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Ever since I was a little girl, my life has been unconventional. I was a huge tomboy. I never owned a Barbie doll and hated dressing up, but I loved rolling in the mud and playing football with my brother, Nathan, and his friends. As a teenager I helped my Dad renovate his rental homes by laying floorboards and shingling. Mom homeschooled Nathan, who's my best friend and a year older, and me all the way through high school, and I graduated when I was 16. Next fall Nathan and I will become the first members of our family to graduate from college. At North Dakota State, I'm majoring in accounting with a minor in fraud investigation, not the typical subjects that athletes study.
Doing what is best for me, and not necessarily what is normal, has defined my life in golf as well. Every year until the end of high school I would go six months without touching a club, and even now I take two months off every year. The only coach I've had, Dale Helm, isn't a golf professional; he's a retired businessman who once was a low handicapper and teaches on the side. I putt cross-handed. I love winning, but my ultimate motivation isn't to collect trophies or to glorify myself; I play to honor the Lord and to use my talents to positively affect other people. Until I was 16, I had never played in a national tournament; I only entered events in the Fargo-Moorhead area.
The thing about my golf that most makes people think I'm crazy is that I live in North Dakota year round. People in the golf world can't understand how somebody who's serious about the game can live in North Dakota. They gasp when I tell them I practice exclusively indoors all winter, hitting balls at the Sports Bubble in Fargo and into nets at my house and at my coach's Quonset hut. For putting, I use the little greens in the basement of my house and at the Sports Bubble. As bizarre as my approach to golf seems, I wouldn't have it any other way. It keeps me happy and excited about the game, and I've had pretty good success.
I have lived my entire life in Oxbow, a 300-person community surrounded by farmland and tundra 10 miles south of Fargo. Oxbow has no stoplights and no stores, just a nice 18-hole golf course with about 100 houses around it. We live on the 12th hole, a 185-yard par-3.
My dad, a single-digit handicapper, started Nathan and me in golf when we were toddlers. In the summer Dad would load us, some snacks and drinks and our cutoff clubs into a plastic wagon, and he'd wheel us to the driving range and around the course. Nathan loved the game, but I hated it. While Dad and Nathan played, I'd pick dandelions and build golf-ball pyramids. The only fun I had was when I intentionally whacked balls into the water—I loved the splashes.
But when I was nine my attitude about the game changed. The year before, Nathan had played in the Ironman Classic, a junior tournament in Detroit Lakes, Minn., and won a big trophy for finishing third. He and I have always been ultracompetitive about everything, and that got me motivated about golf. When I told Dad of my desire to play in the Ironman, he was happy to make that happen, but he had a caveat: He'd pay the entry fee only if I agreed to practice.
Mom and Dad have always taught us to work hard and be committed to whatever we do. Dad never had to tell me to practice that summer, and he hasn't had to tell me since. I loved spending hours on the range. Some parents wanted to know why I practiced so much and how they could get their kids to work as hard as I did. Others suspected that my parents bribed me into practicing. I wish! I worked so hard because I loved the game and wanted to win.
That July, I hit 150 bags of range balls. (There were 50 balls in a bag.) I know the exact number because I kept a log. I won the Ironman's 8- to 12-year-old girls' division by 13 strokes, and my passion for golf has burned ever since.
As a kid I was used to hearing people criticize the way my parents, my brother and I approached things. Take homeschooling. That was very rare around Fargo, and some people strongly opposed it and acted unfriendly to us, which was hard to take. The perception was that my parents thought Nathan and I were better than other kids and should be taught individually. None of that was true. Mom and Dad simply wanted to instill their values about the Lord and life, and they felt they couldn't do that if we were at school eight hours a day.
We faced similar opposition in golf. By the time Nathan and I were about 12, we were both serious about the game, but we never wanted to travel around the country to compete. People, including some golf pros, told us that we'd never get noticed by colleges if we didn't travel. But our goal wasn't to get noticed, win trophies or get a big scholarship.