Written by Student Assistant Christian Bond
TACOMA, Wash. - The Northwest Conference Champion Pacific Lutheran University men's golf team returns to the NCAA Division III Championships for the first time since 2014, heading to the Mission Inn Resort & Club in Honey-in-the-Hills, Florida for the four-day event.
The Lutes are one of 42 teams competing at the event, beginning on May 16 and going through May 19. The 215 participants will all golf two rounds before the field gets trimmed to just 18 teams and the top six individuals on team's not making the cut. PLU earned a spot in the Championships as one of 33 Pool A berths, securing the bid after winning the NWC title. This is PLU's third appearance at Nationals, previously competing in 2001 and 2014. The Lutes' best finish was 2001, finishing 20th while placing 21st in 2014.
Mitchell Baldridge has led the Lutes throughout the entire season. Baldridge earned Northwest Conference Player of the Year after having a fantastic NWC Tournament, shooting a 147 in two rounds back on April 22-23 at the Tacoma Country & Golf Club. He found himself in a playoff with Sam Stiles of Whitworth University at the end of the NWC Tournament, but won the playoff hole to take home medalist honors.
"This accomplishment means a lot to me because going into the conference championship the last two years I was ranked as one of the best players but I could never seal the deal," Baldridge said. "It was a grind in the conference championship, my game was not perfect but I was able to get the job done. I stayed focused and never gave up, I knew what was on the line, not only for me but also for the team."
For Baldridge, the success should hardly come as a surprise. Admittedly, his golf career got off to a slow start at Puyallup High School. He started playing golf in the summer after eighth grade, and barely made the junior varsity team his freshman year.
Baldridge worked hard to improve his game. He was a part of conference championship teams as a sophomore and junior. He became a team captain, and would go on to become the team's MVP his senior year. Baldridge made the state championship tournament, finishing second in state.
Now a junior at PLU, Baldridge is at the top of his game. Outside of golf and his academic studies, Baldridge says that he doesn't have time for other activities. Maybe he'd like to keep it that way, stating that he practices with some other teammates on their off days. All the repetition and past success helps Baldridge make the plays he needs to.
"The mental side of golf is definitely the toughest part of the sport for most players," Baldridge said. "I feel like my mental game is rather strong through repetition and constantly challenging it and trying to overcome the obstacles the mental game brings along. I have always loved the feeling of pressure. The pressure makes me so serious and so concentrated that sometimes I walk past people without even realizing they are there."
Baldridge and his teammates are looking forward to the experience that the National Tournament will be.
"There is more stress to play good because we know how big of an event it is and we know how much competition there is," Baldridge said. "There is also less stress because we accomplished one of our biggest goals since I have been on the team with us reaching nationals. We will be in Florida traveling with all of our best friends and a few of them for the last time so I think we are going to try and soak everything in and have a good time."