Jackie Stoelting and her husband, Travis, confer on a shot during a practice round prior to Jackie's first tournament as an LPGA professional.
Feb 5, 2015
Jackie Barenborg Stoelting ’08 is walking to the first tee for a practice round at Golden Ocala Golf & Equestrian Club in Ocala, two days before the start of the Coates Golf Championship, the first tournament in the LPGA’s 2015 season. A fan recognizes her.
“I was rooting for you on Big Break,” he says. Stoelting smiles widely, shakes his hand and thanks him.
Later she confides, “I’m still getting used to that. People recognize me in airports.”
The modest Stoelting is the first FSC women’s golfer to play full-time on the Ladies Professional Golf Association tour. Last year, buoyed by a $50,000 paycheck for winning Big Break – the Golf Channel’s TV game show – she finished as one of the top 10 money winners on the Symetra developmental golf tour, earning fully exempt status on the LPGA this season, meaning she can play in any tournament she wants.
The achievement was a long time coming. Stoelting was not a star player in high school, and she was focused on getting her education degree when she came to FSC. But she was a two-time second-team All-American and helped the women’s golf team win a national title her senior year, finishing 11th in the championship tournament.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better experience. It was an awesome four years. I’m very proud to be an alumna,” she says
With her degree in hand, Stoelting almost became an elementary school teacher rather than a golf professional, but she decided she could always go back to teaching and wanted to see if she could play professionally. She started with small professional tournaments, supporting herself by working in the clubhouse of a local golf course, and eventually qualified for the Symetra tour, where she played five years, improving her winnings each year.
Stoelting puts it mildly when she says that 2013 was “a pretty decent year.” In May, she qualified for the U.S. Women’s Open and made the cut, got married in June to Travis Stoelting, and in the fall she won Big Break (although the show didn’t air until the following spring). Winning the pressure-packed show, in which one bad shot can oust you, helped in more than ways than one.
“It was like a burden was lifted. Before that, if I didn’t make the cut in a tournament, I didn’t know if I could afford to play the following week. Winning that show really helped boost my confidence. It also helped in finding sponsors,” she says.
Now Stoelting is playing on the biggest stage in women’s golf, and she is trying to take the same steady approach that got her this far. Not a particularly long hitter, her game centers on accuracy off the tee and around the greens.
“Consistency is the key. There’s not a lot of difference in talent among these players, but here the girls are more consistent. Anyone can win on any given week. It’s just a matter of believing in yourself and committing to every shot,” she says.
Chaos swirls around professional golfers at every tournament, with the media, coaches, agents, and fans everywhere. Blocking out distractions is one of the keys to success, and Stoelting says her parents have helped by handling the business side of things, allowing her to focus on practicing and playing.
It also helps that her husband, Travis Stoelting, is her swing coach and caddy. She met Travis, at the time an assistant golf professional at a club in Fort Pierce, through a friend at a trade show in Orlando. Later she called him up and asked if he wanted to play a round together.
“It developed into something more, and I’m very happy,” she says. “It gives me a sense of calmness to have him with me. It’s lonely on the tour, and it’s hard to find a good caddy. With him, I don’t have to worry about those things. We joke that on the course I’m the boss, and off the course, he’s the boss.”
Stoelting missed the 36-hole cut in Ocala, unable to recover from an opening-round 79. She admits the huge crowds made it hard to concentrate at first.
“I learned from it and bounced back the second day with an even par round. I proved to myself that I belong out there and I just need to concentrate a little more. It was an awesome week and I learned a lot,” she says.
Robbie Davis, the FSC women’s golf coach, went to Ocala to watch her play and says Stoelting wasn’t her usual accurate self but expects her to return to form once she gets used to the exposure of the LPGA tour.
“To make it to that level, you have to have talent and drive and be able to face adversity. Jackie has shown anyone can do it if you work hard,” he says. “It’s a great legacy that our program is starting to produce players who can make it to the professional level.”
Stoelting’s goal is simply to play as well as she can and let the scores take care of themselves, but she admits that playing one shot at a time is the hardest thing to do in professional golf.
“It’s too easy to get down on yourself. I’m going to try to have fun. How many people can say they play on the LPGA tour?” she says.
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