Ski-U-Mah Life is a weekly feature from GopherSports.com that highlights some of the more than 700 Minnesota student-athletes outside of their athletic accomplishments. This week, the Gopher women's golf team is featured for their off-course endeavors.
Beyond its first three tournaments, the Minnesota women’s golf team has gained plenty of valuable experience off the course.
The Gophers had their focus on helping those in need recently while hosting their annual Minnesota Invitational.
In mid-September, much of the country was still processing the damage and devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey, which battered parts of the Gulf Coast including Houston and southeastern Texas. Sports organizations had decided to get involved in the relief effort, from the Houston Texans’ JJ Watt raising more than $37 million to the grassroots effort for donated clothing and shoes by the University of Houston’s basketball teams.
It was there that the Gophers saw an opportunity as tournament hosts.
During the multi-day event, Minnesota encouraged participating teams to donate the unused toiletries from their hotel rooms, responding to a call to action from Houston’s golf program.
Spending much of the season on the road, the team was well aware of the opportunity to make a difference.
“I don’t think it is anything we have really done before, especially at our home tournament,” said senior Sabrine Garrison. “We have never had a tournament where there has been a traumatic thing going on at the same time. For us to have the opportunity to give back in any way possible was really cool.”
The tournament also provided an opportunity for golfers to make an impact on their personal futures, outside of the golf course. After 36 holes of play, representatives from several area companies came to meet with the nearly 80 young women in an opportunity to network and learn more about the transition from Division I student-athlete to the professional world.
One of those in attendance could personally relate, as former Gopher Allie Buska was on hand to talk about her experience working in the corporate world.
“I thought it was cool to hear about the all the opportunities here in the Twin Cities and how many different things you can do and people you can network with,” said freshman Grace Kellar. “I’m considering the medical route, but golf is so beneficial in the business world so that was a good connection.”
“I don’t even know if I am going to stay in the U.S. after I graduate,” said junior Muyu Wu, a native of China. “Every time when there is an opportunity, it reminds me of how many other things you can think about doing after you graduate.”
Earlier this week, the Gophers were the hosts to the prestigious ANNIKA Intercollegiate Presented by 3M, in which the top teams in college golf descended on Eden Prairie. While the action on the links was competitive, there were also unique opportunities for them off the course.
On Saturday night, on 3M’s corporate campus as part of the annual ANNIKA Award banquet, the student-athletes had the chance to tour the 3M Innovation Center. There, they had the chance to interact and learn about the science and engineering behind some of their most notable products.
“It was unbelievable,” said Garrison, a physiology major who is planning to attend medical school. “It was really cool to see such a big company with so many aspects. Also, with my interest in science, being able to see all the science like creating face masks, or creating things for like flu shots and vaccinations. It was just cool to see how you can go that route and work for a company and still do science. It is so cool to see such a big company located in the Twin Cities.”
Following the first round Sunday, all of the golfers got together to learn from one of the game’s all-time legends in Annika Sorenstam. The Hall of Famer hosted a question-and-answer session on Monday night in which she talked about her experiences as a student-athlete and professional golfer.
“At the ANNIKA Foundation, our motto is ‘More than Golf’ and we strive for players to take away some insights they normally wouldn’t at a junior or college golf event,” Sorenstam explained. “Sunday I was able to share some experiences on the transition from the college to professional stage and how I managed the team atmosphere as the Solheim Cup Captain.”
The message resonated with the Gophers.
“She is just a normal person, so you can relate to her because she has experienced what you have experienced,” said freshman Joanne Free. “You don’t realize that because she honestly has this big resume. It is nice hearing she has the same feelings you do and it is very relatable. It is just very nice hearing someone talk about that and talk about what they are feeling during a golf round. Like she talked about her 59, she said I only think about the next putt and it is like, ‘How many times do I do that?’ It is just nice getting that honesty.”
Less than a month into the season, the Minnesota women’s golfers have already created some memories for a lifetime, both on and off the course.
“So far, my freshman year has just been a one of a kind experience,” said freshman Kate Lillie. “Being able to be connected with so many different people and already having all of these different experiences. It has just been my first month at college and it is really just unbelievable – not many kids get to have this experience.”
Dan Reisig is an associate director of athletic communications at the University of Minnesota, and a contributing writer to GopherSports.com and Ski-U-Mah Magazine.
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