As with every event, Michigan State men’s golf hopes to finish top of the standings this week.
This tournament comes with a twist, however. Because the Spartans, and every other school in the 18-team group, are playing for more than themselves.
MSU is in seventh place after Monday’s first round of the inaugural Folds of Honor Collegiate at American Dunes Golf Club in Grand Haven. Proceeds from the tournament, which continues Tuesday and concludes Wednesday, will benefit the Folds of Honor organization as well as the Golf Coaches Association of America scholarship fund.
This is an effort that has been underway for over a year.
“About More Than Us”
MSU coach Casey Lubahn considers American Dunes club pro Ian Ziska one of his closest friends. During one of the duo’s many conversations, it hit them: they should host a college tournament on Ziska’s course. But they wanted to make the event special.
So Lubahn called Lt. Col. Dan Rooney, who founded Folds of Honor, a nonprofit that helps families of fallen or disabled service members, as well as first responders, with educational opportunities. The day after former Spartan golfer James Piot won the US Amateur in August 2021Lubahn flew to Tulsa, Oklahoma to meet Rooney in person.
“When you meet him, you see what a visionary he is,” Lubahn said. “We sat there for three, four hours, brainstorming how we could make this great and do something different than what we do in college golf.”
At the highest level of college golf, Lubahn said, hosting a tournament comes with a simple mindset. Find the best possible course, invite as many top teams as possible, and ensure players receive great gifts and fine cuisine.
“This event is to raise funds for Folds of Honor, highlighting the awareness of something that is part of American society,” Lubahn said. “These heroes were killed or disabled on the front lines, and now they are honoring first responders as well. We want college golf, for this week at least, not to be just about us.”
The military is close to Lubahn’s heart, instilled from an early age.
Hanging in the living room of his house is an American flag that his grandfather brought home after serving in World War II – a flag featuring 48 stars. No matter where Lubahn goes in the future, this flag will always have pride of place in his living room. Lubhn’s father also served; he was “a very proud veteran” of Vietnam, Lubahn said.
Slowly, over time, her father shared stories of her time abroad.
“As you walk through the American Dunes memorial, you can read people’s stories,” he said. “These are real humans who made the ultimate sacrifice.”
For Lubhn, his passion for the military made Michigan State “a natural choice” to serve as host of this week’s tournament.
“It’s very important to the Folds of Honor organization. It’s obviously very important to Michigan State golf and the GCAA,” Lubahn said. “We hope that ultimately it will become a staple for West Michigan and for our schedule.”
One of the Spartans’ best players this season, fifth-year senior Troy Taylor II also has ties to the military. Her aunt served. So did his grandfather, who worked at Wright Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio. There he was part of the engineering team that helped develop the F-15 fighter jet.
“Playing for soldiers who protected this country and gave us our freedom means a lot to play for something much bigger than yourself and your university,” Taylor said. “We pay our respect.”
“It’s just the norm, unfortunately”
The military tie isn’t the only reason this week holds extra significance for Taylor. The field features two HBCU teams, Texas Southern and Virginia Union, a nod to the fact that 41% of Honor Fold recipients are minorities.
Taylor, whose father, Troy Taylor Sr., played basketball at Ohio State in the 1980s, is one of the few black golfers in a Power 5 school.
He hopes to be an inspiration to others.
“I want young kids on social media to know that they can go to an HBCU school and be productive, or go to a Power 5 school and play there as well,” Taylor said. “I want to open doors and make other younger minorities maybe want to choose a club.”
Ever since he started playing golf, Taylor has lost count of the number of times he’s been the only minority in any given tournament. It hasn’t gotten any easier with time.
“It’s just the norm, unfortunately,” he said. “It’s not new. It’s not hard to overcome. I’m using it as a chip on my shoulder, really, not just to represent myself and MSU well, but to represent minority golf and African-American golfers. Americans as best I can.”
That’s why one of his main goals this week is to cultivate more relationships with players on the Texas Southern and Virginia Union rosters.
“I still like to talk. It’s one thing I still do,” Taylor said. “I never want to try to act like I’m better than anybody else. I want to go say hello to them, because I understand that most of the time when they’re not at their college events , when they go to other tournaments, they are normally the only African Americans.”
On the course, Taylor isn’t sure he’s ever played better for a long stretch. His results bear this out.
Last summer, he qualified for the US Amateur. He won the Columbus District Golf Association Amateur in Ohio. He then finished second to the Ohio Amateur. And he was the small amateur in the John Shippen National Invitational, tied for fifth at the Detroit Golf Club in June.
He has returned to East Lansing with confidence for the upcoming season.
“It gave me a lot of momentum, knowing that I can do things that I want to do and achieve my goals,” he said. “Going into my final year here, I wanted to leave doing something special. For me, it’s us winning the Big Ten championship. For me, it’s trying to hold myself accountable for whatever I can. do to help our team. If I play my best golf and work as hard as I can, I’m doing my part.”
Lubahn noticed Taylor’s growth. Compared to last year, Taylor’s level of maturity “is off the charts”. In the past, Taylor’s emotions swung wildly from one end of the spectrum to the other. Now it’s gotten better at staying stable no matter how the ball bounces.
“He looks like a fifth-year senior leader, and I’m so proud of him, because it hasn’t been easy,” Lubahn said.
“Next Stage of Development” for MSU Men’s Golf
Under Lubahn’s leadership, the Spartans have become a fixture in NCAA regional championships, winning bids five of the past six seasons. Due to the support of generous donors and support from the athletics department, Lubahn said the men’s golf program is “in a special place.” Piot winning the US Amateur brought attention to the program.
But Lubhn is not satisfied.
Partly for this reason he wanted to host the Folds of Honor Collegiate.
“We’re pushing even further,” he said, “and that’s what we’re doing with this event. It’s the next step in the development of men’s golf in Michigan State.”
They have a head start on the future of the tournament – Lubahn said invitations have already been sent out for the 2023 edition.
Now he only has to pass this week.
“The first year is always the hardest, so once this is over,” he said, “I think you’ll be fine.”
VSContact Ryan Black at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @RyanABlack.