By Paul Costanzo
Special for Second Half
The middle and ring fingers join the thumbs in making a heart, or at least most of the popular heart hand gesture.
The forefinger and pinky, however, are showing off their wild side, pointed up as if to say, “Rock on.”
To most, it’s meaningless finger gymnastics. To the Fenton girls golf team, however, it’s the symbol for their team motto: Grind.
“It kind of calms us down in a way,” Fenton senior Molly Gundry said. “If you’re having a really stressful round and you see someone else from the team and they give you the grind symbol, it reminds you to settle down, because this isn’t just for yourself, it’s for the team.”
Whether it’s through grinding out holes or simply making shots, the Tigers are off to quite a start this fall. They’ve shot a school-record nine-hole score (163) twice.
They’ve won the Genesee County Tournament, and find themselves ranked No. 9 in the Division 2 Michigan Interscholastic Golf Coaches Association Lower Peninsula rankings.
“I think that last year we kind of had a good idea that we were OK,” senior Margaret Berry said. “Coming into this year, we knew we had to put in a lot of work to be as good as we wanted to be. But I think last year, we knew since we weren’t graduating any seniors, that this was kind of our year.”
Fenton placed ninth in the MHSAA LP Division 2 Finals a year ago at The Meadows on the campus of Grand Valley State University. Four of the girls who played there – Gundry, Berry, senior Keegan Miller and junior Lily Horning – are back this season, as is Horning’s classmate, Angela Hanners. Freshman Brooke Herbstreit, the daughter of veteran coach Kurt Herbstreit, has joined the team this season and found herself among the scorers often, making the Tigers even deeper.
“Going into freshman year we had (Gundry, Miller and Berry), and we were all pretty good for freshmen,” Gundry said. “I knew that by the time we were seniors, we were going to have a pretty good team -- especially during our junior year, we realized that next year could be really good.”
The team’s goal is stated explicitly on its Facebook page under the “Mission” heading: “Win the Metro League and go to states.” While it’s a goal the Tigers target every season, this year it feels as attainable as in any other. The team has set an even greater goal of finishing top-five at the Finals, matching or even besting Fenton’s best finishes (fifth, twice, most recently in 2013).
“If we all play our absolute best, I think we could have a chance,” Berry said. “I’m not sure if we could finish first, but maybe in the top two or three.”
Of course, to even get there, the Tigers will need to place in the top three of a loaded Regional. Fortunately for them, the tournament will be played at Fenton Farms Golf Course, which isn’t their home course (that’s Tyrone Hills) but is awfully familiar.
“I was always looking forward to this year,” Kurt Herbstreit said. “That’s one of the reasons we put in to host the Regional. Our Regional is extremely tough -- it’s a really tough region. Four of the top 10 teams that are ranked right now are in our region, and there’s a fifth one that could probably be in the top 10. So that’s five teams who are deserving to go to state, and only three are going to go. We all know it, so there’s going to be a lot of nerves on Oct. 11 for our Regional, because we know it’s stacked.”
With his team aiming to get back to the Finals and playing well there, Herbstreit has had to work on keeping his golfers focused throughout the season. With a veteran group that’s close on and off the course, however, that hasn’t been difficult.
“Golf is so individual, especially during the summer, so the girls really look forward to coming together as a team,” Kurt Herbstreit said. “As I’ve done this for 11 years, the thing I tried to focus on is making it a team, making it a family. They get along really well, and we try to have them be competitive, but yet still be teammates. They’ll get together for fun rounds and things like that.”
When the big tournaments do get here, the Tigers know they have the talent to do well, and even if things aren’t going well, it will only take one hand gesture from a teammate to remind them of what they need to do.
“One bad hole can end up making your round or breaking your round,” Gundry said. “We just need to think about grinding it out.”
Paul Costanzo served as a sportswriter at The Port Huron Times Herald from 2006-15, including three years as lead sportswriter, and prior to that as sports editor at the Hillsdale Daily News from 2005-06. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org with story ideas for Genesee, Lapeer, St. Clair, Sanilac, Huron, Tuscola, Saginaw, Bay, Arenac, Midland and Gladwin counties.
PHOTOS: (Top) From left, Fenton's Keegan Miller, Brooke Herbstreit, Margaret Berry, Molly Gundry and Lily Horning hold up their trophy after winning the Genesee County championship this month. (Middle) Miller watches one of her shots during last season's LP Division 2 Final, where the Tigers finished ninth. (Top photo courtesy of Fenton girls golf, bottom by HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)