From softballs to golfballs, Klecker has found her swing

Susan Filkins

When Gophers women’s golfer Carolyn Klecker was 13 years old, she would go to the golf course with her dad. She carried her ball to the green to putt and chip every chance she got.
In high school, she devoted herself to basketball and softball. After earning all-conference honors in softball during her sophomore and junior seasons, the team became progressively worse. Klecker decided it was time for a change.
She wanted to play golf but ran into one obstacle: There was no women’s golf team, only a men’s.
With little regret, Klecker decided to toss her cleats aside and grab an iron.
“Softball wasn’t going well. I wanted to do something else where I controlled my own destiny,” Klecker said. “I didn’t know what to expect with the men’s team. I didn’t know if I was good enough, but it was my last opportunity.”
The men’s team did not welcome her with open arms. Coach Dave Cronk placed her on the junior varsity team. Two matches in to the season, he realized he was wasting a talent. Klecker quickly moved in to the No. 2 spot and competed there the entire season.
Klecker decided to attend Minnesota in pursuit of a degree in the Institute of Technology, but she found herself trying out for the golf team as well. After declining to redshirt her freshman year because she was in the University marching band, she made the team as a walk-on the next year.
“When I first met Carolyn I thought wow, here is a very athletic girl. Give her some coaching and she will go a long way,” Gophers coach Kathy Williams said. “It was difficult for Carolyn at first because she didn’t have much experience, but she had the right mindset.”
As unexperienced as she was, Klecker steadily made her way to the top.
After failing to qualify for a tournament after most of her freshman year with the Gophers women’s golf team, she finally made the cut on her last attempt.
It just so happened that the final tournament was the largest and most competitive event all season — the Big Ten championships.
“I remember telling Coach before my first shot that I was going to whiff the ball,” said Klecker. “But she told me, ‘don’t be scared,’ and, ‘just go do it.'”
She didn’t wiff. Instead she finished respectively in 32nd place. The past two years, she has placed 13th at the Big Ten championships and hopes to finish between five and 10 at this year’s tournament.
And this fall, as a senior, Klecker is already off to her best start as a Gopher. She has placed in the top 20 in all four tournaments thus far this fall, including a second-place finish at the Lady Badger Invitational in Madison, Wisc. She attributes her success to hard work in the off-season.
“Cathy (Lindblad) and I took the summer off to work on golf,” Klecker said. “We played in several tournaments to improve our game.”
Despite her improvements, Klecker admits she still has trouble putting.
“You have to see the putts going into the hole,” said Klecker. “It is all about mental control over the golf game. If your mental is up, it can control the physical by a longshot.”
Williams said Klecker’s mental strength is one of the keys to her game.
“Very seldom will she be disrupted on the golf course,” Williams said. “This is one of her biggest assets, along with her determination and work ethic.”
As a team, Minnesota is also off to one of its best starts after two first-place finishes at the Lady Badger Invitational and the Huskie Fall Classic.
Half of the Gophers travel to Northwestern this weekend to complete their fall season at the Wildcat Invitational. Four Big Ten teams (Minnesota, Iowa, Northwestern, and Wisconsin) along with Northern Illinois and Notre Dame will compete in the two-day, 54-hole tournament. Minnesota finished eighth last year out of 15 teams.
The other half of the team will host the Gopher Golf Classic on Sunday at the University Les Bolstad Golf Course. Mankato State and St. Cloud State (both Division II programs), will join six Gophers players in the tournament.