Mason Schmidtke will resume his high school basketball career this winter, not so much because the Sheboygan North senior is looking forward to lighting it up from the perimeter but because of the guys he will be playing alongside.
"I've been playing basketball with them since I can remember," said Schmidtke, who spent last season as a volunteer freshman coach while focusing on playing tournaments through the winter to boost his golf profile among college coaches. "Playing with them on a court at that (varsity) level, that has been a dream."
That same spirit of family became a leading consideration in recent months as Schmidtke, the first high school golfer to win the prestigious Ray Fischer Amateur Championship and the No. 1 golfer in the Wisconsin.Golf Class of 2023 state rankings, sorted out his recruiting options on the golf course.
Schmidtke saw that culture as he got to know the coaches and golfers (past and present) at Marquette University in Milwaukee and prompted him to announce Friday that he will play next fall for Golden Eagles coach Steve Bailey. Schmidtke said during a telephone interview that he chose Marquette over the University of Wisconsin, with South Dakota, where brother Max is a fourth-year senior and would've been his teammate for one year, in the running until recent weeks.
"They're family; you can't even call it a culture," Schmidtke said of the bond he saw among current Marquette golfers that, upon closer observation during the summer, extended to former Golden Eagles going back years, if not decades.
"When I went on the campus tour, every guy (on the team) is hanging out together. They just do everything together. That, for me, is a key component. ... I've played basketball with that group of guys since fourth grade. Just being a part of that family and growing together in a team aspect is something special.
"I felt they had that special trait; it really stood out to me when I was there. Even at the State Open, watching the playoff (featuring former Marquette golfer Hunter Eichhorn), not only do you have guys going to Marquette walking along, but you've got alumni there watching. To me, it was crazy to see how far the family of Marquette extends. It shocked me."
At the same time, Schmidtke wanted it to be known that he is starting to see that same culture develop at UW under second-year Badgers coach Mike Wilson, who poured as much time into recruiting Schmidtke as Bailey did.
However, Wilson's efforts to build internal competition on the UW roster — he has brought in four transfers in the last nine months in addition to three freshmen in his 2022 class — has resulted in a 12-player roster for the 2022-23 season. Schmidtke said he was told late in the recruiting process that Wilson has been directed by UW athletic director Chris McIntosh to reduce his roster to 10 golfers by next season, leaving him "land-locked" in what he could offer Schmidtke. Wilson, by NCAA rule, is prohibited from speaking publicly about recruits until they have signed their National Letter of Intent, which Schmidtke will do in November.
"They were only able to offer me a gap-year offer where my first year would have been 2024," Schmidtke said of the Badgers. "When (Wilson) offered me the spot without the financial (details), he himself didn't know it was going to have to be for 2024. ... It was a shock for him and for me. He said he understood my situation and I'm grateful for that. I hope we can continue to build a relationship; we'll be seeing each other at a lot of tournaments."
To his credit, Schmidtke gave the coaches pursuing him a lot to like at the tournaments he played this past summer.
It began with a runner-up finish at the WIAA Division 1 state boys golf tournament at Blackwolf Run in Kohler and featured an assortment of strong finishes between the junior and men's amateur ranks. The Ray Fischer victory at Janesville Riverside GC stood out not only for his 65-74-71-67 card, but because he withstood challenges from current UW golfer Graham Moody of Vancouver, Wash.; former Badger Garrett Jones of Madison and former Michigan golfer Jack Schultz of Milwaukee and emerged with a one-stroke victory.
Schmidtke showed incredible consistency in finishing T-29 at the Wisconsin State Amateur and T-39 at the Wisconsin State Open, averaging 74.1 in those eight tournament rounds with no round lower than 72 or higher than 76. It was a different story in the junior ranks where he qualified for the U.S. Junior Amateur with a 69 at Blackhawk CC in Madison and also won the Mike Schnarr Boys Championship with rounds of 69-68 after winning the 35th Lake Arrowhead Invitational (71-72) on the two courses at Lake Arrowhead GC near Nekoosa.
A future Business major who plans to minor in Psychology, Schmidtke said he will be driven to be in the right frame of mind to make an impact at Marquette. Bailey has two graduate students on the roster in Nicolas Evangelio and Spring Valley's Tyler Leach, the last in-state Wisconsin golfer to get a scholarship offer from Bailey before he made Milwaukee Marquette's Will Hemauer a late offer this past summer.
"For me, it's not time to take a break; it's time to dig deep and get as good as I can before I get there," Schmidtke said. "If I walk in Day 1 on campus, Day 1 of practice and I feel fully prepared and I feel I've done as much as I can, whatever results come I'm not going to be upset — whether they are good or bad. The only way I would be upset with myself would be if I looked back and said 'Hey, I could have been doing more to prepare myself.'
"For me, I always try and take the results out of it — whether I'm in that starting five right away or whether I'm not. The goal, ultimately, isn't to play every meet; it's to get better at golf and get to a place where I can play professionally when I'm leaving."