Steve Bailey tries to curb expectations for incoming freshmen — especially for someone such as Hunter Eichhorn, a relative unknown out of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula until he started lighting up the Wisconsin PGA Junior Tour to the tune of back-to-back player-of-the-year honors.
But the Marquette University men’s golf coach knew he had something special in Eichhorn even before the Carney, Michigan, native walked into the program last week and led qualifying for the season-opening Badger Invitational, which begins Sunday at University Ridge GC in Madison.
The freshman will play the No. 1 spot for a veteran Golden Eagles squad coming off its second Big East Conference in three years. He joins juniors Oliver Farrell and Austin Kendziorski and sophomores Matt Murlick and Matthew Bachman in Marquette’s top five, while senior Garrett Loomis, junior Charlie Maleki and sophomore Ferdinand Müller will compete as individuals.
“He’s pretty special,” Bailey said of Eichhorn, who joins four golfers in the Golden Eagles’ lineup that logged 124 rounds in 2016-17. “The things I’ve seen out of him so far, just little things. He’s very, very driven. He’s quiet. He just goes out and he does his thing. That’s all he knows.”
Indeed, Eichhorn was unstoppable on the WPGA Junior Tour this summer. He won five of the six junior golf tournaments he entered -- including the Wisconsin State Golf Association State Junior -- and tied for 10th at the Wisconsin State Amateur Championship at Oconomowoc GC.
Eichhorn, who won 20 tournaments on the WPGA Junior Tour over the last four years (one with a career-low 62 in 2015), averaged 70.75 in eight rounds on the Junior Tour this past summer. At the WSGA Junior, Eichhorn shot 69-69-71 and, in winning by four shots at 4-under 209, was the only golfer of the 90 who made the cut to finish the 54-hole event in red numbers.
“One thing I really look for in junior players is ability to win and close out events,” Bailey said. “You just look back on his career -- and I don’t care what level you play on -- there is something to be said for coming down the stretch and being able to close things out.”
Of course, Eichhorn joins a program that wrote the book on that topic in 2016-17.
Marquette erased a 17-stroke deficit on the final day and edged Seton Hall by one stroke after freshman Matthew Bachmann made a scrambling bogey on the final hole after leaving his approach shot in an awkward lie in a greenside bunker. Bachmann (73-71-72) escaped with a two-stroke victory over three golfers to become the Golden Eagles’ third Big East champion.
At the same time, the Golden Eagles learned another valuable lesson at the NCAA Washington Regional. They shot a 291 in the first round and were four shots out of the top five -- the cutoff for an NCAA Championship berth -- only to finish 308-300 and drop into a tie for 13th place.
“After playing in a couple regionals and some of the (high-profile) events we’ve played in, our guys aren’t in awe of anyone,” Bailey said. “I think they’ve understood we put our socks and shoes on just like the other guys do. It’s a matter of being more consistent. … When we play well, it’s as good as anyone. … We need to be more consistent in what we’re doing. Those rough days, we have to be able to manage them -- take that 78 and turn it into a 74.”
Bailey doesn’t think that will be a problem with this year’s team. He extols the work ethic of Farrell, who the coach says continues to set a high bar in that area, and talks with pride about the improvement of Kendziorski, inserted in the lineup for the NCAA Regional after sitting out the Big East Championship and was Marquette’s second-best finisher in Washington.
“The importance of every shot, our guys really know (it),” Bailey said. “You can even look at the Big East Championship. If we even give away one shot there, it’s a different story. I continue to talk about that to our guys. You were 17 shots down. To be able to come back and do what they did, you say it’s a new year -- and it is -- but you have to always grab hold of moments like that and really savor them and know that I’m never out of it. I’ve got to keep plugging away.
“We use that word grit quite a bit. When things get tough, you’re playing for something bigger than yourself. You don’t have time to pout and hang your head and feel sorry for yourself. Do it for the logo that’s on your chest there and those guys working for you each and every day.”