Andy Sneddon, CMUChippewas.com
MOUNT PLEASANT, Mich. – The Central Michigan golf team will compete this week in the Mid-American Conference Championships in Naperville, Ill.
And for two Chippewas, seniors Natalie Johnson and Kristen Wolfe, the tournament will likely bring to an end their respective college careers unless CMU qualifies for the NCAA Regional. The two seniors were part of the first signing class when the university resurrected the program after a 32-year hiatus for the 2014-15 season.
It wasn’t always easy being the first in what effectively was a brand-new program. There have been ups and downs and yet the Chippewas have persevered and shown steady improvement, both individually and as a team.
Wolfe and Johnson have been the mainstays in the CMU lineup.
“It’s been pretty much amazing, just being so close to the program and seeing the progress,” said Cheryl Stacy, who took over the program in December, 2014. “I look at Natalie’s golf swing and see how it has evolved and how much better she is fundamentally and just the little things that she’s improved on.
“And same with Kristen, everything’s gotten a lot better. I think the goal coming in when I came here was let’s add this, try to add a few little things each year to improve the program. Not just for the players’ improvement in their golf, but the facility and upgrades and things like that. So it’s kind of like an artist with a canvas.”
The Chippewas’ indoor practice facility, which opened in 2014, is top notch, and the program has an indoor simulator along with TrackMan, a state-of-the-art launch monitor that allows Stacy and the players to evaluate each and every aspect of their respective games.
“That has been awesome because it tells you exactly how far fly it, how far it rolls,” Johnson said. “So you can just be more accurate with your wedges and every single club in your bag. It has just been extremely helpful during the winter to be able to use all of that stuff.”
The program also added this season a customized van to travel to events.
Each of those elements has aided in the steady improvement in all the players, and the work they have put in is evident on the scorecard. The Chippewas seemingly set program scoring records every time they set foot on the course.
“Looking at my freshman year compared to now is black and white,” said Johnson, a biomedical sciences major who carries a 3.96 grade point average and has twice earned All-American Scholar status form the Women’s Golf Coaches Association. “It’s completely different. I don’t know how I hit the ball freshman year sometimes when I look at my scoring.
“My coaches helped me a lot on my swing and have gotten it to where it is now. I’m a better ball striker, hit more greens. As a person, just being in school and playing golf at the same time has made me grow a lot and helped with my time management. I’m a harder worker because of it and that’s really helped me. I think it will help me throughout my life now and as I move on to the next page.”
Wolfe, an information systems major with a 3.82 GPA, echoed Johnson’s sentiments.
“I’ve definitely grown a lot as a person,” she said. “Personally, over the four years, I think I’ve learned a lot about time management. We’re gone (to tournaments) for three, four days at a time. It’s a lot of organization and doing things on your own and learning how to teach yourself. I think that translates to the real world.”
The Chippewas have greatly benefitted from the ability to travel across the country for tournaments, a necessity with the unpredictable Midwest weather. Among their regular destinations are Florida and Arizona.
“They are great young ladies, very coachable, just very polite and they represent CMU,” Stacy said. “I am very proud of all of them. It’s really been great to see them mature over the four years.”
Said Wolfe, who is also a two-time All-American Scholar: “My mom always told me leave the place better than when you got there. I think we’ve all accomplished that. This past fall we finished second in a tournament. I never would have imagined that my freshman year that we would have been able to get second in a tournament. It’s just been great to be a part of it.”