Few people would expect a freshman to have any real chance to win a high school golf state championship.
But Reeths-Puffer’s Karina VanDuinen didn’t let her young age or slow start in the state tournament zap her confidence.
She shot an 82 in Friday’s first round of the Division 2 state finals at Bedford Valley Golf Course in Battle Creek. That left her tied for eighth, four shots behind the leader, Stephanie Karris of Midland Dow.
But then VanDuinen relaxed in the second round on Saturday, and that made all the difference. She shot a sizzling round of 74 for a two-day total of 156, two strokes better than Karris.
Suddenly the Reeths-Puffer freshman was a state champion in her first year of varsity competition.
She shared the local spotlight with the Spring Lake girls golf team, which won the Division 3 state title for the second year in a row on Saturday.
“I think there was a lot of pressure I put on myself the first day,” VanDuinen said. “Then I started playing more to have fun.”
VanDuinen said she realized she was back in contention on Saturday about six or seven holes into the round.
“I was already five or six strokes better than I was the day before,” she said.
VanDuinen, who qualified for the state finals as an individual without her Reeths-Puffer teammates, won the crown in front of a proud contingent of fans.
Her cheering section including her parents, Mike and Christa VanDuinen, Reeths-Puffer Coach Chris Carter, her sister and her grandmother.
“They were all really happy,” she said. “My grandma started to cry and my dad couldn’t watch the scores go up because he was so nervous.
“It didn’t feel real at all to me at first. It didn’t really hit me until later when were on our way back home.”
The state title put the finishing touches on a remarkable first year of varsity golf for VanDuinen.
She was the top individual golfer in the O-K Black Conference, won the individual championship at the Greater Muskegon Athletic Association City Golf Tournament, and took first place in her Division 2 regional tournament.
So how did she get so good at such a young age?
“I practice a lot – it just comes to me,” VanDuinen said. “My mom and dad were pretty good golfers when they were younger, and when we moved to Reeths-Puffer my older sister wanted to join the golf team. We just started from there.
VanDuinen has a younger sister, sixth-grader Karli, who is already turning a lot of heads with her golf skills.
“She’s almost there,” said VanDuinen, when asked if her sister had caught up to her skill level yet.
The two siblings are on schedule to play together when Karina is a senior and Karli is a freshman.
Check out VanDuinen sinking a near 30-foot birdie put during her state championship run.