MUSKEGON – This was the summer in which Muskegon’s Mitchell White didn’t play a lot of golf.
He had an internship with a digital marketing firm in Muskegon setting up his closing studies at Grand Valley State University, he worked for a fifth consecutive summer on the bag room staff at Muskegon Country Club and he spent more time with his family and his girlfriend.
“I didn’t plan on winning this,” he said after shooting a closing 5-under 67 to win the 98th GAM Championship presented by Carl’s Golfland Tuesday at the club where he works.
“It was surreal how everything lined up for me. I had only played in two tournaments. I didn’t think it could happen, but I played my practice round and it was like – I have some things going here.”
The former Grand Valley State University golfer who has now won the GAM Championship twice had a lot going and dominated the field of the state’s top amateur golfers. His 15-under 201 total, was six better than runner-up and defending champion James Piot of Canton and Michigan State University, who closed with a 68.
“I didn’t get off to a good start to put any pressure on him, and when you do that, take all the pressure off the guy, you don’t catch him,” Piot said. “He hit it so well after the first few holes it was tough for him to make any bogeys anyway. He just played super well. That’s what it takes to win tournaments, and he did it.”
White, who won the GAM Championship in 2015 at Country Club of Lansing before his freshman year at Grand Valley, made his first bogey on No. 1 to start the round Tuesday and followed it with another bogey on No. 3.
“I had the wheels spinning in my head,” he said. “I was talking to myself.”
Then he hit a wedge shot just one inch from the hole for birdie on No. 4 and it calmed him down.
“That was a key shot to settle myself down,” he said. “It helped me get into the round and realize I still have some shots and that I could chip away at it hole-by-hole.”
White started the day with a five-shot lead on three golfers and held at least a three-shot lead through the round. He didn’t feel secure with the lead until he made eagle-3 on the par 5 No. 14 hole.
“I hit a 5-iron to a foot and made eagle,” he said. “So, I birdied 10, parred 11 and 12, had a good birdie on 13 and then at 14 I stuffed that iron. It was a very sidehill lie and I had 217 to the center of the green.”
White, who lost his 55-year-old father Lane to a sudden and massive heart attack last summer at age 55, said he felt a gust of wind come off this left on the shot.
“I thought maybe my dad has something to do with that because I was just going for the middle of the green,” he said. “After that eagle I knew I had a sizable lead, and I knew you don’t hit that shot if you are not going to win. It was one of those moments where I knew – I’m going to do this.”
He was an especially popular winner as a club employee and local golfer, and he had his 29-year-old brother Logan, who is a member at Muskegon CC, serving as his caddie.
“I’ve played course hundreds of times in all conditions, and to play so well and to have the putts roll in and get some good bounces is amazing,” he said. “My brother was great on my bag. He is a dentist here now, and he really took up golf just over a year ago and is now a certified golf nut. My mom (Jill) was here to see this one, and my girlfriend (Felicia Bozman) was here, and my dad didn’t see the first time I won this tournament. I know he watched all of this one. This means a lot, and especially at a place that is special to me and my family.”
Austin Kreger of Harrison Township, a top Michigan Publinx Golf Association player, shot 69 and finished third at 8-under 208. Former University of Michigan golfer Ian Martin of Saline shot the best round of the tournament – an 8-under 64 – to finish at 209 in fourth. The 2013 champion, Scott Strickland of Bloomfield Hills, shot 69 for 210 and fifth, and Brad Bastion of Shelby Township shot 68 for 212 and sixth.
The trio of golfers tied for seventh at 213 included Connor Jones of Rochester, who shot 74, Tyler Copp of Ann Arbor, who shot 70 and two-time former champion Casey Baker (2005, 2010) of Novi, who shot 70. Baker also had a hole-in-one on the 207-yard par 3 No. 15 hole in the final round.
White, 22, has a year of studies to finish up his degree in advertising and public relations at GVSU. He has used up his golf eligibility and at this time does not plan to pursue professional golf.
“The stars aligned for me this week at a course I know really well,” he said. “What I do with golf from here – I just can’t really answer that right now.”
RESULTS: Scores can be found at gam.org on the front page and championship page.