As the fall golf season concluded, the Thunder men’s team ended up 10th out of 11 teams at Lewis University’s Flyer Intercollegiate Event on Oct. 4. But, amidst a rocky fall season, sophomore Jonah Swartz emerged as one of the team’s rising stars.
At the CCIW Preview meet on Sept. 21, Swartz led the squad with a final stroke count of 73 over 18 holes, landing eighth place and propelling the Thunder to sixth place overall. The previous weekend, Swartz led the Thunder by securing a second place finish at the Clark University Fall Classic. The weekend before that, he tallied a team-high total of 149 at the end of Carthage College’s Firebird Fall Classic, placing in the top 30 for individuals.
Swartz’s skill on the links has been evident since his freshman year, when he finished in second place at the Elmhurst Fall Invitational, third at Olivet Nazarene’s “Tiger Intercollegiate” event, and achieved an average stroke count of 76.
Swartz, who is from Rapid City, South Dakota, says his success in the first year and a half of his collegiate career has been exciting but that he’s trying not to dwell on it. “[It’s] definitely encouraging,” he said, “but at the same time I try not to focus on it that much. I try to focus on my objectives, on what I want to get better at.”
In addition to his on-field leadership, Jonah is known for his positive and authentic presence on the squad.
“Every time I see Jonah, he has the biggest smile on his face, which makes my day,” said freshman Lance Otremba. “He truly cares about me as a person and as a teammate.”
Head coach Paul Craig commended Swartz for his time management skills as he balances golf and a pre-med curriculum, especially considering the amount of class time the team misses in the fall season.
Craig also praised Swartz’s versatility as a player. “He’s got an exceptional short game. He is probably the best putter on the team. He can drive the ball well. He can do a lot of things very well.”
Swartz sets high standards for himself on the course. As part of his strategy, if Swartz makes par for a hole — the number of strokes that a seasoned player would typically shoot for — he tries to make it his worst score of the game.
In the end, however, he says he knows that golf is a game meant to be enjoyed.
“Mainly, I just want to have fun with it. There are days when you won’t be playing well. You have to try and have fun and enjoy yourself in those moments.”
Aside from serving as a fun activity, Swartz views golf as a great way to spend time outside in nature. Golf also offers Swartz an escape from the heavy college workload.
“Put school away for a little bit,” he said. “It’s important to not get too wrapped up in work.”
Swartz grew up playing golf in Rapid City after his father introduced the sport to him at three years old. Since then, Swartz’s father has been his primary coach. Swartz’s peers say that he beat his dad in golf before fourth grade. Are the rumors true?
“I wish,” Swartz said with a grin.
On the golf team at his public high school, Swartz was a varsity starter all four years and a two-time runner-up in the State Championships. He was voted MVP of the team multiple times and twice won All-State tournament team recognition.
When he’s not with his dad on the links, Swartz has more than held his own against top-tier players, once beating the number one golfer at the University of Missouri during the South Dakota Match Play Tournament.
Despite golf’s reputation as a peaceful, refined sport, keeping cool and collected often poses a struggle for players during competition. Remaining calm on the course is crucial for Swartz.
“Golf is definitely a frustrating sport,” he said. “I have high expectations for myself, so it is easy to get down and get upset about yourself. In those moments, you have to step back.”
While players have difficulty demonstrating self-control at times, Swartz emphasizes the impact of faith in how he plays the game.
“It is a great opportunity to represent Christ in the way you hold yourself on the golf course,” said Swartz. “Not getting angry. The way you react after your shots. The way you behave on the course and with the people you are playing with. I think it is a good way to be a light for Christ.”
Swartz and the Thunder men’s golf team will resume competitive play in the spring.