by Odille Parker
As they embark on their fourth and final national championship this week in Nicholasville Kentucky, the trio attribute much of that success to a friendship that stretches far beyond the golf course.
The 72-hole, four-day NCAA Division III Championships begin on Tuesday, May 14 at Keene Trace Golf Club, near Lexington. There is a 36-hole cut.
"We all root for each other on the golf course, but we root for each other off the course as well," said Goble, a senior from Brighton, Michigan (Brighton HS). "I want these guys to be successful in the classroom, in their faith, and everything else. We push each other in those ways, too."
It's a friendship that is evident in the moments when they pass each other on the course and do something comical to get a laugh out of the other, or in the more intense moments — like the final round of this year's MIAA NCAA Division III qualifier, when they didn't know if they'd made the cut and the somber realization that it could be their last time on the course together started to creep into their minds.
Led by their seniors, the Flying Dutchmen rallied and prevailed by four strokes during the final round of the 54-hole qualifier. Kramer and Gibson both carded even-par 70s during the final round at Wuskowhan Players Club.
All three golfers recall the simultaneous sense of relief and excitement that overtook them when the score was posted and they knew they'd have another chance to compete for the national title together.
"That kind of victory meant so much more," said Kramer, a senior from Spring Lake, Michigan (Spring Lake).
Hope enters the NCAA Championships with the goal to bring home a national title and improve on their two program-best sixth-place team finishes.
Gibson leads the Flying Dutchmen with a 70.85 scoring average over 20 rounds. Junior Daniel Settecerri of Bloomfield Hills, Michigan (Bloomfield Hills) is second at 73.55.
Goble (74.75) and Kramer (74.78) are third and fourth, respectively, for Hope. Junior Noah Weigle of Grandville, Michigan (Grandville) is fifth at 77.70.
The Flying Dutchmen's three seniors are confident that they have the team dynamic and talent to do it. They're also looking to soak up every moment of the experience.
"You know we'll be locked in and focused," explained Gibson of Grandville, Michigan (Grandville). "But my main goal is also to take it all in and just have fun with it… truly enjoy the experience of all of us doing this one last time together."
Gibson has enjoyed his fair share of success over an unprecedented career at Hope. He claimed the team's first individual championship in 2017 and was the 2018 recipient of the Jack Nicklaus NCAA Division III National Player of the Year Award.
Gibson's national title — won on a one-hole playoff — is a moment that Goble describes as a defining moment in all of their careers.
Watching their teammate top off the best team finish at nationals with the individual win was a surreal moment.
"We all knew the effort and hard work that Josh had put into getting there. It's something he envisioned for himself and made happen." Goble said. "It wasn't like it just happened on a fluke. It was really cool to see that kind of hard work pay off in that way. That entire season was a huge turning point for us."
It's no surprise that watching Hope reach that level of accomplishment fired Goble up. He operates on a team-first mentality, and when asked to describe him, both Gibson and Kramer referred to him as the "bulldog" of the group.
Head coach Scott Lokers reciprocated the tenacity that Goble offers as a player and a person.
"Andrew has a very positive and empowering outlook, and he will just not give up," Lokers said. "That has an impact not only for him, but for the team and for me. The leadership he provides, even when he is not playing his best...he just will give it all that he has. To have someone like that on the team is just so critical."
Kramer's fierce loyalty is what sets him apart. His fellow co-captains describe him as someone who will be a friend for years to come, someone that they can reach out to about anything, and the know he will always be there.
Lokers also praised the growth he's seen in Kramer over the past four years as both a player and a person. It was pure pride and joy for Lokers watching Kramer capstone his career by shooting under 70 in the last two rounds of the NCAA qualifier.
"The fact that these three are friends is what makes this all so great," Lokers said. "It's not just what they've experienced on the course, but every aspect of their Hope College experience. Part of it is sports, but it's so much bigger than that, and you can see that in those three."
The trio agrees.
They look back at the early times in their friendship, when they'd cram eight to 10 people in Kramer's dorm room and make the best of times. Or their bond over being Michigan fans. Or the many Hope sporting events they've attended together. Or their involvement with Campus Ministries and Dance Marathon.
Yes, they spend multiple hours a day playing golf together, but what stands out for them are the memories they've made outside of the sport.
"It's a comfort and trust we've created that also translated to the course," Kramer said. "It's a bond that could only come from a place like Hope, where people here are amazing at every level."
It's also how they've fostered such a strong team presence in an individual sport like golf.
"We all care so much about each other and we want to work hard for each other for all of us to succeed," Goble said. "It would be easy to be satisfied with some of the lower level accomplishment we've had. But we are always pushing the boundaries and envisioning more success and greater accomplishments for all of us."
For two of the three, the role golf plays in their life will look a bit different as they embark on the post-grad life.
Goble is looking to lock down a job in commercial real estate while staying involved as a Young Life leader. However, his hope is to continue to have competitive golf be a part of his life as a coach down the road.
Kramer will be moving to St. Joseph, Michigan to work as a claims representative at Auto Owners Insurance, but plans to keep golfing recreationally.
Gibson looks to become a professional golfer this summer. He plans to play in various tournaments while his sights are set on the Web.com Tour Q-School next fall.
It will be a new normal for a trio that has left their mark on the Flying Dutchmen golf program.
For now, their focus is on taking the time to enjoy every moment of their final rounds together and see what they can achieve one more time as a group.