Pfingstens lead Vikings to first-ever men’s golf title

NATIONAL CHAMPIONS — Members of Grand View University’s first-ever NAIA national men’s golf championship are (l-r): Mitch Pfingsten, Devon Woody, Drew Slings, Hunter Van Veen and Myles Pfingsten. Fairmont alums Myles Pfingsten and Mitch Pfingsten had the team’s lowest scores with a 292 and 295, respectively. (Photo courtesy of Grand View University)

FAIRMONT — Before the 2016-2017 season, Myles Pfingsten asked Mitch Pfingsten to live with him. Being that it was Myles’ final year at Grand View University and both were on the golf team, Mitch happily accepted his older brother’s offer.

This, in turn, made it easier for the two to be able to practice golf together.

“Every time I was out practicing, he’d feel obligated to come out, and if he was practicing, I’d feel the same way. So, we definitely push each other to get better,” Mitch said. “He’s been so solid the past couple of years that I knew I wanted to try and catch up a little bit. I think this year, I definitely did that.”

The practice helped to prepare the brothers for the NAIA Preview tournament during the fall. The Vikings ended up winning the tournament, which would pay off in the long run.

“That (preview) gave us some confidence going into the (NAIA) tournament knowing that we had won and played in that venue before,” Myles said.

Seven months later, the team was back in Silvis, Illinois for the NAIA National Championship.

The Vikings survived cuts during the first two days of the tournament and found themselves 13 strokes behind Cardinal Stritch for second place after three rounds.

On the final day, the weather was overcast, rainy and windy. Ordinarily, these conditions would be a golfer’s worst nightmare. On the contrary, the Pfingstens and their team were used to inclement weather, which Myles said, “played into our hands.”

“We knew we had an advantage over some of the southern teams that aren’t used to the cold and those types of conditions that we’re more comfortable in. That played a big factor into it,” Mitch said. “We have a bunch of guys who are grinders, I guess you can say. They relish in those opportunities when everyone else doesn’t want to play.”

They were right. The Vikings turned their deficit into a 1,197-1,202 win over Cardinal Stritch for the Vikings’ first-ever program national championship on May 19.

“We kind of chipped away and found ourselves in a position to win. I wouldn’t say that we didn’t expect it, but to be in second going into the last day, we knew we had a chance and so we capitalized on the opportunity,” Mitch said. “Going out on top is always a great feeling.”

Myles Pfingsten finished the four-day tournament with a third-best score of 292 and Mitch was sixth with a 295.

Hunter Van Veen placed 23rd with a 304, while Devon Woody (308) and Drew Slings (319) chipped in counting scores as the Vikings added a historic first-place NAIA ranking, jumping 17 spots in the poll, to close out the season.

Myles and Mitch Pfingsten also made the championship NAIA All-Tournament Team as top 15 finishers.

“It was a pretty special deal, especially having my little brother on the team. … I couldn’t have dreamed up a better way to go out. It feels surreal,” said Myles, who is a senior.

Although winning a national championship was a new experience for all involved, including Vikings head coach and NAIA Coach of the Year Chris Winkel, Myles and Mitch weren’t strangers to big moments.

While at Fairmont, Mitch Pfingsten qualified for the state tournament as a seventh, eighth, ninth and 12th grader, while Myles advanced to state his freshman, sophomore and junior years.

“Obviously in high school, going to state was a big deal, so that prepared me for my college career,” Mitch said. “You kind of get used to the nerves and definitely playing state tournaments prepares you.”

“I was fortunate to experience early success in high school. It’s a product of having good coaches, mentors and teammates along the way,” Myles added. “Success breeds success.”

For Mitch, the title was also a way of honoring his head coach. He said Winkel has had All-Americans come through the program before, but never an official championship.

“He’s taken a bunch of small-town kids that are talented … molded them and shaped them into high-quality players that can compete for a national championship,” he said about Winkel. “He does such a good job of developing his players. That’s kind of a cornerstone of our program.”

With Myles graduating, Grand View men’s golf will only have one Pfingsten back next year.

Mitch admitted that it’ll be a little different not having Myles there, especially considering that they are the Vikings’ 1 and 2 players.

“After the round, he’s somebody to talk to, and before the round, he’s always there to give me some pointers and tips, just to stay level-headed and things like that,” Mitch said.

Although they won’t be able to play together collegiately, Myles said the two will still get their rounds in.

The elder Pfingsten currently lives in Des Moines where he sells insurance, but plans to move back to Minnesota soon and compete in amateur events.

“There’s still time for me and my brother to compete together,” he said.