NESHANIC STATION, N.J. – It’s not often that players walk out of a scoring tent in tears after shooting under par. But for Steffi Neisen, stroke-play qualifying at the U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links provided a mixture of joy and relief. The hard work paid off.
Neisen’s goal coming into the WAPL was simply to advance to match play, something she hadn’t done in three previous USGA appearances. Rounds of 70-68 at Neshanic Valley Golf Course put her in second place at 6-under 138, one stroke shy of soon-to-be-USC-graduate Lisa McCloskey.
“I know I’m a good player,” Neisen said, but it meant something to the Nebraska junior to post those rounds back to back.
Few players in this week’s field have a perspective on the game like Neisen, 20, of New Prague, Minn. Her two brothers were diagnosed with Hunter syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that predominately affects males.
Sam Neisen died two years ago at age 16 from the terminal condition. Steffi’s youngest brother, 12-year-old Tommy, was diagnosed with the syndrome at age 3. When asked if Tommy was able to follow along by watching live scoring, Steffi said he can’t talk or walk. He doesn’t go to school. The family is uncertain how much Tommy’s brain can process, but they speak to him as though he were like any other child. He stopped developing normally around age 4.
“We never have a negative attitude in our household,” Steffi said.
Steffi’s brothers are always on her mind when she’s on the golf course. She writes “Sam” on her golf balls and reminds herself how fortunate she is to be able to travel the country to play a game. She also has a talented younger sister, McKenzie, who qualified for the 2010 U.S. Girls’ Junior.
“It’s not really a sympathy card,” said Steffi, who instead uses her family as inspiration.
Steffi has her father, Chris, on the bag this week. He introduced her to the game back home in New Prague, southwest of Minneapolis. She takes lessons from Chris Baisch at Hazeltine National, and made it a point to mention her Nebraska coaches, head coach Robin Krapfl and assistant Mike Schuchart. All three have been huge influences on her game.
Neisen’s ability to go low was on display at the Mountain View Collegiate in March, where she shot a school-record 6-under 66. Her overall stroke average last season, however, shows the disparity: 76.67.
At Neshanic, Neisen shot 32 on a flawless front nine (her back) with a closing birdie on the par-5 ninth. She was overwhelmed by the moment, soaking up the experience with her father.
“That was my only goal, just to make the cut,” Neisen said. “Maybe this is my time to do a little better.”