Jenna Anderson had every intention of taking a recruiting visit to South Dakota State University before making her college decision, but the Dousman golfer's heart stopped her Sunday behind the 18th green on the Straits Course at Whistling Straits in Haven.
That's where Anderson — a rising senior at Kettle Moraine High School in Wales and the No. 1-ranked golfer in Wisconsin.Golf's girls Class of 2022 — knew she would have a captive audience in UW-Green Bay's Lee Reinke, the coach of the other NCAA Division I school that had Anderson high on its list, at the end of Day 1 of the Golf Coaches Association of Wisconsin College Showcase. And it was there, against the magnificent backdrop of the venue for the 2021 Ryder Cup, where her recruitment came to an unforgettable end.
"I had kind of narrowed it down to South Dakota State or Green Bay," Anderson said in a telephone interview. "I was in the process of scheduling a visit because I hadn't taken one to SDSU yet. I had been praying about (the decision) a lot, just to know what felt right.
"There was one day when I started thinking about what my pluses and minuses were. I figured that GB had everything I could want in a program. Lee was coming to watch me at the College Showcase on the first day and I knew that. I kind of thought 'What better way to tell him than (overlooking) the 18th green of the Straits Course?'"
Reinke, who had made his offer to Anderson nearly a year ago, is prohibited by NCAA rules from talking publicly about recruits until they have signed their National Letter of Intent, which Anderson will do in November. However, Anderson said the look on his face after she shared her decision to stay close to home and play for the Phoenix is one she will never forget.
"It was a very emotional moment, that's for sure, for both of us," Anderson said. "I got a little teary-eyed. He got a little teary-eyed. ... It was a really special moment."
Then again, Anderson is a special player for a UWGB program that has made significant strides since Reinke became its coach in 2016.
The three-time WIAA Division 1 state qualifier, who finished second to Hartland's Jessica Guiser in the 2020 WPGA Player of the Year standings, is the first top-ranked in-state recruit to cast her lot with the Phoenix. All eight golfers Reinke has recruited during his tenure have hailed from Wisconsin and seven were ranked in the top 10 of their class, but none higher than former WIAA Division 1 state champion Ashley Kulka of Beaver Dam (No. 3 in 2017).
"For me, personally, I hadn't heard about them as much as maybe other schools just because a lot of girls weren't going there, necessarily," Anderson said.
Indeed, Anderson will become only the second golfer ranked No. 1 in her class to choose to play her college golf in Wisconsin since Wisconsin.Golf launched its rankings in 2016. The other was former Hartland Arrowhead golfer Emily Lauterbach (2017), a rising junior at the University of Wisconsin and the Badgers' only in-state scholarship recruit since 2015.
Two No. 1s (Alexis Thomas of Middleton in 2017 and Jo Baranczyk of Green Bay in 2021) chose North Dakota State, another (Abby Cavaiani of Wales in 2018) opted for Missouri State and still another (Mallory Swartz of Franklin in 2020) for Bowling Green State University. Thomas and Baranczyk were among five Wisconsin golfers since 2017 to be recruited to North Dakota State, which — at 195th in the GolfStat Division I national rankings — fell behind UWGB (No. 176) for the first time this spring.
"Lee and I talked about this previously in other classes," Anderson said of the Phoenix's profile among in-state golfers. "The Summit League is really attractive to mid-major level players that come out of Wisconsin. So, like Lee says, the train needs to end going out West."
Even after Reinke's offer to Anderson last August, she said she didn't start to seriously consider UWGB until a month later, after good friend and current Stoughton senior Caylie Kotlowski orally committed to go there.
"It was kind of like 'Let's take a better look at this because clearly they are doing something right' and I think this year was a big testament to that as well," Anderson said of the Phoenix, which finished a program-best third in the Horizon League this spring. "What they're doing to improve their games and improve their culture as a team has helped their teams a lot. I think it's only going to grow from here.
"I think a big part of that for them is their team culture. When I was sitting in the room on my visit, you could just feel how much they cared about each other outside of golf. Through the conversations I’ve had with Lee, as well, he recruits character like that. He pays attention to people who have passion for (golf) and who he knows are going to work at it. When you have a team culture that all has the same mindset on wanting to get better and loving the game of golf, it turns out really great results."
Reinke, who graduated two golfers off his 2020-21 squad and will lose Katie Warpinski after the 2021-22 season, is thought to have interest in bringing in one more recruit from the Class of 2022. That would allow him to build off the momentum of his last two classes and take advantage of the emerging talent in the Class of 2023 and unprecedented depth in the Class of 2024, which would put the program in position to be a force for the balance of the decade.
"We talked about the future that the program can have and how I can be a steppingstone in that sense ... and how there is a lot of talent in classes coming up behind me," Anderson said. "One of the biggest things in my decision-making is I get to be part of a rising program that ... attracts that type of (in-state) talent."
In fact, Anderson said she sees her commitment to UWGB as her way of repaying those in Wisconsin who have gone out of their way to give her the opportunity to play NCAA Division I golf in a program those people have, indirectly, help grown.
"Staying in the state allows me to give back to the people that supported and built junior golf in the state of Wisconsin," Anderson said, naming the Wisconsin PGA, the Wisconsin State Golf Association and her PGA club professionals Chuck Wood at Oconomowoc Golf Club, Travis Becker at The Beloit Club and Jack Gaudion of The Legend Clubs in the Milwaukee area among her junior golf influences.
"Having this success with just Wisconsin girls is almost a way of giving back to them and thanking them and showing them that all of their hard work is being put to good use. That was another thing that I thought of while making this decision. Being part of that, in the future is going to be really (special)."