Photo By Hillary Ehlen
Van Holmgren might be the first to tell you that he did not belong in Division I college golf. While his prep career at Wayzata High School was extremely impressive, including an individual and team state title, he was not heavily pursued by Division I schools. Lucky for him, he had a connection in his brother Will, who was playing at North Dakota State at that time.
Holmgren decided to follow in his brother’s footsteps and attend NDSU. He also planned to walk on for Steve Kennedy and the men’s golf program. Needless to say, those decisions have turned out pretty good for Van Holmgren.
In his freshman season, Holmgren competed in all 11 of NDSU’s tournaments. By season’s end, he was named the Summit League Newcomer of the Year and was second on the team and sixth in the conference in stroke average. He also compiled five top-10 finishes and the Bison won a Summit League Conference title. Not bad for a walk-on, eh? Holmgren was quick to point out that he really had nothing to lose coming into the program last season.
“Coming in as a walk-on freshman year, I kind of had no worry about failing because I couldn’t do worse than where I was at. When you look up and see what you can do, it’s easy to complete those goals with no pressure. Trying to build to off success in golf is that there is always something more that you can do,” he said. “If you shoot 70, you can shoot 69 the next time. It’s one of those deals where you monitor your highs and lows. So when you play horribly, you don’t go breaking your club, you want to, but you don’t. You just manage how high you get and how low you get. Having that level balance makes it fairly easy to keep repeating it.”
Part of coming to NDSU had to do with his brother being here and his familiarity with the program. However, Van notes how much he has learned from his brother on the golf course. “I came in and I knew the social atmosphere I was getting myself into. That made things a lot easier because I knew it was a family, I knew most of the players already so it was easy to gel with the tea,” he said. “My whole life, I’ve seen him make some mistakes and I have come into very similar scenarios and I know what he may have screwed up on, so I try to make a change and do it a little different, maybe tweak a few things. I also see all the good things he has done and I’ll repeat those. It’s nice to know the challenges that he has faced and how to deal with those.”
In just his sophomore season, Holmgren has established himself as one of the conference’s best golfers. In the spring schedule, he has been named Summit League Golfer of the Week twice. He has also only finished outside of the top-25 once this season for the Bison. This includes five top-10 finishes including a runner-up result at the Colin Montgomerie Invitational in late February. Currently, Holmgren has the roster’s best stroke average. His 72.4 mark is also second best in the Summit League. He was named to the All-Summit League First Team for his performance this season.
With teams now chasing the Bison for conference supremacy, head coach Steve Kennedy has loaded up on young talent to keep NDSU stocked for years to come. With only two seniors on the roster this season, Holmgren continues to be excited about where this program will go.
“Obviously, our talent is growing and our leadership that Will [Holmgren] and Dax [Wallat] have set is contagious and the team has caught on in how to build people. We want to beat each other, but when we’re competing, it’s about building each other up so we all can succeed,” he said. “We’re ecstatic because we have the talent, but the team atmosphere is why we’re succeeding. It’s not talent, it’s the long bus rides, the traveling and we’re having fun while we do it.”
Surely there are things Holmgren needs to improve upon in his two years left in the program. In his view, it’s about staying competitive after a long day on the course. The casual viewer or fan may not know what a collegiate golfer goes through during a 54-hole tournament. However, Holmgren gives as accurate summation as any.
“Golf is not the most physically challenging sport, but after playing the 36-hole days, after playing nine hours of golf, you still have the last six holes that matter. Having the endurance and the mental stability to compete for 10 hours in one single day is excruciating. Those last few holes, I need to work on completing my second round,” he said. “They give us an old turkey sandwich with like two pieces of turkey and you’re expected to compete for 10 hours and that’s very tough. It’s not acute strength like in other sports where you have explosive plays. Mentally, you’re in a jungle for x amount of time and I need to be able to compete for 10 hours a day.”
As Van Holmgren references, he had nowhere to go but up when he decided to continue golfing in college. For North Dakota State and their men’s golf program, they have to feel good about scoring Holmgren as a walk-on. He has only improved as time has gone on and with two years left on campus, there is no reason to believe he won’t be the conference’s top golfer in the near future.