Mitchell Rutledge will cut your heart out with a smile on his face. He’ll turn your hopes and dreams into nightmares, all while saying please and thank you. You know how they say, Golf is a good walk spoiled? If you’re walking the course with Rutledge, your day, maybe even your week, will end up ruined. Rutledge, a senior standout golfer at Whitfield, put the finishing touches on one of the most impressive prep careers in recent memory. The 5-foot-11, 160-pound Rutledge led the Warriors to their third straight Class 2 state championship while bagging his second consecutive individual championship. The 18-year-old shot a two-day score of 141 at Twin Oaks Country Club in Springfield to shoot one under par for the tournament. He was five strokes clear of the runner-up.
Rutledge finished as the state runner-up as a freshman and then took fifth as a sophomore. Any which way you slice it, Rutledge is a tough opponent and one that will kill you with kindness. “While he’s carving you up he’s a gentleman,” Whitfield golf coach Harold Barker says.
Rutledge, who’s signed to play golf at Michigan State University, evolved from fresh-faced competitor as a freshman to a stone-cold scorecard killer as a senior. Barker couldn’t say enough about the time, dedication and mentality Rutledge brings every day. That’s high-praise for a program that has qualified for 10 consecutive state tournaments. “His junior year, he played with a chip on his shoulder,” Barker says. “He went out and did that all summer. He was imposing his will on people.”
After winning the elusive individual title as a junior and then committing to Michigan State shortly thereafter, it would have been easy for Rutledge to let his guard down. Then again Rutledge’s idea of fun is parading down to the state tournament, putting the course and competition in a headlock and walking away with a trophy and a big medal. The idea of taking it easy for his last go round of high school golf stuck in Rutledge’s head for all of a minute. “I felt really relaxed for a day,” he says. “Then I thought, You’re not going to get anywhere sitting around. That winter I worked out hard and got myself golf ready.”
Getting ready at Whitfield includes taking some lumps. While the Warriors are the kings of Class 2, they played dual matches with the biggest, baddest programs they could find. “In the regular season we see a lot of good golf,” Barker says. “It’s almost like humble pie.”
But the tough matches serve a purpose. They give the Warriors the stiff competition they need to be at their best when the stakes are at their highest. That’s how Rutledge is, too. When he or the team needs a big shot in a crucial moment, he delivers. “He finds a way to make a critical shot,” Barker says. “It’s like he has this whole other gear and knows when to go after it.”
Maybe it’s his mindset. Maybe it’s his preparation. Maybe it’s both. But Rutledge isn’t one for figuring things out on the range. He prefers do his work on the course. To better prepare his mind, body and swing for the challenges ahead, you’ll find him in the tee box, on a fairway or a green. “Anyone can go to the range,” he says. “The only practicing I do is going to the course.” That’s where you’ll find him carving up his opponents, with a smile on his face.