Former walk-on gets chance with U golf

Ryan Schuster

When senior women’s golfer Carolyn Klecker came to Minnesota as a freshman five years ago, golf was about the farthest thing from her mind.
Klecker initially came to the University for it’s aeronautical engineering program. She had played one year of golf on the boys’ team in high school, but didn’t have any aspirations of playing in college.
“Golf was completely on the back burner,” Klecker said. “I never really thought of pursuing golf. It was just something to do when I was bored.”
At her father’s prodding, Klecker tried out for the golf team during the fall of her freshman year. She was unsuccessful, but was offered the opportunity to redshirt and practice with the team. Klecker declined because she was on the University marching band at the time and didn’t have time to do both.
A year later, however, Klecker tried out again and this time made the team as a walk-on. She competed in only two tournaments her first year on the team and didn’t make the traveling squad until the team’s last trip of the season.
Klecker’s first road competition was at the Big Ten championships in Columbus, Ohio, which is the team’s biggest meet of the season. Klecker finished in a tie for 32nd, improving her confidence and helping her realize that she had the tools to play collegiate golf.
“Everything was pretty new to Carolyn when she came to the University,” Gophers coach Kathy Williams said. “It took a little bit of time for her to understand it all. Once she got a solid game, she got more confident. The more she was confident, the more she was traveling with the team.”
Since making the team, Klecker has improved her stroke average significantly every year. Klecker had an 84 average her freshman year, good for fifth-best on the team. She currently has the second-best stroke average on the team at 79.9 with two more meets to go. Klecker has finished 13th at the Big Ten championships the past two seasons and hopes to finish in either the top five or top 10 at this years Big Tens, which will be May 2-4 in East Lansing, Mich.
She has also become one of the most dependable under pressure.
“If you put five dollars on the line going into the last hole, you’d bet on Carolyn,” Williams said. “She’d find a way to get the ball in the hole.”
Even though Klecker has made a steady ascent and become one of the top golfers on the team, nothing has come easily for the fifth-year senior.
“As a walk-on, you’re forced to improve because you weren’t recruited in any way, and you don’t have something to fall back on,” Klecker said. “If you’re a walk-on player, it’s always in your face that you’ve been given that chance, so you feel that you have to prove your worth.
“There’s more pressure to perform, more pressure to continuously show improvement in order to stay on the traveling team. You’ve got to get better, you’ve got to press yourself or you’re not going to get a spot on that team the next year.”
Even though she entered this season as the team’s No. 2 golfer behind regional qualifier Amy Dahle, Klecker still doesn’t have a full scholarship on the team.
Klecker had to go through a similar situation in high school when she joined the boys’ golf team. After playing softball during the spring her first three years in high school, Klecker switched to golf her senior year.
“I think I surprised a lot of people,” she said. “Probably the most surprised was my softball coach because I never told him I was going out for golf until I just wasn’t at practice.”
Even though she quickly became one of the best golfers on the team, Klecker had to handle a lot of ribbing and pressure from the boys on the team.
“It’s not fun to travel with guys that you’re beating,” Klecker said. “In high school, they just don’t handle that well. It was hard to go through it, but now, looking back on it, if I wouldn’t have done it, I probably would have never even thought that I could try out for the (Gophers).”
In addition to achieving success on the golf team during college, the River Falls, Wis., native has also been successful in the classroom.
Klecker was a Big Ten All-Academic selection in 1994 in 1995. Upon finding out that she didn’t like taking all the math classes required by the Institute of Technology, she has since changed her major from aeronautical engineering to genetics. Klecker, who turns 23 next week, will graduate in June with hopes of getting an internship at a crime lab this summer.
Klecker’s competitive spirit and good work ethic have been major ingredients in her athletic and academic success.
“She’s just a born competitor,” Williams said. “Carolyn’s not afraid of hard work. She would move down to the golf course if she could. If the sun was out 24 hours a day, I think Carolyn would be on the golf course.”
Klecker devoted the entire summer to golfing with her roommate and fellow captain, senior Cathy Lindblad.
“We didn’t have jobs, we didn’t have responsibilities,” Lindblad said. “All we knew was golf last summer.”
That hard work has paid off for Klecker, who is in the midst of her best season at Minnesota. Despite difficult circumstances, Klecker has refused to give up in golf and in life.
“She has made some personal sacrifices,” Williams said. “Things didn’t come easy for Carolyn. She’s had to work hard for everything.”