George Cunningham back on par for Arizona golf
Arizona junior George Cunningham takes a swing using a driver in the National Invitational Tournament. Cunningham set a career-low over three rounds shooting 210 strokes.
After a freshman season that appeared to set the tone for one of the best four-year careers in Arizona men’s golf history, George Cunningham found himself stuck in a rut.
During his freshman season in 2015, where he posted five top-10 tournament finishes in the spring including placing third at the Pac-12 Championships while shooting four under par, Cunningham was viewed as the sole leader of the team.
He played alongside former Wildcat Jim Furyk in the Northern Trust Open and was named to the All-Pac-12 Freshman team. For Cunningham to not live up to the standard he set, would’ve been a huge disappointment.
He found himself in one of the most frustrating situations in his golf life during his sophomore season.
Cunningham missed six months with his tailbone out of place and only played in three tournaments, averaging 157 strokes (10+).
“It wasn’t painful, but I couldn’t turn—I couldn’t make a golf swing,” Cunningham said. “The hard part was, was that it wasn’t painful so I didn’t know when it was healed. A lot of people need surgery when their tailbone gets moved, but I did a bunch of rehab and it was able to get back into place. Or at least I think it’s back in place.”
Some people struggle getting out of bed with a dysfunctional tailbone, but Cunningham went to his personal chiropractor weekly and rehabbed himself back into mid-season form. As bad as it sounds, Cunningham’s injury was a blessing for the Wildcats, because it opened the door for Jordan Gumberg to take the reigns as top dog and he bested Cunningham’s Pac-12 Championship score from the previous season finishing in second place (-8).
The best way for a golfer to hone in on the mental stability to ensure quality production is to remain positive, according to head coach Jim Anderson. Golf can be a frustrating sport, but Anderson wants his personality shown in Arizona’s golf team every step of the way and allows his players to remember how talented they are.
“It’s the nature of our sport. There’s like 1 out of 100 angry or negative and the rest of us has to stay positive and believe the next shot is going to be great,” Anderson said. “I have to remind them on how great they are. It’s my responsibility to set a very positive tone for our athletes.”
How does one return to being a leader of a team when there’s a new sheriff in town who's viewed as the new alpha male? It’s easy money for Cunningham, because golf is in his veins. He was homeschooled in high school and got straight A’s as an athlete, because there was primarily one subject—golf.
“I played a lot of golf,” Cunningham said. “I literally didn’t do anything. During the school year, I played like six or seven hours a day. I would literally do homework for like an hour and then go out and practice.”
Cunningham returned as a junior the same way Jay Z opened up his song "Public Service Announcement," “Allow me to reintroduce myself” Cunningham set a career-low over three rounds with a score of 210 (-6) in the National Invitational Tournament last week. It felt 2015 again with Cunningham carrying Arizona on his back. He tied for eighth place on the individual scoreboard and the ‘Cats finished in fifth.
“After being injured almost all of last year, it’s finally nice to play some good golf again,” Cunningham said.
It wasn’t just his injury that Cunningham returned from. After taking time off the course, it sprinkled some rust on his game and his swing had become too wide, affecting his scores. He broke down his swing and was disturbed with how noticeably off his form was.
“Going and changing it gave me hope again,” Cunningham said. “It wasn’t frustrating for me changing my swing, it was more frustrating knowing it was that bad.”
Now that Cunningham’s form is improved and the tailbone injury is behind him—not literally, but it’s in the past, him and Gumberg are destined to be the one-two punch that could get the men’s golf program back in to the national spotlight.
“If we can play well together at the same time, that’s going to be so helpful for the team,” Cunningham said.
Moving forward the Wildcats will play in the Lamkin Grips San Diego Classic beginning on March 13. The Wildcats finished the tournament in ninth place last season.
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