COLUMBIA — As soon as the putt disappeared in the cup, sophomore Julia Potter was showered by applause from her friends, family and teammates.
Potter had just carded a 66, matching the MU women’s school record for the lowest round. She had also just won her second consecutive tournament in as many weeks.
Four years ago this November, Potter was told that she might never swing a golf club again.
The week before Thanksgiving in 2003, Potter was involved in 11 hours of back surgery because of problems caused by scoliosis. This condition was causing her rib cage to move around and in turn, it caused her organs to move around.
Before the surgery took place, Potter thought she received a sign from God.
“Right before my surgery, I had my first hole-in-one,” she said. “I said that I would not quit golf until I had a hole-in-one. I thought it was a sign that I would not pick up the clubs again.”
During the surgery, the doctors took out one of Potter’s ribs and collapsed a lung. The procedure left Potter with a rod in her back, creating considerable doubt about ever playing golf at the same level again.
Just a few months later, though, Potter was back on the course and playing in her first tournament since the surgery. She shot a 78 in the March event.
“For her to even be playing out there is a miracle. She is an inspiration to me,” her sister, Jackie Potter, said. “I have so much confidence in her. I know that when she puts her mind to something, she will go after it with everything she has.”
The surgery has left Potter with a different outlook on life. Now, she views playing golf as a privilege and has even found that the surgery was advantageous in a way.
“As much as it was hard to go through, I look back at it now as a blessing because it put things in perspective. I do not get as upset with the small things in life,” she said.
After the surgery, Potter’s family was there to help her to recover. Her sister came up from Wisconsin to be with her for a week. They were also there on Oct. 9 when she won the Johnie Imes Invitational.
Her parents made the trip from Indiana and her sister from Georgia. They fit in with the rest of the Tiger fans, wearing all black. Her mom was even wearing golf shoes. Her father, Phil Potter, was proudly displaying a hat with a tiger on the front and the inscription “Julia’s Dad” on the back.
As they watched Potter squeeze in a par putt on the 15th hole, they couldn’t help but be nervous. They knew she was in contention to win. Her sister commented that she was going to need pills for high blood pressure. As she drained a 20-foot putt for birdie on the next hole, her father yelled “unbelievable.”
“It’s gratifying to see that she has made the most of the talent she has been given,” her father said. “It’s fun to watch, and I admire the way she manages her game around the course.”
Potter’s father can be credited with sparking her interest in golf. When she was young, he would take her out on Sundays so she could chip and putt while he played.
“To this day, chipping and putting is the best part of her game. She just embraces the game and loves to play competitive golf,” her father said.
When it comes to watching his daughter play competitive golf, however, he makes sure he is not in her direct eyesight.
“I am an animated fan and I do not make excuses for it, I just am,” he said. “I try to go ahead of her so when she hits a bad shot she does not see me frown or smile when she hits a good shot.”
He couldn’t help, but be close to the edge of the green, however, when Potter was getting ready to make her final putt of the tournament. After turning in her scorecard, the two embraced.
“I just told her how proud I was of her and what a great golfer she is,” her father said.
She also received a hug from her coach, Stephanie Priesmeyer who was choked up after the round.
“I was tearing up watching her on 18. I am just so proud of her. She can do that almost every time she plays,” Priesmeyer said.