Butler emerging as leader on the course

Sarah Butler has been the Gophers’ top finisher in the last three tournaments.

Adam Fink

Minnesota’s women’s golfer Sarah Butler might not be able to identify why her attitude changed, but she sure knows how it has affected her.

During competitions last fall, Butler said, she was focused on her lineup position more than her own scores. Although the only difference in seeding is whom you play with and when you tee off at tournaments, Butler said she worried more about what her scores meant than the numbers.

That changed during the winter months when the Gophers were forced indoors because of the inclement weather.

“I had the offseason to think about what I wanted to do,” Butler said. “I don’t worry about it now. We are all here to support each other.”

Since the spring season began, and heading into this weekend’s Lady Boilermaker Invitational in Indiana, Butler has been rolling faster than a golf ball on the greens.

The Roseau, Minn., native has finished as the Gophers’ top finisher in their last three tournaments.

Butler finished 17th overall in her most recent competition April 4 at the Indiana Invitational.

Gophers coach Katie Weiss has noticed a difference in Butler. She has seen her confidence blossom, resulting in lower scores and a better attitude, she said.

“She has matured quite a bit,” Minnesota’s second-year coach said. “She has that presence that can be a lot of fun. She has really developed.”

While Butler said she considers the two upperclassmen on the roster – senior Katie Jacobson and junior Terra Petsinger – the team’s leaders, the sophomore has become a leader on the course and the image of a resurgent program.

“To think of what is possible is very exciting,” Butler said. “We want to build a foundation.”

Butler, Sophie Stubbs, Louise Fleming and Jessica Thomas are all in their first or second seasons, indicating the future of the team is strong, after being nearly eliminated in 2002. Add Petsinger into the mix, and you have five players who will likely be around for at least one more season.

However, Butler’s rise to a course leader, and a reason for optimism for the Gophers over the next two years, almost ended before it started.

Butler received her first set of clubs when she was 5 years old and always wanted to play for Minnesota, she said.

But when the program was announced to be on the chopping blocks in 2002, Butler looked at two other schools – Northern Illinois and Montana.

When the dust began to settle, Butler made an official visit to campus and was impressed with what she saw, she said.

“I visited, and I wanted to be a part of the turnaround,” the six-year high school varsity letter-winner said. “The players showed me around, and I felt a part of the team.”

Butler signed with Minnesota in June 2002 during the monthlong span when the program was searching for a coach.

Last season, Butler competed in all 10 events. But coming from a small northern Minnesota high school made the transition a difficult process.

While she was third on the team in lowest stroke average (80.9), Weiss said she noticed Butler lacked the Division I experience and was an unrefined talent.

Although Butler has thrived after a rough first semester this year, Weiss believes she is only beginning to display her potential.

“She is not even close to showing how good she can be,” Weiss said. “She has so much ability. It is scary to think about how she can be over the next few years.”