ESCANABA - The Escanaba Eskymos lost a very good golfer in Kevin Gendron to graduation. They may be a more well-rounded team this season despite it.
The team opens in today's quad meet at Escanaba Country Club, in a meet originally scheduled for Gladstone Golf Club, which is not yet open.
"Whoever takes Gendron's spot will have some pretty big shoes to fill. He averaged under 80 both years," said coach Brian Robinette. "THere are no seniors on the roster in terms of the starting six or seven. The team is pretty similar for different reasons. Any one of them could be the No. 1 guy and any one could play their way out of the rotation. They'll have to stay on top of their practice regiment."
The team could be led by two very promising freshmen. Dylan Gauthier and Nick Aird are hockey teammates and bring a lot of athleticism and talent to the team. Gauthier suffered a season-ending injury in hockey last February but recently received the OK from doctors to play.
"I thought maybe Dylan would step right in and shoot similar scores as Kevin Gendron, maybe a few strokes higher, maybe an 80 guy," said Robinette. "His injury is well documented, but he's recovered. He got the green light from a doctor in Ann Arbor to play. We have to figure out what we can do with him, so this week will be an exploration of what we can ask of him.
"Nick Aird is a nice surprise. He comes in as a freshman and I knew he could play a little bit from what I've heard, in terms of his rounds at Escanaba Country Club," continued Robinette. "He's really mature for his age. He's very athletic and has played a lot. He has a competitive edge, I think from hockey."
Two returning players in juniors Nick LeMire and Nick Laviolette figure to be a part of the starting rotation.
"They're semi-returners and played some last year," Robinette said. "They know the whole ordeal and understand what tournament golf is like. They're a little older, a little wiser."
Phil LaMarch came on toward the end of last season and will look to carry that success over.
"Phil is a big piece to this whole year. He was pretty stable last year after coming in at the end of the season," said Robinette. "He played his way into the rotation and became one of the more solid kids at the end of the season. He worked pretty hard in the offseason from what we can tell."
Also in contention for spots are juniors Derek Chaillier and Dane Casperson.
"Dane is a guy who has never missed a match in two years, kind of a consistent force for us," said Robinette. "Dylan is kind of my sixth guy, Another hockey kid. When you get a multi-sport athlete, you get a competitor. I have those now, which is nice."
Escanaba Country Club opened on Friday and the Eskymos took full advantage of the chance to practice on their home course for the first time this year.
"John Lancour let us get out there Friday and we had every kid playing," said Robinette. "It was literally the first time we've played a golf hole and we didn't spend a lot of time in the gym. We took advantage of the indoor range at Highland. They have just a great practice facility and our kids got out there and hit on their own. It's safe to say not too many golf teams have hit more than we have and that's certainly something we can feel good about."
The weather this spring has put the kibosh on quite a few meets already. Some teams, such as up in the copper country, may not have a season at all.
"It's kind of an odd season. Everyone has to deal with it though. We can use it as a reason to fail, or figure out how to get work done," said Robinette. "I stressed to the kids how fortunate we are to be out here at all. It's been fun going to practice. Sometimes it can be trying or monotonous, but that hasn't been the sense I've received. They're all really excited to get started."
Robinette said the golf landscape is as competitive and evenly matched as ever, and cited last year's U.P. finals as proof.
"You look at the scores from last year, it's crazy how bunched up everyone was," he said. "First through fifth-sixth place was a matter of a few strokes and the top three was a tie or a one-stroke difference. There's an awful lot of parity when looking at the U.P. There's no terrible teams by any stretch. There might be a few freshman surprises that change the complexion, it leaves it kind of open."