Caylie Kotlowski always envisioned getting an opportunity to play golf after high school.
"But what that looked like was unclear," she admitted.
The Stoughton senior never could have envisioned making her college decision the way she did this week. Welcome to the COVID-19 era of college golf recruiting.
Kotlowski announced that she had orally committed to attend UW-Green Bay next fall and play golf for coach Lee Reinke. As simple as that decision sounds, it took a great leap of faith between both parties to make it happen.
Due to NCAA-imposed COVID-19 recruiting restrictions, Reinke never got the chance to see Kotlowski play this summer as she finished tied for 12th place at the Wisconsin State Women's Amateur and tied for 16th at the Wisconsin State Women's Open on top of a heavy junior golf schedule.
Likewise, while Kotlowski and her family were able to tour the Green Bay campus, they weren't able to meet with Reinke in person, per NCAA restrictions.
"I had a chance to play with one of the Green Bay players (Isabelle Maleki) this summer at the (State) Women's Open and she was very helpful with her feedback about the program," Kotlowski wrote in an email interview with Wisconsin.Golf, saying she has found other ways to connect with Reinke. "COVID has impacted the recruiting process. ... But we have done a lot of phone calls and FaceTime meetings.
"I knew it in my heart that Green Bay is the right place for me."
And Kotlowski, a powerful golfer who many believe has yet to scratch the surface of her potential, might be the most impactful recruit Reinke has landed during his four years as Phoenix women's golf coach.
A two-time WIAA Division 1 state qualifier, Kotlowski qualified both years as a sectional champion. She shot 73 at Reedsburg Country Club to win the Reedsburg sectional as a sophomore and a 74 at Lake Windsor CC to win the DeForest sectional as a junior.
Kotlowski shot 73-79 and finished fourth at the 2018 state tournament, but — with the weight of college recruiting process growing — shot 89-86 and struggled to a 34th-place finish as a junior. Her opportunity to get another shot at University Ridge Golf Course in Madison has been postponed by COVID-19 after Stoughton opted to play its fall sports — and Kotlowski's senior season — in the WIAA's alternate fall season starting in late March.
When that time comes now, Kotlowski won't have the weight of a college decision on her mind.
"I was always working hard competing and trying to better my game," Kotlowski wrote. "Many college coaches started showing interest and reaching out to me this past year, which was pretty cool. Some of the colleges that showed an interest in me were from out of state and some (from) around here. I knew that I wanted to stay close to home, if possible."
Reinke made that possible, amid challenging times for college coaches everywhere.
NCAA rules prohibit Reinke from commenting on recruits until they have signed their National Letter of Intent. However, Kotlowski is likely to be the Phoenix's lone recruit in its Class of 2021 with five of Green Bay's seven returning golfers likely to take an additional year of eligibility offered by the NCAA in wake of the cancellation of the 2020 spring season due to the coronavirus — a significant disappointment for Reinke and his golfers, who were looking to better their sixth-place finish at the 2019 Horizon League Championship.
Against that backdrop, Kotlowski knows how fortunate she was to get an NCAA Division I offer. She expressed her appreciation for God, her family, coaches, teammates and instructor Larry Tiziani, who — in her words — "literally taught me how to play at the next level" as she waited for the recruiting process to take hold.
"The process, for me, seriously began when Green Bay reached out to me early this summer at the end of my junior year," Kotlowski wrote. "That was really a huge confidence boost for me because I knew I wanted to play Division I college golf."
While the process getting there looked a lot different than it did for golfers in the classes before her, Kotlowski said one thing about it hasn't changed: That feeling in her heart when she got to see the school that had what she wanted.
"My family and I went up to visit the campus and immediately felt like it was a great fit," Kotlowski wrote. "It felt like a little community, with everything in walking distance. A huge bonus for me is they have a nine-hole course on campus. You don't have to travel far for classes. Everything is in its own area.
"Some of the people we met while there had a lot of great things to say about the college and programs they offer. Coach Reinke shows a lot of passion for the team and their success in school as well as golf."
Kotlowski may not know exactly what her academic goals are — "Like I’ve been told 'Figure out what you love to do, then find a way to get paid for doing it,'" she wrote — but she knows she loves golf. And she also knows how badly she wants to make an impact with her clubs for the Phoenix.
"Coach Reinke has been super helpful and very open about how he sees me fitting in with the team," Kotlowski wrote. "I know I will continue to work super hard to continue reaching my goals and playing for an awesome program. I know Coach Reinke has done amazing things with the golf program, so I am super excited to be a part of GB.
"Finally, after much prayer and conversations that I had with Coach Reinke, I realized that this was going to be my next journey."