The University of Wisconsin-Whitewater golfers who took the trip to Ireland felt like they had good relationships before it.
But spending a full week together and with their families forged a stronger bond than can be achieved on campus or in a golf tournament.
“We don’t see our families as much during golf season. We do kind of get to know other players’ families, but this trip kind of brought everyone together and we were together a lot,” said UW-W senior Maddie McCue, a former Milton athlete. “They got to meet my uncle and my sister and I got to meet more than just parents. It was interesting to see our teammates and then to see how they are with their families. We were together a lot, so it was a whole different experience.”
The Warhawks are hoping the deeper connections created on the vacation taken during spring break will lend to greater trust and a greater resiliency to fight for each other as they take their second consecutive trip to the NCAA Division III championships in Houston on Tuesday through Thursday. Last season, UW-Whitewater took 12th place at the 25-team event in Florida.
“We definitely had some team bonding,” UW-W coach Andrea Wieland said. “You get to know each other more on a personal level. You’re together longer and in different settings instead of just golf. There was more family-type of feel.”
The trip was led by Northern Ireland-native Tony Guinn, who coaches the men’s soccer team at UW-Whitewater. Guinn and Wieland worked together to create a trip that had three 18-hole rounds of golf at some of the premier links courses on the island.
“We had everything jam packed every single day,” said UW-W junior CheyAnn Knudsen, also a former Milton athlete. We tried to see as many sights and famous things. We went to the Titanic museum. But we had to get golf in as well. It takes a long time to golf. That’s five hours a day and we’re driving about an hour to get to the courses, so it’s tough.”
The traveling party golfed at Port Stewart Golf Club, Massereene Golf Club and at Ballycastle Golf Club. They visited Royal Portrush, which will host The Open in 2019.
Knudsen and fellow junior Ashley Hofmeister, who Wieland regularly refers to as “Steady Eddy,” lead the UW-Whitewater scoring effort.
Knudsen averages 78.3 strokes per 18-hole round to lead the Warhawks. Knudsen is the reigning WIAC Player of the Year, Knudsen owns six top 10 finishes this season, including fourth place at the WIAC Championship and three other top five performances.
Hofmeister averages 78.9 strokes per round and also was a first-team all-WIAC golfer. Rounding out the UW-Whitewater lineup will be McCue, junior Kelly Storti and senior Kaitlin Bowe.
“I expect these girls will represent the university well as far as being respectful and we’re kind and everything, that’s the No. 1 expectation,” Wieland said. “No. 2, I expect they’ll try to win every moment they can on the golf course. They don’t worry about the outcome until the scorecard is turned in.
“If that were to happen, that would be winning and it doesn’t matter what the score is.”
Though the main purpose of the trip was to get a quality team-bonding experience funded by the players themselves, the impact of the experience shouldn’t be understated.
For one, there’s the course-management gains from playing links style golf.
“I would say the courses over in Ireland that we played were a lot harder than the courses that we play here,” Knudsen said. “We play some easy courses from my perspective. I guess the experience of hitting out of thick grass and off of mats in the fairway because they didn’t want us hitting on their fairways was different.
“The hills and the wind were huge. Around here we get winds, but over there it was 10 times worse. We had to adjust. It was really good for us.”
Then there’s the aspect about not taking a poor shot too seriously, which Wieland hopes helps the Warhawks turn in lower scores in Houston.
“When you’re in Ireland and you see something like Giant’s Causeway … it’s breathtaking and amazing,” Wieland said. “It really puts into perspective that if you have a bad day of golf — big deal. There’s more to life than golf. You get a better appreciation for life in general from experiences like that and we were able to share that.”
As the Warhawks shoot for a top-10 finish to improve upon last year’s finish, it’s understanding that perspective which helps UW-Whitewater continue its emergence onto the national stage.
“Whitewater is very lucky to have Andrea as a coach,” McCue said. “She’s brought us to two NCAA tournaments when it had never been done before because she’s put in a lot of time and effort — a lot of her own personal effort to get us where we are.
"We owe her a huge thank you because she’s gone above and beyond for a lot of us and Whitewater is really lucky.”