NCAA Day 3 - Reinecke preparing to tee off.jpg

Wisconsin's Jessica Reinecke is focused as she prepares to hit a tee shot on Wednesday at University Ridge.

Todd Oehrlein is at the age now where he almost needs a scrapbook to recall what life was like when he was a basketball standout at UW-Eau Claire.

The highs. The lows.

The victories. The defeats.

The joys. The frustrations.

The University of Wisconsin women's golf coach admittedly handles the extremes of college athletics differently these days. As much as he'd love to see stability and consistency become a staple of his Badgers' lineup, Oehrlein knows there is something to be said for the opportunity of a team still trying to find its identity and a starting five that doesn't change from week-to-week.

"For me, ... I've done it long enough that I'm OK with that process and I'm able to stay patient," Oehrlein told Wisconsin.Golf this week before departing for Sunday's season opener at the Central Florida Challenge in Orlando, Florida. "We're all very competitive, though, and you certainly always want (success) to happen really fast. (With) young players, they do a lot of really great things on the golf course; you see promise and you see things you like and things you can build upon.

"But there is just an inconsistency, too. They make some mistakes. Some of those mistakes are technical pieces. Some of those piece are maturity. And some of it is just inexperience in management. It's just part of an overall developmental process that you need to continue to (build) on."

Badgers spring schedule

Date Tournament Site
Feb. 3-5 UCF Challenge Eagle Creek GC-Orlando
Feb. 24-25 Westbrook Invitational Westbrook GC-Peoria, Ariz.
March 15-17 Notre Dame Clover Cup Longbow GC-Mesa, Ariz.
March 22-24 Mountainview Collegiate Mountainview GC-Tucson, Ariz.
April 7-9 Silverado Showdown Siteilverado Resort-Napa, Calif.
April 19-21 Big Ten Conference Championship TPC River's Bend GC-Maineville, Ohio

Last fall, UW managed to identify four of the six pieces needed by the end of the spring schedule for the Big Ten Conference Championship.

Senior Jessica Reinecke led the way in stroke average (73.7) and posted a counting score in all 11 rounds she played. Not far behind were sixth-year senior Aya Johnson (74.2; 10-for-11), freshman Tracy Lee (75.2; 8-for-11) and junior Tess Hackworthy (76; 7-for-9). 

"Jess and Aya were both real consistent and real solid in the fall," Oehrlein said. "I expected that; they didn't surprise me with their experience and the things they'd done before. Jess had an outstanding fall; you can tell she was confident out there, confident and comfortable. That shows good leadership. The other players see that confidence and see that comfort and they see what she does and how she goes about things. I thought she did a great job in that area."

As it turns out, the timing of Reinecke's development as a leader could not be more critical.

Johnson, who was given a sixth year of eligibility late last summer after having missed most of two seasons with a back injury, informed Oehrlein recently that she would not be returning to the team this spring. During winter break, the Communications Arts major received a job offer from Golf Channel to be a producer on "Morning Drive," the network's popular morning talk show.

"It's an opportunity for another player," Oehrlein said. "It's an opportunity for somebody to gain experience and get out there and play."

For this week's opener, that means Reinecke, Lee, Hackworthy, sophomore Claire Fitzgerald and freshman Gabrielle Tomeo will comprise UW's starting lineup. Junior Eloise Healey will compete as an individual.

However, Oehrlein said every available golfer — "really, the rest of the roster," Oehrlein said — will have the opportunity to play her way into the lineup.

He hopes that will include senior Nat Zeng, who missed the fall season coming back from elbow surgery. She will sit out this weekend to "continue to build strength and rehabilitate," but hopes she will be a factor before all is said and done.

"There's a player who, when healthy, is a top-of-the-lineup type player for us," Oehrlein said. "That would be a really big boost, too, to see Nat be able to play and be able to get back healthy for us. It's senior year and I'd like to see her finish strong like that."

At the same time, Oehrlein is just as curious to see how the future of the program starts the spring in Orlando — and finishes the spring at the Big Ten Championships in late April.

"We're not as experienced as some teams are in the league right now, but I love our team," Oehrlein said. "I think it's going to be really interesting to see how it plays out. I'm excited to look forward and see what happens. A lot of it is players get opportunities and do they grab onto it? Do they take advantage of it? 

"We've talked about it in the past, that the competition and the program itself creates development and growth. As players get those opportunities and experiences, some of them grab onto it and they take it and run with it." 

rob@killarneygolfmedia.com

Rob started covering the Wisconsin golf scene in 1987 at the Wisconsin State Journal in Madison & has been the only reporter covering all levels of state golf. He joined Killarney Golf Media in Sept. 2015 & helped launch Wisconsin.Golf in Jan. 2016.