As heartbreaking as it was to receive the news that her senior season on the University of Wisconsin women's golf team would never reach the finish line, Tess Hackworthy has found it far more devastating the last three weeks to see the immense struggle the COVID-19 pandemic has caused around the globe.
"One thing that has helped me stay level is (knowing) there are so many people in this world struggling so much worse and going through really, really extreme hard times – much worse than having a golf season taken away from them," the Madison native and four-time defending Wisconsin Women's State Open champion said the other day. "That's just something to keep in mind."
Tess Hackworthy: Badgers stats
Then again, the 23-year-old Hackworthy has always had a crystal-clear view of the world around her and an appreciation for things truly important.
When her mother Amie was diagnosed with breast cancer 10 years ago last month? Tess Hackworthy organized a three-mile "Walk for Courage" through her family's Maple Bluff neighborhood five weeks after learning of the diagnosis and, with the support of more than 700 people, raised $50,000 to fight the disease. She made it an annual event that had a four-year run.
When Tess had a cancer scare of her own during her freshman year at UW? She let doctors remove a melanoma from her right leg, stepped away from the game briefly just as her college career was getting started, and not only came back stronger physically but emotionally as well.
Those experiences no doubt made it easier for Hackworthy than most to process the latest dose of bad news UW coach Todd Oehrlein delivered March 12 while she and a few of her teammates were practicing at the indoor facility at University Ridge.
Two days shy of her team's annual spring-break training trip, college sports were shutting down around Hackworthy and the Badgers. The NCAA had canceled its winter and spring championships. Schools were suspending all travel. Eventually, conferences canceled all conference and non-conference competitions as their schools started closing campuses and converting to online instruction for the rest of the school year.
For Hackworthy, the news came smack-dab in the middle of the best season of her career. She led UW in stroke average (74.47), had posted two top-10 finishes in six starts – highlighted by a victory in the 36-hole stroke-play qualifier for the weather-shortened East-West Match Play Challenge – and was coming off a 14th-place finish at the Gunrock Invitational, which concluded March 3 in Sacramento, Calif., when her season came to a halt.
"We were waiting to hear if we were going on our spring-break trip and, all of a sudden, it was like the whole Band-Aid was just ripped off and your whole season was stripped away," said Hackworthy, who happened to be with a small group of teammates during a later practice session that day. "I'm really thankful that I was there to receive that news in person. I feel bad for some of my teammates who might have been in class or studying back on campus and had to receive the news over a phone call or FaceTime.
"Obviously, it was extremely hard and shocking to receive news like that. It was hard to believe, too."
For Hackworthy, so too was the news that followed – that the NCAA was willing to extend the eligibility of spring sports athletes who had their seasons quashed.
Hackworthy, who also serves as president of the UW chapter of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, signed a letter as part of national SAAC effort to guide the NCAA committee that this week voted on the eligibility relief. That committee approved a plan that would allow all spring sports athletes whose season was compromised by the coronavirus pandemic to gain an additional year of eligibility, the financial terms of which will be decided by each school.
For Hackworthy, the potential options leave her with a difficult decision.
Last fall, Hackworthy earned conditional status on the 2020 Symetra Tour by returning a 72-hole score at the first stage of LPGA Tour/Symetra Tour Qualifying School. She was hoping to get a few starts on the LPGA's developmental circuit as an amateur before giving the Q-School another try in late August.
With several Symetra Tour events having already been canceled, Hackworthy knows those playing opportunities will be further limited and, at this point, there is no guarantee in-state tournaments this summer will be played without disruption. Looking toward the future, she knows she might be better off building a 2020-21 schedule around the 10-plus events she would get with a restored season of college eligibility – if she and Oehrlein agree that it makes sense for her to return.
"There is definitely going to be a ripple effect and to figure that out is going to be really, really tough," said Hackworthy, a retailing and consumer behavior major who like teammate Eloise Healey will be graduating next month. "The incoming freshmen were assuming two seniors are graduating and spots on the roster are opening up (with) opportunities for them to play and make a difference for the program. If those opportunities aren't there, that's a little unsettling for incoming freshmen as well."
The idea of returning isn't without unsettling thoughts for Hackworthy, too. "I never expected to possibly be thinking about being in college at age 24," she said.
As she weighs her options, Hackworthy knows one thing: She'll be playing golf somewhere for a long, long time.
"That's the great thing about the sport we play – it's always there for us," Hackworthy said, once again directing the rest of us to the bigger picture. "Golf is a game for life, which is awesome. We'll still be able to play and compete.
"There are some seniors that may not ever get to play their sport again. They may not ever get out on the court again or out on the field. (With golf), we're really lucky that way."