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Wavro up for the challenge

Missouri No. 1 golfer Stephanie Wavro proves hard work pays off
Thursday, May 11, 2006 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 12:22 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The top golfer on the Missouri women’s team, junior Stephanie Wavro, became a golfer on her eighth birthday. Her father, Steve Wavro gave her a set of clubs and “was basically like, ‘Here, you play golf now,’” Stephanie Wavro said.

Stephanie Wavro’s golf lessons began long before, though, when she followed him to the neighborhood golf course near their Baytown, Texas home.

Steve Wavro said he was never a good golfer, but studied the game and imparted his knowledge to his daughter.

Wavro was a fast learner. By junior high school, she was beating her father.

They rarely golf together anymore. Steve Wavro said he has a bad back. But his daughter said she began hearing that when she first beat him.

When home, they still compete in the putting challenges her father has played against her since she was a little girl.

Wavro introduced the putting contests to the Missouri team. Last Thursday, she challenged former Missouri golfers Maria Ohlsson and Mindy Bullard and senior Kelli Strubinger.

When the final putt rolled toward Wavro, she crouched wide-eyed behind a hole on the putting green at A.L. Gustin. Clink. Ohlsson won the nine-hole contest by one stroke.

Wavro placed her hands on her cheeks in dismay. Ohlsson raised her club in the air.

“That’s it, I’m done,” Ohlsson said.

Laughing, Wavro buried her face in the palms of her hands.

“That’s not the dramatic finish I was talking about,” she said. “It wasn’t me.”

Wavro wanted to finish a full 18-hole putting challenge, but let it go. She challenged Ohlsson shortly afterward to a chipping contest.

Wavro said she demolished her.

[photo]

MU’s Stephanie Wavro, center, teammate Kelli Strubinger, left, and former Tiger Mindy Bullard, right, take part in a putting challenge Thursday at practice. (TARA HEIN/ Missuorian)

She was happy to even the score, and happy for the extra competition before the NCAA regional tournament, which begins today in Bryan, Texas.

Ohlsson was definitely good preparation. Ohlsson is still in Columbia finishing her degree and preparing to return home in Sweden, where she will compete in the Swedish PGA Tour. Last season, Ohlsson led the Tigers to their first appearance at the NCAA Championship tournament, where they placed 16th.

Wavro and her teammates challenge each other to putting contests every day at practice. Wavro’s putting average is ranked first nationally, and her short game is ranked 10th by golfstat.com. She is the only ranked Tiger, but still challenges her teammates constantly. She wins most of the time, and keeps tally on a dry erase board in the clubhouse. When her teammates happen to win, they do too.

That extra practice figured into Wavro’s breakout season this year.

She finished second overall at the Big 12 Conference Tournament, the best finish by a Tiger. She has played in every tournament this year, but last year she played in only five. Her best finish was 12th place.

Last year, she didn’t go to the NCAA regional tournament. Missouri coach Stephanie Priesmeyer chose then-freshmen Madde Augustsson.

Augustsson beat Wavro by 18 shots in Lubbock, Texas at the Jeannine McHaney Invitational earlier in that season. The NCAA regional tournament was at the same course, and Priesmeyer said she thought Augustsson was a better fit at the time.

Back in Columbia, Wavro was devastated.

“It was the worst feeling ever,” she said.

The previous tournament rosters were decided based on practice performances. She didn’t even have the opportunity to prove her worth.

“What I told her was that I felt Madde was a longer player and the course was long, wide-open and windy,” Priesmeyer said. “I felt that it set up well for Madde.”

Wavro didn’t show her disappointment. Instead, she committed to training over the summer and returning as the team’s top golfer. That way, Wavro told Priesmeyer, she would be guaranteed a spot at the 2006 NCAA regionals. And that’s exactly what has happened.

The advice of Wavro’s father helped his distraught daughter accomplish her goal. Since Priesmeyer didn’t play Wavro because of her trouble with long courses, her father told her to play from the men’s tees over the summer.

“I said, ‘If you do this, when you get to those tournaments you consider long, they’ll be 200 yards shorter that the ones you’ve been practicing on,” Steve Wavro said.

The practice paid off when her 18-hole average from last season dropped from 78.77 to 75.5. The persistence impressed Priesmeyer and impressed her team.

“It says a lot,” Ohlsson said. “She’s willing to put a lot of time on her golf game. She’s willing, and I think that’s the most important. She has the desire.”

Ohlsson said that Wavro’s devotion could mean a professional golf career. Wavro, however, doesn’t want to think about that until she graduates. Before this season, she said turning pro wasn’t even a possibility.

After all, she struggled to secure a college scholarship. After numerous schools expressed interest early in her high school career, Missouri was the only one still interested by her senior season.

Wavro was the Texas Region 3-5A champion her freshman year, and won the District 24-5A championship her freshman and sophomore years.

Then, during her junior and senior seasons, when college recruiters pay the most attention to high school golfers, Wavro’s success tapered. Her best season, her freshman year, seemed like ancient history.

During her junior and senior seasons, she said she choked whenever she noticed a college coach watching a tournament.

“I remember popping drives into the water when the Texas A&M coach was watching,” she said. “I would just get really nervous. It felt do or die.”

[photo]

Steve Wavro, left, gave his daughter Stephanie her first set of golf clubs for her eighth birthday. “He was basically like, ‘Here, you play golf now,’” she said. (Photo courtesy of Stephanie Wavro)

Her father claimed responsibility for the pressure. He had been so active in her golf career that he couldn’t step back and be the supportive parent he meant to be. Wavro said he changed after she secured a college scholarship and moved to Columbia.

“I think I got a little over-involved,” Steve Wavro said. ”I knew the talent she had, and I knew there was a tournament or two that she made a big mistake that she shouldn’t have, and I overreacted, and that had an effect on her.”

She said the pressure confounded the problems she was having on the course.

“When I was in high school, I kind of felt that how much he loved me as a daughter was determined by how well I played in golf,” she said.

But that’s all changed.

After every tournament, she calls her father, and he always tells her how proud he is. Her father and the rest of her family will be in Bryan, Texas, supporting her from the gallery. Steve Wavro was also in Arizona when she shot career low 69s at the Mountain View Classic in Tucson and the PING ASU Invitational in Phoenix. And he was at the Big 12 tournament in Lincoln, Neb., for her best career finish.

Today, Wavro looks forward to seeing her father in the gallery. She looks forward to seeing his thumbs up after a good shot.

After a bad shot, she doesn’t care what he looks like. She knows he’s there for support.

The next chance she gets, Wavro said she’ll challenge her father to a putting contest. Her father said he looks forward to it.

If he wins, Wavro said he will probably claim that he too should be ranked by golfstat.com. Wavro said she will “get in the zone” if she’s behind, but if she’s ahead, will continue her usual trash talking.

“I guess it’s kind of a pride thing with us,” Wavro said. “It’s a pride thing, but I don’t want him to beat me at all. I don’t like losing to anybody, no matter who it is, even if it is my dad.”

Regardless, Wavro said she thinks her father wants to lose in the challenges (even if he doesn’t let her win easily).

Steve Wavro admitted the same.

“I’m proud as hell to have her beat me,” he said.


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