Weichert breaks away from pack

by Jim Schortemeyer

Ordinarily the members of the Minnesota women’s golf team finish a tournament in a pack, separated by only a few strokes.
But two weeks ago senior Kristi Weichert broke away from the pack. She tore up the field and finished second at the Indiana Invitational; no other Minnesota golfer finished higher than 17th.
The move was a big one for Weichert, who’s not accustomed to shooting so low and finishing so high.
“This team needs that,” coach Kathy Williams said. “It helps the others when Kristi goes out and shoots a low round.”
“The others” are usually Minnesota’s senior triumvirate of Michelle Ballou, Donna Boom and Melanie Lepp, all of whom tend to play at the same level. Sometimes all are in the top 10 and sometimes the results are a little lower.
When Weichert showed she was capable of going below the pack, it had to come as a bit of a surprise to the rest of the team.
As Williams explains, “We have a system where the top two finishers and anyone with a 5-handicap automatically make the team. If you don’t make it you have to go to qualifying school and play onto the team. Kristi’s a senior, but it seems like she’s always had to go to school.”
Translation: Weichert isn’t one of the top golfers on the team, but she almost won a tournament hosted by Big Ten powerhouse Indiana.
Weichert and Williams both say that Weichert’s drastic improvement is directly related to the long hours she spends on the practice range.
“I had to practice,” Weichert says. “I’m a practicer now. I’m a range rat.”
Ballou has noticed Weichert “beating balls” frequently.
“I think she does it more than others,” Ballou said. “She’s worked with one of the men’s coaches, Brad James, for the last couple of summers.
“She’s very strong-minded, and when she sets her mind to doing something, she goes out and does it.”
After almost four seasons, Weichert should be getting used to all the practice. She’s had to do intensive work on her game since first arriving at Minnesota. In her first season she totally revamped her swing in order to get more distance on her strokes.
Her scoring average has dropped about six strokes since that season, and out of that experience came her “range rat” mentality. Weichert’s coach likes what the practices have wrought for her iron game but questions her hot-and-cold work around the greens.
“Kristi leads the team in greens hit in regulation,” Williams said. “It’s been a question of getting her short game in order.”
While Weichert seemingly had control of her short game three weeks ago, she stumbled a bit at the Hawkeye Invitational a week later. Weichert stayed out of the pack again — but not in a good way. She finished 49th out of 90 golfers after a sloppy start Sunday.
“I started on the 18th, which is the easiest hole on the course,” Weichert said. “It’s a par-5, it’s very reachable, and I took an eight. I hit it left off the tee, and it just got worse from there. I was angry after that for a while. It took me awhile to get over that.”
Weichert went on to put up three rounds in the 80s last weekend. After going down so low, Weichert would probably settle for joining Minnesota’s pack at this weekend’s Big Ten championships.
Ballou admits the up-then-down play of the team’s golfers outside the trio of steady seniors has led to a “who knows?” attitude on the team.
“We don’t ever know who’s going low,” she said. “It’s a different person every week.”