Wildenradt's Wild Ride Led to 2005 Valley Golf Title
May 1, 2006
- Jack Nicklaus, age 46, coming back from four strokes down to win by one stroke on Sunday, at the 1986 Masters. - John Daly going from ninth alternate at Crooked Stick to 1991 PGA Champion in four days. - Ben Curtis winning the 2003 British Open, after entering it ranked 396th in the world. - Kris Wildenradt, winning the right to be the fifth, and last, Redbird chosen to represent Illinois State at the 2005 State Farm Missouri Valley Conference Championships and earning individual medalist honors while clinching the team title for the Redbirds.
Although those first three names are a little more recognizable than the fourth, Wildenradt's story is no less amazing.
Wildenradt, then a junior on the ISU men's golf team, had been having a down year. Struggling to find his swing, he was playing only well enough to compete in one tournament during the fall, finishing a disappointing 38th at the D.A. Weibring Intercollegiate.
"I was questioning myself a lot," Wildenradt said. "I had a horrible fall and didn't compete in any events until April. I was struggling and just doubting whether or not I could compete."
However, once April rolled around, Wildenradt started to get his swing back. Finishing a respectable 30th at the Branson Creed Invitational and bolting up to 5th to help the Redbirds win the Arkansas State Indian Classic, things started to come together for Wildenradt.
Going into the 2005 MVC Championships, the Redbird golf team had four of its five playing spots locked up. Former Redbird golf star Ray Kralis, in his first year as men's head coach, decided to choose the fifth spot from either Wildenradt or Anthony Imburgia based on a practice round.
"We tried our best to use the numbers but Kris (Wildenradt) made a strong case on Spring Break," Kralis said. "We just figured the best way to handle two guys playing equally is to have them play each other."
With an opportunity to play in the MVC championships on the line, both players should have been playing their best golf in that showdown. It was quite the opposite. It was a battle for both players all day, both with their games and the elements.
"We both played pretty bad golf that day. It was so cold and I was pretty worried about staying warm," Wildenradt said. "However, we were tied going into 18. I had to use an extra club to reach the green in two because there was water protecting the front. Anthony was in a bunker in the back of the green. On his fourth shot, his hit this looping flop that hit the green and just rolled straight into the hole. I knew that I had to hit my putt win. I stepped up, hit a 12 footer and took it."
With his spot secured in the MVC tournament, Wildenradt could now focus on helping the Redbird win the conference tournament at TPC Deere Run Golf Course in Silvis, Ill.
"I had no expectations going into the tournament," Wildenradt said. "I was excited to be there, but of course I wanted to win. But overall I just was happy to be there."
Once the MVC championship started, Wildenradt continued his consistent play. Shooting a 70 and 73 (par 71) through the first two rounds, Wildenradt was in the final group on Sunday.
"It was a battle all day (the last day)," Wildenradt said. "Within the first three holes, the team went from six up to six down, and it was just varying a lot. People at home watching the internet scoreboard said every update it kept changing who was leading."
One of those not at the tournament but watching through text messages was assistant coach Pina Gentile. In Phoenix, on a business trip, Gentile was getting updates through text messages on her cellular phone.
"It was very exciting," Gentile said. "Every update was thrilling. With the team competing so well and then this kid (Wildenradt) who was not supposed to be there at all, and here he is having this amazing story. It was just an amazing story book ending to it all."
Wildenradt didn't cave under the pressure. His steady play continued throughout the day and walking up to the 18th green, he was the leader by two strokes. Wildenradt two putted on 18 to clinch the MVC championship titles.
"The team was around the 18th green laughing," Wildenradt said. "Everyone was just smiles. Plus my dad was there. It was just a moment I'll never forget. The first thing I had to do (after making his putt) was take a picture for my dad (David Wildenradt). He didn`t even let me put my bag down."
Kralis shared in everyone's excitement when Wildenradt clinched the individual title and team title for the Redbirds.
"Honestly, I wasn't sure we won because there is not a scoreboard on the course, but then the Wichita State coach started congratulating us and I started getting really excited. You know you've won when the opposing coach, of the team we were battling, congratulated us," Kralis said. "It was so emotional to be a part of. You couldn't help but be happy for him and the team. He (Wildenradt) has a personality to like and be happy for. He's just a really nice young man."
And while his MVC championship trophy is collecting dust in his off-campus apartment, Wildenradt has bigger dreams for his golf game.
"While the MVC trophy is cool to show girls now," Wildenradt said, "I hope it will be at the bottom of the shelf in the future. It wouldn't look right sitting in the middle of a British Open, PGA Championship or US Open trophy. Hopefully in two years I'll be able to start winning those."