Back in her Incline High School playing days, when four-time state champion Katelyn Wright ruled Nevada’s 2A golf landscape, she dreamed of one day bursting onto the LPGA Tour.
She clung to the dream throughout her four-year career at the University of Nebraska, where she developed into one of the nation’s top Division I collegiate players.
Now, the time has come to turn that dream into a reality.
“She has the passion and desire to play professionally and is willing to do what it takes. As long as she stays positive and keeps working hard, and doesn’t worry about the little missteps, I think she’s going to do great,” said Robin Krapfl, Nebraska’s longtime women’s golf coach.
Leading the way as the Cornhuskers’ No. 1 golfer her senior season, Wright wrapped up her college career this past spring with a 15th-place finish in the Big Ten Championships. She recorded four career top-five finishes and 15 times finished among the top 25.
“She improved a ton,” Krapfl said. “Obviously she was a great athlete and golfer in high school, but being a multi-sport athlete, she had never really completely focused on golf. There was a lot she still needed to learn, and she was like a sponge picking everything up. She really was one of our most improved players.”
While Wright has one more semester to complete at Nebraska before earning her degree in merchandising and business, she’s ready now to take a shot at the professional ranks.
She’ll compete later this month in the first of three LPGA Tour Qualifying School events, which are used to whittle down the field of aspiring pros until only the elite remain. Among those who advance past the first two qualifying tournaments, only the top 20 players from the third and final event in December receive their LPGA card.
“It’s a lot of pressure,” Wright said, “but that’s one of the things about golf. I think that’s the hardest thing at this level, is how you can handle the pressure and mentally prepare. It’s not so much skill, because everybody is a good player. It’s the mental (aspect) that is probably one of the most neglected parts of the game.”
Highlander to Cornhusker
In high school, Wright dominated like few others in state history, winning the 2A (now Division III) state title all four years. She won state by a 28-stroke margin her junior year and by 26 strokes as a senior.
Her play was good enough to attract the attention of Krapfl, who played with Wright’s mother Shelly at Nebraska. Wright was offered a full-ride scholarship and left for Lincoln, Neb., after graduating from Incline in 2010.
As solid as she was for the Highlanders, however, Wright had to learn to accept an entirely new approach with the Cornhuskers, as Krapfl went to work on rebuilding her promising freshman’s swing from the bottom up.
“It took a year and a half to start seeing results, but I’m really glad that she had that vision for me, because I didn’t,” Wright said of the change.
After posting an average score of 80.08 as a freshman, Wright lowered her score to 79.06 her sophomore year. She continued to improve while leading the Huskers as a junior, shaving her average score to 77.39 and recording two top-five finishes. Wright enjoyed her best results as a senior, when she led her Nebraska team with a 75.71 stroke average and produced seven top-25 finishes in 12 tournaments, including three top-10s.
She was named Big Ten Golfer of the Week on two occasions — in April 2014 and October 2012 — and also held her own in the classroom, receiving Academic All-Big Ten honors in 2012 and making the Big 12 Commissioner’s Honor Roll in 2010 and 2011.
“I am going to miss it,” Wright said of her playing days at Nebraska. “I had such a great experience out there. … The people are amazing and I had great coaches and a great team. The whole atmosphere at the university, I don’t think I could have gotten that at any California school. Nebraska is just its own university, so everybody is just a diehard Husker fan. It’s just so much fun.”
Wright is on track to graduate in December. She’s still riding her full-ride scholarship, meaning she has access to the university’s facilities and can practice with the team. In fact, she’ll serve as a volunteer assistant coach with the Nebraska squad this fall, allowing her the opportunity to give back to the program by mentoring the young team members.
“I think she’ll be good for the younger players,” Krapfl said. “Obviously she’s been through everything, and she can be there for them when they need someone to talk to, or make suggestions on the right way to do things.”
While knocking out her final classes before graduation, Wright said she looks forward to a more relaxed playing schedule as she attempts to earn her LPGA Tour card.
“I think it will be a little easier than college golf. In college you’re gone about three or four days per tournament every other week, and it gets so difficult to keep up with your school work,” she said. “This semester I’ll compete for only three weeks, and they’re broken up. Plus I have a lighter class load.”
The first stage of the LPGA Tour Qualifying School is scheduled for Aug. 26-29 at Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, Calif. The second stage is in late September and the third stage in December, Wright said.
Making the cut will not be easy, and Wright knows it. Yet she remains confident in her ability and determined to achieve her dream.
“It takes on average about four years for somebody to make it onto the LPGA Tour. But I am very ambitious, and I’m really dedicated and love what I do,” she said. “If I don’t make it, there are a lot of mini tours and stuff and you can still make a good amount of money.
“I think golf is one of those sports where you can get better in college, but you really make steps in the summertime when you’re not tied down by school. So when I graduate and I’m able to play and it’s my job, I think that’s when I’ll see a lot of the progress that you don’t really see until then.”
Wherever her playing career takes her, Wright said she plans to use her merchandising degree to remain in the industry. She’s always wanted to start a golf clothing line for girls, ideally while she’s still playing.
Before diving into that endeavor, however, Wright has a dream to pursue.
“The thing I love about golf is that you can be 35 and still play it well,” she said. “Mo Martin, who just won the British Open, was on the mini tour for like eight to 10 years before she won her first LPGA event. You just have to stick with it, and that’s what I plan to do.”