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Brothers boost Calvin’s golf team
By Jeff Febus

Jon KuiperFor as long as they both can remember, the game of golf has been a part of the lives of Jon (left) and Ben Kuiper (below).

As toddlers, the brothers swung plastic golf clubs on their front lawn. As elementary school students, they competed in youth golf tournaments. As teenagers, both excelled at the game at the high school level and now as college students, both brothers have been a key part of the success of the Calvin men’s golf team.

But golf has been more than a game to Jon and Ben Kuiper. It has also served as cement in a strong family bond that was instilled by their parents Bill and Sondra Kuiper.

“Our parents along with our grandfather (Dr. Jerry VanderWall) got us involved in a junior program at the Spring Lake Country Club,” said Ben. “Jon and I are both competitive so getting involved in sports at an early age was a good outlet for us.”

Ben KuiperNot surprisingly, their competitive nature created a friendly sibling rivalry.

“Since we are both competitive, we never wanted to lose to each other,” said Jon, the older brother by three years. “As an older brother, you never want to lose to your younger brother, and that has pushed me in a good way. It has also been a fun thing because our relationship has always been a good one.”

Ben agrees. “Even when we were little, we were always best friends,” said Ben. “Watching Jon succeed in his sports motivated me to be as good as him and maybe even better. It has pushed me in a positive direction.”

In addition to golf, both brothers were involved in tennis and baseball growing up. However, they were not teammates on a golf team until this fall when Ben joined the Calvin men’s golf team as a freshman with Jon serving as a senior leader.

“We were on the tennis team for one year together in high school (Grand Rapids Christian) but this year was the first time we were on a golf team together,” said Jon.­

Jon KuiperFor Jon (left), it also marked the first Calvin men’s golf season without his father Bill watching on the sidelines. In the winter of 2008, Bill was diagnosed with cancer. Over the next nine months, he bravely fought the disease and was able to follow Jon’s junior season of golf at Calvin and Ben’s senior year of tennis at Grand Rapids Christian High School during the fall.

On Thanksgiving weekend of 2008, he passed away.

”Despite the cancer, my father made it to all of my golf matches my junior year including the last match of the season in October which was his birthday,” said Jon. “He loved watching us play.”

Their father’s pleasure in sharing the gift of athletics with his children was a lifelong pursuit. “When we were growing up, he played sports with us all of the time,” said Ben. “Watching us play on teams when we were older was one of his favorite things to do. We knew that and because of that, we wanted to do well for him.”

Dealing with their father’s cancer and death changed both Jon and Ben, particularly in their spiritual lives. “My Christian faith was definitely tested during my father’s illness,” said Jon. “I struggled with God, wondering why he just didn’t take away the disease and make it better. At a certain point, I came to grips that God was in control and if I knew why, it wouldn’t be faith. I realize that I will know why this happened someday.”

Ben Kuiper“Originally, I used my father’s cancer as an excuse to be mad at God but as his cancer progressed, I realized that this (our earthly life) is why we believe,” said Ben (right). “Otherwise, what is the point of belief?”

Having nine months to spend with their father after they found out about his diagnosis was also a blessing. “A lot of people don’t say the things they should say to their loved ones while they are living,” said Jon. “Knowing that our father’s time was limited, we had the chance to say the things we always wanted to say and so did he.”

Both brothers have also chosen to remember their father in a special way, wearing their father’s initials on their wristbands and on the back of their golf shoes.

”It was a different feeling this fall,” said Ben. “We were both playing with a sense that our father was watching us and smiling. It gave both of us a sense of calm.”

Playing with a sense of calm also helped Jon and Ben to success on the golf course this fall as Jon filled Calvin’s number-one slot in the lineup while Ben moved in at the number-five spot almost immediately.

Jon went on to produce the finest MIAA season in Calvin men’s golf history, averaging a Calvin single-season record of 74.0 strokes per round in league play, breaking the previous Calvin record by nearly three strokes. It also allowed him to finish second in the final MIAA standings and earn a spot on the All-MIAA first team. Meanwhile, Ben averaged a solid 79.1 strokes per round, placing him in the top 25 of the MIAA men’s golf list this fall. The Kuiper combination helped Calvin move from fifth in the 2008 MIAA standings to a tie for second place in the final 2009 MIAA standings.

By finishing second in the final MIAA individual standings, Jon has a chance to qualify individually for the NCAA III Championships in May but will need to perform well at a series of qualifying tournaments in the spring.  The strength of his play according to Ben is his ball-striking ability. “Jon is one of the best ball-strikers in the MIAA,” said Ben. “I wish I could hit the ball off the tee or off the fairway like he does.”

Conversely, Jon has picked up several pointers from Ben. “Ben’s short game is much better than mine,” said Jon. “Ben also has a tremendous work ethic with the ability to grind through practice after practice. I have always struggled with my work ethic but watching him has inspired me to work harder and become better.”

As far as their family bond is concerned, no improvement is necessary. “I think the bond between Ben and I is as tight as ever. I don’t think it could ever get any tighter.”