On Par for Greatness

By Gavin Cardamone
Spring 2017

Header image: Johnny Gruninger teeing off at the Upstate NY Junior Classic tournament in August 2016. (Photo courtesy of Hurricane Jr. Tour)

IMG_2856Many people consider golf to be a hobby or a social sport, but to Johnny Gruninger, golf is everything. This 5-foot-4, 103-pound eighth-grader is an 11-time Jr. PGA Champion and one of MPH’s best athletes.

“Johnny is easily the most talented middle-schooler I’ve coached, and certainly in the conversation when discussing the best we’ve had at the school,” said MPH golf coach Will O’Malley.

(Photo courtesy of John Gruninger)

Not only has Johnny shown individual talent, but he has also shown that he is a great team player after contributing to MPH’s varsity golf team’s undefeated 2016 season. Johnny doesn’t show any sign of slowing down and believes he will continue to get better as he gets older.

“The one thing I know I’m going to get better at is that I’m going to get a lot more distance, I’m going to get bigger and stronger,” he said.

Johnny started playing golf when he was just 4 years old. Neither of his parents golf, but his grandpa brought him golfing one time, and Johnny says he, “just fell in love with it watching him play.” Within weeks he got his own set of clubs and from there he just played whenever he could, aspiring to be more like his grandpa. Eventually he started taking lessons with Linda Mulherin at Drumlins.

“She’s really [who] I give most [of] the credit to and why I’m so good today,” he said. “She’s a huge help.”

As Johnny’s golf game developed, he had to make some difficult choices, like giving up baseball.

Photo courtesy of John Gruninger

“I was really good at baseball so that was a tough decision,” he said. “But that was, I think, in the end worth it, because I improved a tremendous amount the year that I quit.”

Along with giving up baseball, Johnny had to give up a lot of free time, causing him to lose touch with friends.

“It was really hard to give up my friends,” he said.

Although he struggled, once again he believed the sacrifice was worth it, because it only allowed for his golf game to further develop.

Now that Johnny is a mature and talented golfer, he is working on lowering his handicap and being as consistent as possible. Coach O’Malley said he must use his “tremendous amount of potential” to be the best he can.

Johnny knows that making it to a higher level of golf is very difficult and gets more and more competitive, but that’s still the goal for him. Luckily for Johnny, he has learned to stay focused on what really matters and knows to “make sure you stay calm and get back on track” if he has a bad hole, which is one of the biggest problems for golfers. If he keeps improving at the rate he has in the last couple of years, he will be tough to stop and should have a promising future.

Johnny (second from left, bottom row) was a member of the 10-year-old Camillus All Star team, which made it to the state championship in 2013. He gave up baseball to focus on golf.

Though Johnny’s future with golf is unwritten, it will most likely have a huge impact on him as he graduates from middle school and continues through high school. He said that he will definitely golf in college if he stays healthy and avoids injury. He hopes to play at a Division I college.

Assuming Johnny does make it to a Division I school, he is going to see how good his game is and decide if he’s good enough to play professionally on the PGA tour. He knows that his dream of playing professionally is not an easy feat, but he chooses to set high goals and try his best to reach them.

Coach O’Malley knows that athletes who excel when they’re young don’t always become the most decorated or successful players as adults. Many players who have lots of success early on in life struggle later as the competition gets tougher. But Johnny has the right tools to succeed.

“Given Johnny’s athleticism and willingness to work,” O’Malley said, “he’s sure to play at a high level.”

[Gruninger recently qualified for the Section III NY State tournament, one if only two MPH students to qualify. Click here for more information]

Johnny practices under the moon at the PGA National Golf Course. (Photo courtesy of John Gruninger)