Through all the ups and downs, periods of great interest and stretches of uncomfortable silence, Silas Pickhardt reached the end of his college golf recruiting journey with this proclamation:
"All of this has been a dream come true for me," the Madison Memorial senior wrote at the outset of an email interview with Wisconsin.Golf.
Indeed, passion and persistence fueled an outreach campaign in which Pickhardt reached out to more than 50 schools across the country. Schools such as Hawaii Pacific and Bethel University (in Minnesota) "circulated in and out of my list," he said, before he recently chose NCAA Division II Northern Michigan over Division III power UW-Eau Claire, giving his oral commitment to Wildcats coach Bob Bastian.
"It was no easy decision, however," Pickhardt wrote. "I reached out to Coach Bastian many times before he officially got back to me. Coincidentally, when I did receive his first email I was actually up in Marquette visiting a friend who is currently enrolled at NMU. Sadly, I couldn’t meet the team because of their COVID protocol.
"The final decision of NMU came from the balance between the golf program’s potential to improve my talent and the strength of their Environmental Science program, which Eau Claire didn’t offer. I also knew from the beginning of my recruitment process that if I had the opportunity, there would be no question I would want to contribute to their golf team's legacy."
Northern Michigan finished sixth out of 11 teams at the 2019 Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference and qualified for the NCAA Division II Central/Midwest Regional for the second time in four years. However, all five of the golfers on that team have long since graduated and COVID-19 prevented the Wildcats from continuing their climb in the GLIAC after the 2020 spring season was canceled.
Bastian brought in five recruits this past fall only to have the GLIAC suspend all sports competition until Jan. 1. The school has yet to announce whether the spring golf schedule, which includes the conference championship, will be played.
Pickhardt finds himself in much the same boat.
He hasn't competed for Madison Memorial since 2019 when he finished 12th in the Big Eight Conference. His team missed out on a WIAA Division 1 sectional berth by two shots, but Pickhardt advanced individually and missed out on a state tournament berth by three strokes after shooting a 79.
After his junior season was canceled by COVID-19, Pickhardt enjoyed a breakout summer on the WPGA Junior Tour. He won the Morgan Stanley Tour Championship in late July after finishing tied for 10th at the WPGA Junior Championship and winning WPGA Junior Tour events at Lake Ripley Country Club in Cambridge (70) and Odana Hills Golf Course in Madison (72).
"While golf is my passion, academics will always take priority," wrote Pickhardt, who hinted that he would one day like to combine his passions for golf and the environment into making golf courses more sustainable. "Northern Michigan offered many opportunities to me, such as access to research opportunities in environmental sciences. Although the No. 1 reason NMU stood out to me was the connection to the outdoors the campus portrays.
"When I visited the campus, there was access to just about everything I enjoy, from top-notch golf courses to ski hills — both within 15 minutes of the campus."
The 2019-20 team opened the season against NCAA Division I schools at the Island Resort Intercollegiate at Sage Run GC in Bark River, Mich., about 90 minutes south of NMU's Marquette campus. It closed the fall season with the Kohler Classic at Whistling Straits in Haven and was to have opened the spring portion of the schedule on an annual trip to Tampa, Fla., a tradition Pickhardt is very much looking forward to when he joins the Northern Michigan program.
"Having already connected with multiple members of the team, I am confident I will feel welcomed when I do arrive next fall," Pickhardt wrote. "Traditions like traveling to Florida each year, I cannot wait to contribute to. As far as I know, I am the only freshman joining the team next year. Knowing that, I plan to take the traditions I learn and harness them to lead the team when I finish my college experience."
In the meantime, he believes Bastian and the competitive atmosphere on the team will help push him to reach his goals.
"What stood out most to me about coach Bastian was his team and his coaching method," Pickhardt wrote. "He communicated to me that the team was closely knit and welcoming, but equally competitive. The training regimen also stood out to me, with consistent weight training over the long winter, which will engage a part of my game I have not experienced fully yet. His enthusiasm and welcoming tone really made me excited to be part of their future."