CHENEQUA – It would be understandable if Piercen Hunt’s focus Monday and Tuesday was on trying to become only the third three-time WIAA state golf champion, and the first to do it in his junior year.
The “Piercen watch” started when he won the title as a freshman at Hartland Arrowhead High School and intensified when he repeated in 2018, winning a playoff with Adam Garski of Wauwatosa East/West on the second extra hole.
Asked how often he’d heard this season that he’s chasing history, Hunt laughed and said, “It’s climbing. It’s a good thing to hear, don’t get me wrong.”
But he insisted he won’t be playing for individual glory when the two-day WIAA state tournament gets under way Monday at University Ridge Golf Course in Verona.
“It’s still the same goal as it’s been the last two years we’ve been at state,” he said. “It’s going to be focused on the team title.”
The Warhawks won the Division 1 team title in 2017 and finished second to Milwaukee Marquette last year. Hunt would like nothing better than to return to the winner’s circle for close friend Matt Raab, a senior.
“No matter what happens at U Ridge this week we’re going to be playing for Matt,” he said. “The seniors have always been such a big part of this program. They are always captains and they set such good examples for the younger guys on the team. And Matt has been the absolute best at that in the time he’s been in this program.
“Being able to send him out with a state title would be ideal.”
Should Hunt, a left-hander with a polished game, win the individual title again, all the better. It’s something he’s thought about, of course, but the Division 1 field is loaded with talent and he knows he’ll have to play his best golf to hold off challengers who would love to de-throne him.
“I mean, honestly, if someone edges me by a stroke or two … it’s just stuff that happens,” he said. “Golf is a tough game and no one is immune to a bad day. I certainly am not. If the cards fall for someone else then I’m going to happy for them. I know so many of the guys in the field. Every single one of them would be completely deserving of it.
“If I’m not the one with the individual title come Tuesday evening, I’d probably lose a little bit of sleep about it – I’m not going to lie – but I can be happy for them if we have the team title.”
Such maturity from a high school junior is unusual, but Hunt’s background has given him a world view rare for someone his age. Born in Calgary, he played junior golf in Canada before his family moved to the Netherlands, where his game blossomed under the tutelage of Harold Grunberg.
At 12, Hunt already knew he wanted to someday pursue a career as a professional golfer. He sat down with his parents, Paul and Julie, and Grunberg, and together they mapped out a plan that would help him achieve his goals: when to practice, what to practice, how much to play, and how to build it all around school, then and now his No. 1 priority.
“We just kind of outlined what we thought would be the best plan for us,” said Hunt, who speaks fluent French and is conversant in Dutch. “That whole process, we looked at it and we said if I’m committed enough to every one of these steps … I love playing and I love competing. As long as those are always given, if you put the work in you can go a really long way in the game.”
His maturity has shown up on the golf course, too. After winning the WIAA individual title last year, Hunt was not satisfied with his left-to-right ball flight (a draw for a lefty) and set about changing his swing with the help of current instructor John Bauer Jr.
“I played a draw my freshman and sophomore years,” Hunt said. “After the state tournament last year – granted I won, but I missed too many shots in bad spots. I looked at the way I was hitting the ball through my whole bag and we looked at just what it might be like to change my flight.”
Hunt now predominantly hits a right-to-left fade, though he can still draw the ball when the situation calls for that shot shape. The fade has helped him hit more fairways and he has not lost any distance. He’s longer off the tee than just about everybody he’s paired with at the high school level.
“I hit it quite a long way compared to the rest of the guys in high school golf in Wisconsin, so that’s given me a bit of an advantage,” he said. “If you can have a club or two less into a par 5, or a 56-degree wedge instead of a pitching wedge into a par 4 … that can be the difference between a couple shots at the end of the round.
“With my extra length, through the winter one of my biggest focuses was narrowing my dispersion with my driver and hitting more fairways. My driving stats have been the best that I’ve seen them in a really long time. I’ve been really happy with the way my game is progressing.”
Hunt has committed to the University of Illinois, where he plans to earn his degree as a fallback, in case professional golf doesn’t pan out. As important as the game is to him, he knows an injury or waning passion could alter his plans. He’s always been a good student.
“School is the biggest priority in my life,” he said. “I understand that without a good education, I wouldn’t have been able to play college golf and without that opportunity I wouldn’t be able to reach my goals and dreams.”
Illinois is still two years away. In the meantime, Hunt will lead Arrowhead’s bid for a team title this year and next, buoyed by the confidence that comes with being a two-time individual champion.
“It is kind of special to think back to those moments,” he said. “It’s going to be stuff that come Monday and Tuesday I’m going to draw from to boost my confidence because I’ve played the course really well and I have no doubt that I can play it even better.
“But like I was saying, it’s a tough game and literally anything can happen. We’re going to stick to what we trust and hopefully it falls Arrowhead’s way.”