COLUMBIA — At first glance, Katherine Hepler does not seem impressive. But watch Hepler swing a golf club and it's difficult not to get interested in the 17-year-old.
Then take a look at the 17-year-old's other accomplishments, and it becomes hard to decide which is most impressive.
WHEN: Friday through Sunday
WHERE: Lawrence Country Club in Lawrence, Kan.
Missouri Golfers Competing: Senior Hannah Lovelock, Senior Marissa Cook, Sophomore Ariana Savich, Sophomore Talyor Gohn, Freshman Alina Rogers.
Last Tournament: The Tigers finished fourth at the Rebel Intercollegiate in Oxford, Miss. Four Tigers finished in the top 20, including Taylor Gohn who was the top performer for Missouri and finished tied for 14th.
You could start with Hepler winning every match she played her senior season for University High School in Normal, Ill. She set course records in both the Illinois state high school regional and sectional tournaments en route to winning her school's first Class 1A individual state girls golf championship.
Or you can look to her performance at the Junior PGA championship when she was named the Junior PGA Player of the Year for the girls 16-18 division after tying for 15th place. You could even mention that she is a 10-time champion of the Drysdale Junior Golf Tournament.
However, as spectacular as Hepler's golf resume is, it is her work in the classroom that is truly astonishing.
Hepler is taking both her athletic and academic talents to Columbia where she has signed a letter of intent to play for the Missouri women's golf team next fall.
In Hepler, the Tigers are getting a golf recruit who Missouri coach Stephanie Priesmeyer calls "one of the top three players I have every recruited." But they are also getting someone with a wide array of interests and achievements.
Hepler's resume boasts a 4.0 GPA, a 35 ACT score and four years in her high school's jazz, concert and marching bands.
She plays with University High's pit orchestra and wind ensembles on tenor saxophone, clarinet, baritone saxophone and bass clarinet. She also tutors students in chemistry and algebra, "just for fun."
Hepler plans to study Chemical Engineering at MU and is enrolled in the Honors College Discovery Fellows Program, a prestigious work-study program that requires a minimum of eight hours of research a week.
Originally headed to the University of Illinois, Hepler backed out of her oral commitment to the Illini and chose Missouri because of an academic program that will allow her to complete her master's degree in four years.
Hepler's course load seems unbearable even for a non-athlete, and though Missouri's golf team practices 20 hours a week and travels five days a week during the heart of their season, the incoming freshman is (somehow) not worried about being too overwhelmed.
"I have always had a tough course load," said Hepler, who is currently taking two advanced placement and two dual credit classes at University High. "I just need to keep working hard and working ahead. I just need to remember what I have to get done. I will probably be fine."
Along with improving her golf game to be able to compete in the Southeastern Conference next year, Hepler said she plans to get her course materials early so she can learn half of her coursework before the fall semester even starts.
On her official visit to Missouri this year, Hepler bonded with current Tigers golfer Laura Kraft. They struck up a friendship quickly because of their shared interest in music. Kraft, who plays cello and sings, also has a desire to overachieve and is a chemical engineering major.
Kraft gave Hepler some pointers on how to make the transition to college while maintaining such an intense course load.
“I just told her to not leave things until the last minute, which a lot of college kids like to do,” Kraft said. “I think she will be able to handle all of it, she takes all of her work very seriously. She has a brain on her for sure.”
Hepler isn't shy about her ambitions.
Once she graduates, she said she plans on joining the LPGA tour, and once she is done with that, she wants to solve the United States’ energy crisis.
“I don’t really know a lot about chemical engineering yet, I still need to do some research on it,” Hepler said. “But I want to make our energy more efficient and find ways to get more out of our energy sources you know, make them more economically feasible. Stuff like that.”
Hepler might one day save the world, but for now, Priesmeyer is just happy to be adding such an accomplished golfer to her team.
“She takes the same type of desire that she has in the classroom and takes it out onto the course,” Priesmeyer said. “Her competitiveness is going to be contagious.”
Supervising editor is Grant Hodder.