(February 28, 2021) - For Alexander Gu a round of miniature golf was the moment he got hooked on the game of golf. Gu was five-years-old and he remembers vividly to this day continuously playing the six-hole course trying to get a better score each time.
"It was just fun to play," says Gu of that memorable round of miniature golf. "To watch the ball just keep going. I just felt like there was an excitement to it. It felt like there was a ton of possibility to it. I really like the element of golf where you are always trying to get better." Fast forward to 2021 and Gu is a freshman on the recently reinstated Dartmouth College golf team and the owner of a stellar junior golf career.
Once Gu discovered the game he quickly became consumed by it playing regularly with his dad Phillip, and older brother Jeff. Five years older, Jeff played in U.S. Kids Golf tournaments and set an example that Gu strived to follow. "Watching him and the work he put into the game. I wanted to put in the same if not more work than he did," said Gu. "It has always been a great sport for me with a lot of family ties."
Those family ties were on full display throughout the summer of 2020. Whenever Gu was competing in a CSGA event, his mom Judy was on hand. Sometimes she was there simply watching, other times she was on the bag caddying and offering advice throughout the round. "She is the reason I show up," Gu said of his mom. "She is everything. She helps me organize, plan [my playing] schedule. She does a lot for me. She has been there for me through the tough times and the great times. To have that kind of support is truly a blessing. To have someone there being supportive is no better feeling."
By age eight Gu followed in his brother's footsteps and began his tournament career. If Gu was a bit unsure at first of what kind of success he would have those thoughts quickly faded away as his scores steadily improved. "I would say that I knew I was getting there when I started playing tournaments and started breaking 40 on 9-holes and 80 on 18-holes," said Gu.
As Gu continued to practice and gain tournament experience his scores continued to fall until he was one of the top junior players in Connecticut. In 2019 he was arguably the next best behind Ben James. First, as a junior at Darien High School, he won the 2019 CIAC High School Open Championship at Black Hall Club in June, a couple of weeks later at the end of the month he won the Connecticut Junior PGA Championship, and with it a spot into the 2019 Boys Junior PGA Championship. The summer was then capped off when Gu committed to Dartmouth College to play golf.
"Winning the CIAC Championship is an important honor to have," said Gu. "To have your name on the trophy, I had a close friend win it the year before and I was bummed I didn’t get it. But to come out and win the next year. Now I can look back at the trophy and it will have my name on it. It is really cool, amazing."
However, for Gu, nothing to date can top his victory at the 2019 Connecticut Junior PGA Championship played at Yale Golf Course. After the first round, Gu was the only player under-par, following a 1-under 69 highlighted by three back-nine birdies. Saddled with sleeping on the lead Gu played a steady final round and although he bogeyed three holes and didn't record a birdie Gu was able to come up with the shot-making he needed to secure the one-stroke victory. 2-over on his round and for the tournament as he stood on the tee of the par-5 16th tee, Gu pipped a drive down the middle of the fairway and then found the green with his second shot. With a chance to take control of the tournament Gu rolled in the eagle putt giving himself enough of a cushion to capture the biggest win of his career to date.
[Winning the Connecticut Junior PGA Championship] got me to where I wanted to be, playing with the top junior players," said Gu. "It got me into the Junior PGA Championship. I played a very solid two days of golf at the Connecticut Junior PGA. I minimized all the mistakes and fought through the second day. I just kept going. It was a good testament to playing with the lead and maintaining the lead."
One month later Gu was competing against the top junior players in the country at the Boys Junior PGA Championship hosted by Keney Park Golf Course in Hartford. Although Gu played steady golf the first two days shooting rounds of 70-72 (+2) he missed the cut but he still walked away feeling more confident about the place his game was heading. "I learned how to control my game under extra pressure. It was something I hadn’t experienced before. [This was] the biggest tournament I had ever played in as a junior and to understand there are 160 players in the field all going low, it can put a lot of stress on your game. I gained first-hand experience and I took home a lot of lessons and I took away expectations going forward to succeed."
The 2020 season marked the final year of Gu's CSGA junior career and he made it count. He started the season by qualifying for the 118th Connecticut Amateur and finished it with a T22 showing in his first Russell C. Palmer Cup. Sandwiched in between was his second run in three years to the semifinals of the Connecticut Junior Amateur, an event that was Gu's favorite each year.
"[Losing] still stings but it gives me motivation going forward. I love that tournament because you never get to play match play," says Gu who lost to the eventual champion both times he reached the semifinals. "It brings a different level of excitement and pressure that isn’t there in stroke play."
In addition to his success at the Connecticut Junior Amateur, Gu was a three-time member of Team Connecticut at the New England Junior Amateur helping the team to back-to-back titles in 2018 at Longmeadow Country Club in Massachusetts and in 2019 on home soil at Mill River Country Club. The 2019 team, which finished 15-under-par, and 17-strokes ahead of second-place Massachusetts was one of the more talented Connecticut teams in recent history with a roster that included Ben James (2019 U.S. Junior Presidents Cup team), Chris Fosdick (2020 Connecticut Amateur champion), Jackson Fretty (sophomore on the Princeton golf team), Matt Doyle (2020 Connecticut Junior Amateur champion), Gu, Gunnar Granito (2019 Connecticut Junior Amateur runner up), and Alex Aurora.
"Playing in the New England Junior Amateur is so much fun. Representing Connecticut and meeting a bunch of the other guys [from New England] and playing the team and individual events. You hang out with the guys your age and hit it off for those three-four days. All the tradition and what the New England Golf Association does. The shirt picking and team dinners. It is something unlike regular golf where it is mostly individual, but this is a team event and to build that bond is just great," said Gu whose goal is to play on the PGA Tour.
The next step in achieving those dreams will eventually come on the golf course as a member of the Dartmouth College golf team. When Gu committed in the summer of 2019 he couldn't have known just how difficult the path to teeing it up for the Big Green would be. Gu was introduced to the Dartmouth campus by 2015 Connecticut Junior Amateur medalist Jason Liu and he immediately fell in love with the campus and town of Hanover, New Hampshire.
"Dartmouth was my first choice. [Jason] brought me up for a visit and I just loved how community-based it is. I come from Darien and it is a very tight-knit community and I think it is very similar at Dartmouth. The education is amazing," said Gu now in the second semester of his freshman year. "I felt like their education program really suited me. The combination of golf, community, and the school just stood out to me over any other college."
As it turns out picking Dartmouth ended up being the easy part. Roughly one year after Gu committed news broke that Dartmouth College was cutting five athletic programs, among them the men's golf team. Despite the news and the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, Gu began his freshman year wondering if he would ever play golf for the Big Green. While Gu, currently undecided but leaning towards an Economics Major, focused on his academics the wheels were spinning behind the scenes and in January it was announced that men's golf and the four other programs that had been cut the previous summer were being reinstated.
"I didn’t even know it was being reinstated," Gu said. "I didn’t really believe it. I was completely shocked. The whole day was just kind of overwhelming, I will finally get the opportunity to play college golf, it is a dream come true. I have to take advantage of that opportunity now."
When Gu will take the course for Dartmouth College is still up in the air as the Ivy League hasn't returned to play since it paused sports last March. However, one thing is certain, when the time comes for Dartmouth to return to the course Alexander Gu will have one more dream come true.