Before we share Haley Thoeny's road from the boys golf team at Lodi High School to the women's golf program at UW-La Crosse (a path unique unto itself), a word of caution might be in order: Fasten your seatbelts!
Thoeny graduated from Lodi in May. She will join the Eagles in the fall of 2023.
In between, her journey will be one for the books. Scrapbooks. Lots of 'em.
This semester, Thoeny has spent most of her time traveling through Europe. In her first month, she had already visited Spain, southern France, Monaco, Italy and Switzerland. In the last week or so, she has added Germany, England, The Netherlands, the Czech Republic and Scotland to the stops on her great adventure — yes, including a stop on the Swilcan Bridge on The Old Course at St. Andrew's Links, the home of golf.
Before returning home the second week of December, Thoeny and boyfriend Mitchell Lane will make a stop in Vienna, Austria before returning to Italy. There, they plan to see Venice, Florence, Naples, Positano, Rome and La Spieza.
Next semester, Thoeny plans to explore national parks across the United States. That journey "isn't super laid out yet," she admitted, but knows her route will will include Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming, Arches National Park in Utah, Yosemite National Park in California and, time permitting, others.
"Ever since I was little, my family valued traveling," Thoeny wrote in an email interview with Wisconsin.Golf, crediting her mother, Lysa, and father, Travis, for stretching the boundaries of their only child's world to all corners of the globe by hosting foreign exchange students from France and Spain so she could share her culture with them in the hopes that they would one day be able to reciprocate. "I was very lucky to have parents that (not only) wanted to take me to different places in the U.S. and internationally, but also (wanted) to show me cultures everywhere. And I fell in love with it.
"I got to meet my exchange student Gabi's family in Spain and they cooked paella and brought us to local restaurants to try tapas. I have hiked in Lake Como (in Italy), visited The Jungfrau (in the Swiss Alps) and met so many people worldwide. It's truly been amazing to be put into locals' shoes by staying in hostels, figuring out the train system and learning to say a few things in many languages."
Eventually, after returning home to her parents and dog Harper, Thoeny will look forward to life as a college student, likely one majoring in Business, minoring in Psychology and dreaming of one day owning her own business and helping coach a golf team on the mental side of the game.
That's where UW-La Crosse will enter the picture in about 10 months.
Instead of the Swiss Alps, Thoeny will gaze out at Grandad Bluff. Instead of the Rhine River, she'll be a few blocks from the Mississippi. Instead of St. Andrew's, she will get to know the twists and turns of The Golf Club at Cedar Creek and La Crosse CC in Onalaska and Forest Hills GC in La Crosse.
Thoeny gave her verbal commitment to Eagles coach Dave Taebel on Sept. 12, just before she embarked on the European leg of her gap year. She chose La Crosse, the runner-up in the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference the last three years, over UW-Oshkosh, UW-Eau Claire, six-time defending WIAC champion UW-Whitewater and Winona (Minn.) State.
"Coaches reached out during my junior year and going into my senior year and I expressed to them that I wouldn't be going to college until the fall of 2023," wrote Thoeny, who played on the Lodi boys golf team in the spring because her school didn't field a girls team in the fall and earned Capitol Conference player-of-the-year honors as a junior in 2021. "(College coaches) were very understanding and it was nice to be able to get to know coaches and programs for a longer time and to not rush any (college) decisions."
The more Thoeny got to know Taebel, the golfers in the Eagles program and the campus, the more comfortable she felt that La Crosse was "the right place" for her.
"One thing that always stood out to me is that every time I mentioned UW-L as an interest, people only had good things to say — 'I know Coach Taebel; he's a great guy.' 'You'll love it up there if you go.' Or my coach (David Zilker): 'My daughters loved going to La Crosse and I'm sure you would love it, too,'" Thoeny wrote. "Having so many friends from Lodi that go there as student-athletes that couldn't love it more all just made it feel like the right sign. Of course, I love the campus and facilities, having access to multiple courses and, now, an indoor practice area and some great future teammates and coach I have already been able to start relationships with."
In addition to gaining someone with worldly experiences off the golf course, the Eagles will gain a golfer who has shown steady improvement since first dipping her toes in the competitive waters in 2019.
A three-time WIAA Division 2 sectional qualifier during the boys golf season, Thoeny finished T-35 at the Wisconsin PGA Junior Championship in 2020 and T-28 in 2021. She made only one start in a 36-hole event this past summer, finishing a career-best T-20 at the Sherri Steinhauer, but won three one-day WPGA Junior Tour events at Edelweiss Chalet CC in New Glarus (72), House on the Rock Resort GC in Spring Green (77) and Geneva National GC's Trevino Course (80) before turning her attention to college and the decision about where she'd wind up after her gap year.
"I had toured several colleges before UW-La Crosse, but after seeing the campus I knew it was one of my top choices," Thoeny wrote. "Coach Taebel reached out not long after and things started to make sense for me. I had played in tournaments with girls that go there and they all love the program so much.
"As a freshman, I really want to develop a set schedule for myself to become a consistent (and) reliable player in the top five. As I stick with the program, I would really love to fill a leadership role and just be a positive teammate to be around."
In the meantime, Thoeny will come to campus loaded with story-after-story of her journey from Lodi to UW-La Crosse. Like that visit to the Old Course at St. Andrew's.
"They open on Sundays for anyone and everyone to walk the course," Thoeny wrote. "My dad has played there before so it was really special for me to see it, too. Hopefully, I can lay it one day. It is beautiful and unforgettable."