Hunter York’s three rounds of golf at the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament last month not only served as a nice comeback story, but a metaphor for his senior season.
The guy who had to play himself back into the SIU lineup after a disastrous fall – “I came back here and it was like I literally forgot how to play,” he said – opened the tournament with an unsightly 80.
Then followed a 72 as the Salukis battled within a stroke of Illinois State going into the third round. And then, with an NCAA Tournament berth at stake as the teams played in the same final groupings, York carded a 4-under par 68, bagging five birdies on the back nine.
The 1-stroke deficit morphed into a 10-shot win over the Redbirds. York’s progression from potential afterthought to hero was complete.
“It was amazing how nerve-racking it was,” York said of the final 18 holes. “It was basically match play against the Illinois State guys. And it was amazing to watch my guy crumble. I always thought winning a state title was a big deal, but this was much bigger.”
Now comes a bigger moment for York and SIU – the first round of its NCAA regional Monday at the University of Louisville’s course. Few think the Salukis will mount a charge in the 13-team event. The NCAA seeded them 13th.
York says that SIU is ready to surprise some experts.
“We’re excited not only to be there, but to perform,” he said. “We’re trending in the right direction. We have really great players on our team. We can compete with anybody on any given day.”
Part of the reason is York, who came into the Saluki program fresh off a huge year at John A. Logan. He won four tournaments, including a Division I event hosted by UT Martin where he finished at 6-under par.
SIU wasn’t the only program hot on York’s trail. Had things turned out a little differently, York could have played that final round last month for Illinois State. His uncle played for the Redbirds, and expressed his desire for York to follow in his cleats.
“It came down to referrals, pointing me to (Saluki coach Justin) Fetcho,” York said. “I felt like I had a better chance to become a better player if I came here.”
So York arrived at SIU and became a fixture in last year’s lineup. The 6-foot-5, 200-pound York played in all 11 tournaments, averaging 75.8 strokes per round and recording three top 10 finishes. He tied for seventh at the Kingsmill (Va.) Invitational, firing a final round 69 to finish at 215.
After a solid summer, York returned to campus and floundered. He shot 76-71-74 for three rounds during an early October tournament at Notre Dame, the only fall tourney he played.
“It was tough, and weird because I’ve always been a starter,” he said. “It was a really humbling experience and it definitely made me better. I really had to go back to the basics. I had shot myself off the team.”
Golf does that to everyone, whether your name is Hunter York, Tiger Woods or Jordan Spieth. Eventually, York found his summer form. He returned to the lineup during the spring and broke out in April in a tournament at Missouri, carding a career-low 65 in the second round.
York’s redemption became complete a couple of weeks later, giving him the ultimate reward for his struggles during the fall.
“That’s funny, I haven’t thought of it that way,” he said when queried if the MVC tourney was his season in microcosm. “But that’s exactly how it went. It sums it up perfectly.”