Traverse City Record-Eagle

July 19, 2013

Local golfers getting Amateur experience

BY CHRIS DOBROWOLSKI cdobrowolski@record-eagle.com
Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Soak it in and enjoy the experience.

Those are the words of wisdom Nikolaj Brons-Piche has for his friend and fellow golfer Gates Muller after learning Muller had qualified for next month’s U.S. Amateur at Brookline Country Club in Massachusetts.

Brons-Piche has room to hand out advice, considering he just returned to Traverse City following two rounds of play at the U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship at Laurel Hill Golf Club in Lorton, Va.

While Muller was earning his way to the U.S. Amateur after shooting rounds of 73 and 71 this week at the Bloomfield Hills Country Club, Brons-Piche was competing in his first USGA tournament, an event that saw him fire rounds of 77 and 79.

“I saw he qualified and I sent him a text after and I said I was so happy for him,” said Brons-Piche, a sophomore at Texas Wesleyan and TC Central grad. “I grew up playing golf with him and it’s so cool to see me go to the Public Links and now him qualify to go to Brookline Country Club — one of the biggest, historic places in all of golf, at least stateside.”

Muller, a redshirt freshman at Michigan State and a TC West grad, had to overcome bouts of rain during the second round that added an extra day to the qualifier. But he persevered through it to punch his ticket to what will be the biggest tournament he’s ever entered.

“It was kind of a mental game,” Muller said of the qualifier. “You had to stay prepared mentally and really stay with your routine. I think it took some people out of play, but I think I fought through it and was able to put a good round together.”

As expected, Muller can’t wait for his opportunity to face off against the best amateurs in the nation.

“It’s a very prestigious event,” he said. “I’m very excited to play in it. Not many people get to do this in their life and I did it at a young age, and that’s a real step forward in my career. We’ll see how it goes. I’m just there to have fun.”

Brons-Piche didn’t think he was going to be playing at the Public Links Championship until early last week. He had qualified as an alternate in early June at the Cedar Chase Golf Club in Cedar Springs, but he got the call from the tournament indicating he was added to the field.

“It was obviously a huge honor to go play in that thing,” he said. “I didn’t even think I was going to get in. I got the call on Tuesday. I had three days before I left. I’ve been kind of nursing an injury so I haven’t been practicing much. It was a little bit stressful, but it was still a good experience.”

The injury hindered Brons-Piche’s performance at the tournament, causing him to be eliminated after two rounds of stroke play.

“I don’t want to sound like I’m making excuses, but I did have a lower back muscle strain that happened at the state amateur and it hadn’t healed,” he said. “So it was just difficult to make committed swings and hit the ball like I normally do. I’m not a long hitter and on the longer holes it was just really difficult. It was frustrating because it wasn’t how I wanted to perform. It was still good to be there.”

Muller will get some good experience in before he heads to Massachusetts. He’s playing in the Northern Amateur in Indiana, then teeing off at the GAM Championship in Birmingham.

“I have to be out there (Massachusetts) Aug. 10 so I think I’m going to take off after the GAM Championship,” Muller said. “I’m going to head straight out to Massachusetts from there. I’m going to plan on playing a couple of practice rounds before. There’s two courses out there that we’re going to be playing so hopefully I can get a couple of rounds under my belt.”

Though his injury might ultimately prevent it, Brons-Piche has a chance to qualify for the U.S. Amateur on July 24 at the Bay City Country Club.

“It doesn’t look like that’s going to happen since his injury,” he said. “I’ve just got to nurse it back to health. It just takes time. I may or may not play in that (qualifier). It’s at a course I’ve played before and it’s not incredibly long so it’s doable.”’

If he does manage to qualify, Brons-Piche would put three Traverse City golfers into the U.S. Amateur field, including his cousin Patrick Colburn, a teammate of Muller’s at Michigan State.

“I think it would be fabulous if myself and Gates and my cousin Pat, if we all made it out there,” said Brons-Piche. “It would be such a great time. I can’t even imagine. It would be so much fun.”