NIU women’s golf: Huskies open spring season in Florida

By Frank Gogola

It’s 7:45 a.m. Friday and women’s golf is nearing the end of practice before it leaves the snow-covered campus for the start of its spring season in Florida.

The Huskies take to the course for the first time since Oct. 19 when they participate in the 2015 MAC Match Play Challenge 7 a.m. today and 7 a.m. Tuesday at Lakewood Ranch Country Club in Lakewood Ranch, Fla.

The two-day outing will be the only time during the spring season the Huskies, seeded No. 4 in the tournament, will participate in a match play-based event; all their other outings will be stroke play-based events.

“It’s just nice to start the spring out with a match play event because you’re coming out of being indoors,” said head coach Kim Kester. “There’s a little room for error there and it gets you back into the groove of everything.

“There’s still pressure on you, but it might not be as much as in stroke play. It’s definitely a good one to open the season with and get back in the swing of things to being outside.”

Match play pits one golfer against another in a points system with the player who posts the lower score for a hole earning one point for that hole. Stroke play, on the other hand, is when the golfers in the entire field try to total the lowest number of strokes in one or more rounds of 18 holes.

“With match play you can have one bad hole and you just lose a hole versus stroke play you have one bad hole [and] it could ruin your whole round,” Kester said. “There’s a little bit more of a mental factor in the match play because you’re playing one other person. … There’s more strategy to match play versus stroke play.”


Inside the Chessick Practice Center the Huskies are chipping shots about 5 to 20 yards into 2-foot high, blue circular containers. Some shots hit the front of the buckets and others are overshot. More golf balls find the bottom of the buckets as the time passes.

The Huskies are prepping for their lone match play event of the spring and their third one under Kester, who’s in her third year at NIU. The Huskies closed the fall at the Hoosier Fall Invitational and opened the 2014 spring season at the 2014 MAC Match Play Challenge.

Sophomore Sydney Brickey and junior Samantha Coyne participated in their first match play event last spring. Although there’s a difference in match play and stroke play, Coyne said her mindset is the same going into the event because golf is golf.

“If you have a bad hole it’s not that big a deal,” Coyne said. “The biggest part of match play is once you’re up you need to stay up. … I still take it one shot at a time and do the best I can and never quit on a hole.”

Brickey said she learned from her experience that “it’s easier to shake off a mistake” in match play because if you have one bad hole you just move on to the next one; the stroke totals don’t play a factor.

“Every shot counts in golf, obviously, but every hole really counts and you have to focus every time,” Brickey said. “You can’t let anything go.

“Once you got done you got to watch your other teammates play … so you kind of get to cheer them on.”


Back in DeKalb, the serious practice of chip shots turns into a fun competition between the close-knit players as it nears 8 a.m.

The Huskies return all but one of their golfers from last season, having lost senior Jenny Niemiec to graduation. They added two freshmen in Evelyn Brand and Hayley Mortensen.

“We’re great,” Brickey said. “It was sad to lose Jen, but we have a great team and we’re all really close. You see us playing games, we’re having fun. It’ll be a good time.”

As Kester watches the golfers chip in shots she makes sure the fun games being played are still competitive by making them a best-of-three series.

She said she knows the golfers have put in work over winter break, and she’ll use today and Tuesday to “see where everyone’s at” and “what more we need to improve on the rest of the season.”

While Kester may find a number of areas for the team to improve upon at the conclusion of the match-play event, Coyne said the off-the-course relationship between the players couldn’t be better.

“We’re like a big family,” Coyne said. “Like we all get along. I’ve never seen a team like this close. … I think it really makes us better competitors. It just makes practice and every day more fun for all of us.”