as it could get. And not just because the Flying Dutchmen were trying to overcome a one-stroke deficit to Kalamazoo College to earn a return trip to the national championship. Which they did. (More on that in a minute.)
Josh Gibson, right, Andrew Goble, middle, and Ben Kramer, left — Hope's highly accomplished and experienced trio who have qualified for the NCAA tournament every year since they were freshmen — felt the sentimental heft of their final MIAA round gather because of all they had been through over four years. On a chilly late April day at Wuskowhan Players Club, they were just hoping and playing for more.
"It was really emotional," said Goble of Brighton (Brighton HS). "We're coming down the last couple holes and we're thinking, 'This could be the last few holes we play in college right now.'"
"I shed a tear going down on 17 because I didn't know if this was going to be it or not," added Kramer of Spring Lake (Spring Lake HS).
"I had no idea where we stood," declared Gibson of Grandville (Grandville HS).
As scores were slowly posted and the Hope team calculated to be a five-stroke winner on the day with 292 and a four-stroke winner of the league's 54-hole automatic qualification tournament with 902, relief and joy and slaps on backs were the new emotions to take over. Head coach Scott Lokers and the Flying Dutchmen had punched their ticket to play in another national championship.
This makes the sixth consecutive year, and the 10th time in 13 years, that a Hope team has qualified for the NCAA tournament.
As he did on Friday, Kramer fired a one-under 70 on Saturday. Gibson shot 70 as well and the two Flying Dutchmen were medalists for the day along with Nick Knowlton of Trine University who also finished with 70.
"We all knew that every shot was going count today," Goble said, "and I think we knew that we could get the job done. But I also think it's actually pretty good that we were tested a little bit."
Kalamazoo administered most of that test to the Flying Dutchmen. The Hornets finished the final round with a 297 and overall tournament with 906.
Trine University shot 311 on Saturday and finished with 932, good for third place. Calvin College carded 308 on Saturday and took fourth with 951.
The NCAA Division III Men's Golf Championship tees off Tuesday, May 14 through Friday, May 17 at Keene Trace Golf Club in Nicholasville, Kentucky. Forty-two teams will participate in the four-day championship. After 36 holes of competition, the field will be cut to the top 18 teams.
Hope finished in a program-best sixth place at the 2018 national championship, an outcome equal to their 2017 finish at the NCAA championship.