There’s an old adage in sports that says the first championship is the hardest to get.
For the better part of three seasons, Linfield golfer Alex Fitch had been knocking at the door in search of his first tournament win. It wasn’t until this spring’s Northwest Conference Championships at Canyon Lakes Golf Course in eastern Washington that the junior finally broke through.
On a weekend when the ‘Cats took home the team title by a comfortable 16-shot margin, Fitch became the toast of the NWC. Over the two-day tournament, Fitch’s two-under-par 142 edged out his fiercest rival, Pacific’s Max Bonk, by one stroke.
The combination of Fitch’s individual accomplishment and that of his team marked the pinnacle of his three-year career as a Wildcat.
“It was a great experience,” reflects Fitch. “Winning a tournament eluded me all spring but I was able to play well at the right time in the conference tournament. It was icing on the cake to have the team win the conference tournament as well as individually winning a tournament.”
Fitch capped off the win in style, sinking a four-foot putt on the final hole to edge Bonk. With a history of coming in second so many times, Fitch’s championship came on a day when everything seemed to fall in place.
“I had a lot to play for that weekend,” notes Fitch on the heightened pressure of playing in the conference tournament. “I was able to focus pretty well, especially on the second day because you get the feeling of the tournament as the day goes on. Coming down the stretch, I knew what I needed to do on the finishing holes.”
Fitch’s satisfaction was matched by his coach, Greg Copeland.
“I remember thinking Alex would remember this putt for the rest of his life,” notes Copeland. “I was so relieved and proud of him when the putt rolled true. I was also very excited as this was his first college win after so many close finishes in other tournaments.”
As for the reward for Fitch and his team?
The Wildcats receive an all-expenses-paid trip to Greensboro, N.C., for this week’s NCAA Division III Championships. Fitch is just one of two members on this year’s team that competed in the 2009 championships.
“I think it will be really helpful having that experience coming in,” says Fitch. “It won’t just help me out and hopefully I will be able to help out the younger guys that are traveling with us. I hope to let them know what to expect going down there.”
With 40 teams and more than 200 players competing at the national championships, Fitch has lofty, yet obtainable, goals.
“Individually I hope that I go out there and play well,” he says. “I’m not sure where that will get me, but hopefully I land in the top 10. There are over 200 players competing so getting into the top 10 would be a great accomplishment.”
“For the team, our first goal is to have a good time. There is also a second-day cut, which narrows things to the top 15 teams. I feel as if we play like we did last weekend, we could accomplish that.”
With Fitch’s experience and ability to stay poised in pressure situations, Copeland sees Fitch as a legitimate threat to the national competition.
“I expect that Alex will have a great tournament at nationals,” says Copeland, who is in his 10th year at Linfield. “He has played in some big tournaments in his life so he knows what to expect and he won’t be intimidated by the competition.”
Leading Linfield to its third conference championship in four seasons, as well as tallying his own individual title represents accomplishments that have come over a three-year process of constant improvement for Fitch.
Unlike in professional golf, Fitch has the responsibility of focusing on his own individual game, while also having an understanding of where the team is positioned during a given tournament.
Having that balance has molded Fitch into an improving golfer with yet another year of eligibility after the national tournament.
“I think consistency has been my biggest improvement,” says Fitch, who followed the footsteps of his older brother, also an all-conference golfer at Linfield.
“Being able to consistently hit the ball on a day-in day-out basis and always being able to come in with a decent score. You have bad days but being able to manage those bad days has been really important for me.”
“Alex is successful because he really loves to play golf and enjoys working hard on all the different facets of the game,” notes Copeland. “He also never gives up and battles every hole regardless of what has happened on previous holes.”
As the pressure swells on a course in the humid air of North Carolina, Fitch will look to take another step in an already remarkable career.
–Eric Evenson '11
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