Golfer fights his way into Gophers’ lineup

by Sarah Mitchell

Minnesota men’s golf coach John Means calls Dave Gunderson golf’s version of Rudy.
Means is referring to the Notre Dame football player from the ’70s who eventually played, albeit for under a minute, for the Fighting Irish.
Like the football player, a try and try-again attitude finally earned Gunderson a spot on Minnesota’s team.
As a freshman nearly four years ago, Gunderson missed the cut at team tryouts. Still he made his presence known to Means.
“We used to hang out in BW3’s all the time after practice on Friday and eat wings, hoot and holler and play that video trivia game,” Means said. “It seemed like every time we were in BW3’s, Dave Gunderson was in there, too.”
Gunderson started a routine. He would introduce himself to Means and leave the coach with a prediction.
“He’d always say, ‘One day I’m going to play for you,'” Means said. “I hear stuff like that all the time from people, but usually they’re just blowing smoke. Dave knew what he wanted.”
Gunderson worked on his game that year and tried out again the following summer — and missed again.
The idea of Gunderson making Minnesota’s roster was kind of farfetched, after all. A Stillwater High School graduate, Gunderson never even garnered all-state honors.
But Gunderson was still a standout to Stillwater coach Gary Howe.
“He had that competitiveness to excel,” Howe said. “I think playing golf for a Division I school was his ultimate goal in choosing to go to Minnesota … He just played, played, played. Some of these kids are social golfers and they’re not tested like David was.”
Gunderson tested himself repeatedly for the Gophers. His third tryout proved to be lucky.
In the summer of 1998, Gunderson made the Minnesota roster and his first season slowly got under way.
“This weekend last year, Dave played as an extra in a tournament in Dallas. I felt he played well,” Means said. “He shot about 75. When he got in, he saw that (Minnesota golfer James McLean) had shot 16-under-par to win the tournament and beat him by 25. It was a wake-up call. Dave worked even harder.”
This year the senior — who had dreams of playing hockey out of high school — is the team’s No. 3 golfer.
It’s about time.
“It’s been fun,” Gunderson said. “Coach Means and I have talked, and he said he feels like I’m still on the up and up.”
Gunderson has been with the team every swing of the way this season, starting with its opening tournament at the NCAA preview in September.
The preview was an awing experience for Gunderson and all of Minnesota’s new golfers since they were competing against the NCAA’s best.
It didn’t take long, however, for Gunderson to settle down.
“You realize you can play with them,” Gunderson said. “I’m not so nervous on the course anymore. I matured this year.”
It hasn’t all been a dream run for Gunderson. After carding an opening round 73 at the NCAA Puerto Rico Challenge on Feb. 25, Gunderson was forced to withdraw from the tournament.
While goofing around with teammates in the ocean, Gunderson hurt his right ankle. Doctors at the tournament believed it was a broken ankle. They even put it in a cast.
While it turned out to be a sprain, Means counted Gunderson out for the March 10 Golf Digest Invitational in Las Vegas.
“You talk about a guy who was mentally hurt because he stepped in a hole of sand and because of that it looked like his career was over,” Means said. “I looked at the course in Las Vegas and thought there’s no way he was going to be able to play that.”
He did.
While the team tied for second, Gunderson tied for 14th with a three-day total of 212.
“The injury was actually good because it took my mind off the game,” Gunderson said.
Maybe that’s just how mental the sport of golf is. While Gunderson did not have the scores or accolades, he did have the perseverance to stick with his game.
“Now I look at the course and I feel like I can play with anybody. It’s not being cocky, it’s just the attitude that you have to have,” Gunderson said. “I’m just living it up right now.”

Sarah Mitchell covers golf and welcomes comments at [email protected].