Bialik gets third and final chance in Junior State Amateur

Zack Bialik, a 2013 Manistee Catholic Central graduate, will play in the 35th Michigan Junior State Amateur next week. (Matt Wenzel/News Advocate file photo)

Zack Bialik hasn’t played in a tournament since the Division 4 state finals more than a month ago.

It’s a break the 2013 Manistee Catholic Central graduate isn’t accustomed to.

“It’s probably been 10 years,” Bialik said of the last time he went that long between events in the summer. “I’m itching to get back into competition.”

Bialik will get his wish next week when he tees it up in the Golf Association of Michigan’s 35th Michigan Junior State Amateur at the University of Michigan’s Radrick Farms Golf Course.

“I think it’s going to be a good challenge,” Bialik said.

The four-day tournament begins with 36 holes of stroke play on Monday, after which the 87-player field will be cut to the low 32. The rest of the event is all match play, with 18 holes on Tuesday and 36 holes each of the next two days to determine the winner.

This will be Bialik’s third appearance in the event. The four-time Division 4 All-Stater missed the cut in 2010 at the Brighton Country Club, then shot 74-70 to tie for sixth in stroke play at The Medalist in 2011 before losing in the first round of match play. He didn’t play in the event last year and, since it’s for boys age 18 and under, this will be his final appearance.

Bialik tied for medalist honors (71-71) in the 36-hole state finals last month at Michigan State’s Forest Akers East before losing on the second hole of a playoff, making him exempt in the Junior State Amateur. And, he’s counting on his wealth of tournament experience to give him an advantage next week.

“There’s no pressure,” he said. “I played against professionals at the Michigan Open (in June), so that’s something I’m not going to worry about. I know people are going to worry about me because I’m hoping I will be one of the better people there.”

Bialik will get his first look at Radrick Farms in a practice round Sunday, but has a good idea of what to expect out of the Pete Dye design that’s set up as a par-72 at about 6,500 yards.

“From what I’m hearing in talking to other people who are playing in the Junior Am and people that have played the course,” he said, “it’s kind of like the U.S. Open at Merion this year: If you hit the fairway, it’s a very rewarding course, but if you miss the fairway, you might as well write down a bogey on your scorecard.”

Bialik, who will play for Grand Rapids Community College, has been preparing accordingly, hitting irons off tees while playing at Manistee National.

“I’m working on different tee shots, knowing I have to keep the ball in the fairway,” he said. “It’s short enough to where I don’t think I’ll have to hit a lot of drivers. I’m long enough off the tee that I can keep it in play.”

For a number of years, Bialik used 150 as a two-round target score, but that’s not necessarily been the case lately.

“This year has been a lot different,” said the scratch golfer. “I’ve played exceptionally well all year in tournaments, so the goals definitely change. I think if I played bad now, I’m going to shoot 75-75. … That’s always been the goal, but I think the goal has been pushed up a little higher this year.”

Bialik said being the stroke play medalist would be ideal going into match play, but he really just wants to advance.

“The goal is to make the cut and take it day-by-day,” he said. “Match play is something I like to play in because you’re not playing against the whole field, it’s just one person. And with the competitive drive I have, I can usually will a couple shots in or a couple good bounces just playing against one kid.

“I usually make a lot of pars,” he added. “If someone beats you when you’re making pars, kudos to them.”

The Junior State Amateur will be Bialik’s final tournament before playing for GRCC and, even after a month off, he doesn’t anticipate the layoff will be a factor.

“I haven’t played in competition,” he said, “but it’s nothing I’m not used to.”

 

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