Hungry for another win: Gunner Stein prepared to defend his 2017 UP title starting Tuesday
NORWAY — Gunnar Stein hopes Oak Crest Golf Course has not changed much since his Houghton High School days.
Stein, defending champion in this week’s 104th UP Golf Association Championships, hasn’t played Oak Crest in a couple years.
A summer class at Saginaw Valley State (SVSU) nixed a possible practice round Monday. The tournament runs Tuesday through Friday at the Norway course.
“I would like to (play a practice round) but unfortunately I have an exam on Monday,” said Stein, entering his second season with the SVSU golf squad.
In one of Stein’s last appearances at Oak Crest, he helped Houghton win the 2016 Walt Sliwa Invitational by shooting a two-over par 74.
“I played there a decent amount of times through high school,” Stein said. “There is some tricks of the trade there that you’ve got to know where to put the ball off the tee.
“Greens can be tough. They can put some tough pins. It’s a cool course and should be a good venue.”
Stein rallied from five shots back to beat John (Gus) Koskinen and Mark Clements in last year’s U.P. men’s tournament at Wawonowin Country Club in Champion.
“I had a blast in those final two days playing with John Koskinen and Mark Clements,” Stein said. “Those guys are awesome golfers. Both are really, really good.
“It was fun to play with them and see how they play. It was also fun to compete with them.”
Clements eyes a third U.P. title this week, teeing off at 11 a.m. Tuesday with former champion Jim Markell along with past UP contenders Chad Tirschel and Tom LaVigne. Koskinen, who demolished Pine Grove and Oak Crest to win the 2002 UP title, will not be playing this week.
Stein’s final-round comeback in 2017 was fueled by a three-under 69. He needed one playoff hole to best Koskinen.
“On the final day I just happened to play real well and come out on top,” Stein said.
As for his golf game this summer, Stein says “I really haven’t played that well except for the GAM (Golf Association of Michigan) Championship qualifier. I played pretty good golf there.”
Stein competes Aug. 20-21 in the GAM Championship at Meadowbrook Country Club in Northville. He played “decent” but did not qualify at a US Amateur event in Lansing.
“I’ve played OK in a few other tournaments,” Stein said. “I’ve been putting real well all summer. That makes it easier to score when you’re confident with the flatstick.”
Stein and Marquette University standout Hunter Eichhorn of Carney tee off at 10:20 a.m. Tuesday with Rob Ryan and Bryce Douglas. Eichhorn shot a par 72 to Stein’s 74 in that 2016 high school tournament at Oak Crest.
“That will be really fun playing with Hunter,” said Stein, playing in his third UP Golf Association men’s championship. “The UPGA puts on a great event every year.”
Stein, Clements and Markell will join three other former UP champions — Jon Ellis, Joe Quinn and Matt Argall — in competing this week.