Note: This story was named a National Winner in the Sports category of the 2008 American Society of Newspaper Editors, Quill and Scroll International Writing & Photo Contest.
Published June 5, 2007
Katie Detlefsen looks to her family for supportÂ as her golf success continues
by Alana Patrick
Two bursts of light glare into the shadows of a black road, as the rumble of an engine curves through the pre-dawn silence. It is a little before 5 a.m., in the summer of 1999. After a 45 minute drive, the car stops at the Links at Northfork golf course and a 10-year-old girl and her older brother scramble out from the back seat. They sling two sets of golf clubs over their shoulders, their father following suit. By the time they have teed off, it is 5:30, and the sun has finally begun to blink over the abandoned stretches of grass.
A few hours later, the last putt is made at hole 18. The two kids jump back in the car. As the green fades in the rearview mirror, the 12-year- old boy scrambles with buttons and shoelaces. A green and blue “Wildcats” jersey replaces his polo, and by the time they arrive at the baseball diamond at 9 a.m., he is ready to play. Throughout the daylong tournament, his sister is there to cheer.
For Minnehaha Academy senior golfer Katie Detlefsen and her older brother, Erik, this was a Saturday morning routine. Why? The two wanted the chance to golf together before Erik’s weekly baseball game began. Today, Katie is known across Minnesota for her numerous awards and record-breaking matches; this week she has the chance to become the first high- school golfer in Minnesota to win four consecutive state championships. She is grateful for the honors and attention, but they are not what she treasures most.
“My favorite moments are the times I get to share golf with other people, especially my family,” Katie said. “[When Erik caddies for me] I am doing something I really like, but I’m also getting to spend time with him.”
Golf has always been incorporated into the Detlefsen family’s life. Both of her parents, as
well as Erik, now age 20, and her 13-year-old sister, Sara, thrive on the course. Katie first held a golf club at about age three and began competing in tournaments when she was eight. Also involved in dance, basketball and saxophone, golf was not her main focus until middle school.
“Around 6th or 7th grade, she really developed a desire, a passion for…playing her sport well,” said Katie’s father, Glenn Detlefsen. “Probably one of the reasons that she’s been real successful is she has an inner drive or inner desire to be successful.”
At the time, Katie went to Eastview Middle School in Apple Valley and played golf for the high-school team.
“I really liked the competition, and I thought if I can put the work into this I think I’ll be able to get a lot better,” said Katie. “From there I really did invest the extra time and really started trying to improve.”
Erik was then a member of Minnehaha’s varsity golf team. When Katie transferred to Minnehaha in 9th grade, her brother and biggest influence was a senior. That year, both siblings competed in the Class A golfstate championships.
“I think [Erik] being involved in competitive golf…was part of what got me more interested in it,” Katie said. “I don’t know that I would have done it otherwise.”
She went a bit beyond getting “more interested”-she won the state championship with a 36-hole score of 142, breaking the Class A girls record by five strokes. By state level standards, it was an easy win. On the same day, Erik placed 9th, his best finish in three years competing at the state championships.
“Erik was a good leader for Katie,” said Glenn Detlefsen. “She needed him when she was younger to get around and get places, but I
think she found that he was more than just someone to help her meet her goals. [Erik] was actually someone who could help be a real positive influence in her life. Katie was able to learn from some of Erik’s successes and limitations [about] becoming the best you can be.”
Katie went on to repeat as state champion as a sophomore, winning with 143 strokes. As a junior, she shot 140 strokes, breaking the record she had set as a freshman and becoming the third Minnesota girl golfer to win three consecutive titles. Meanwhile, Erik played golf at Stetson University in DeLand, Florida. Despite the distance, the family managed to stay in touch.
“I see [my family in Minnesota] over Christmastime, over Thanksgiving, and over Easter,” said Erik. “But because [they visit] in Florida with me I see them quite a bit compared to most college students who go to school a couple hundred or a couple thousand miles away from their family.”
He sees Katie more often-about once a month-when she flies to Orlando to work with top ranked LPGA superstar Annika Sorenstam’s fitness trainer, Kai Susser.
When the whole family visits Florida, Katie and her siblings manage to find the time to be together on the golf course.
“Whenever we go golfing, we always go together,” said Erik. “We’ll entertain each other when we start getting bored, but generally golf is entertaining enough for us.”
Erik also spends time with Katie when he caddies for her, or she for him. Having her role model close and supportive makes her more at ease, Katie said.
Although one of a caddie’s jobs is to give advice, when Erik caddies he said he rarely needs to do this.
“Katie’s obviously got a pretty good handle on how to play really good golf, and so in a lot of ways I’m mostly there to carry her bags for her,” Erik said. “At the same time, everybody gets nervous, and it’s nice for her because I help her stay comfortable.
As Katie has grown from freshman to senior, her fierce work ethic in all areas of her life has driven her success. By waking before school to
scrub toilets and wash windows in her dad’s office, she paid part of her tuition at MA. Her drive for academic achievements propelled her into taking college classes through the Post Secondary Education Option (PSEO) and finishing school at MA with a 4.0 GPA. As a golfer, she was one of 12 girls selected nationally for the Hewlett Packard Scholastic Junior All- American Team in 2006, which is chosen based on golf ability, GPA and writing skills. She was also named Minnesota Golf Association Female Junior Golfer of the Year in 2005 and 2006.
Katie’s success has given more to her than just awards and titles-it has given her the power to influence others. Her brother still remains her biggest inspiration, but she values the opportunity to be a good leader for others, including her younger sister, Sara, her father said.
“She sees [that] sports are sports, and it’s fun… but there’s bigger things in life,” her father said. “I think she sees that if she can be successful at her sport then she could get attention and she has the opportunity to be a great Christian leader. That’s probably one of the things that motivates her the most.”
This year, Katie’s leadership is evident as she captains the girls golf team. Coach Ron Monson calls her a “positive leader, assistant coach, encourager [and] good listener.” Sometimes she runs practices solo and instructs her teammates in concepts like swing and posture.
“She always helps us out with all the things that we need work on,” said freshman golfer Emilia Kronschnabel. “She works on her stuff outside of practice so she can help us during practice.”
Freshman Natalie Rodger, also a golfer, said it was a little intimidating to work with Katie at first. However, with her instruction, Rodger said she has greatly improved her swing and accuracy .
“[Katie] gets more excited about when other people are successful,” said Monson. “When a new player scores a record low, gets their first par in a match, she’s most excited.”
Next year, Katie is moving to Florida where she received a full scholarship to play golf at the
University of Central Florida in Orlando. She is fired up to be able to work with experienced coach Emilee Klein but also excited that she will be able to be near family. Erik will be going to law school in Tampa next year, and the rest of her family is planning to visit often.
“When I was looking at different schools, I wanted to go somewhere where I could play in nice enough weather to be able to [be] working all year round, but I also didn’t want to be super far away from my family,” Katie said. “Florida might sound really far away , but in a lot of ways, it’s my home away from home.”
Although it will be a busy schedule next year for Katie, Erik said they would find the time to be together.
“Maybe we’ll go to the beach, go to Disney,” he said. “It’ll be good to have her around.”
Katie’s father believes that she will handle the transition to college very well. The family discusses it frequently, and she is always upbeat about it, he said.
“Every parent is concerned if their kids go away and hope that some of the values that we all cherish for good responsible behavior, making good decisions and being a good leader are things that your child will take with them to college,” he said. “All the indications are it seems like she’s going to be right on the right track.”
And as for her future with golf?
“Katie can go wherever she wants to go with golf,” said Erik. “She’s got the level of determination that it takes. You don’t often see that. You know, there’s a level of talent that’s necessary, and she’s got that. Then there’s the level of willingness to put in hours and she’s demonstrated that. I can’t imagine anything stopping her from being the best.”
Katie’s hopes are that she will qualify for the U.S. Women’s Open this summer, a prestigious championship with professional competition.
For now, she is focused on her fourth state tournament, which begins tomorrow at Izaty’s Resort in Onamia. The two-day match is Katie’s last chance to prove herself in high school. There is an ample amount of pressure, but she has learned how to handle it.
“When you’re faced with a situation where you get nervous, I always think…that’s just saying that you’re at the spot where you want to be,” Katie said. “Because if you’re not nervous, there’s nothing on the line. You have to recognize it and you have to say… ‘I do well when it’s a big situation.’ The more you tell yourself those kinds of things, the better you’ll play. If you want it, you got to go out there, and work hard and go get it.”