Connor Schaefer's path from Hortonville to UW-Stevens Point might go down as one of the quickest, least-agonizing recruitments in college golf history.
"The process for my commitment to UWSP was very simple," Schaefer wrote in an email interview with Wisconsin.Golf. "They announced (that they were adding) a men's golf team and immediately I was interested."
That announcement came Jan. 31 when the NCAA Division III school restored its intercollegiate men's golf program, which had been dropped in 1995 after 40 years of competition. Pointers athletic director Brad Duckworth said UWSP was "looking for additional ways to increase enrollment through athletics" in wake of its successful launch of women's wrestling, which debuted in 2019.
Schaefer, a two-time WIAA Division 1 sectional qualifier, didn't need much convincing to become the first announced recruit since the relaunch of the Pointers' program. Incoming UWSP women's golf freshman Kate Downie, also of Hortonville, connected Schaefer with former Pointers women's golf coach Diane Gilbert, who in April was promoted to senior women's administrator at the school, and with Kate Kreuser, an assistant under Gilbert for the women's team who worked with her as the points of contact for the men's program before being named the coach of both May 25.
"This school had everything I was looking for — NCAA athletics, a good education, and it was close to home," wrote Schaefer, who plans to major in Business and had been considering St. Norbert (where he would have played golf) and UW-Green Bay and UW-La Crosse (where he would not have played golf). "To me, UWSP wasn't just the athletics. It was the smaller-town feel where everyone supports everyone. It felt like a family when I toured there and this is exactly what I was looking for. I know I am going to need help through my athletics and academics so having people to support me made me feel welcomed."
In many ways, Schaefer's golf career mirrors the program he is joining — their best golf is ahead of them.
Asked about the impact the COVID-19 pandemic had on his recruiting process, Schaefer replied that it had everything to do with winding up at UWSP. He wrote that it prompted him to switch spring sports from baseball to golf and gave him the time to make up for lost time on the course.
"It gave me time to constantly practice and to outwork everyone so I could outplay the kids who have been playing their whole childhood," Schaefer wrote.
Indeed, his results suggest that Kreuser and the Pointers have found a strong cornerstone on which to build their new program.
Schaefer competed in six WPGA Junior Tour events in 2021, averaging 86.3 with a best of 82 at Fox Valley GC in Kaukauna. In 2022, Schaefer made seven starts on the WPGA Junior Tour, averaging 76.71 with a best of 69 at Reid Municipal GC in Appleton.
He not only broke 80 in six of his seven rounds this summer, but in the three events he played both summers (at Reid Muni, High Cliff GC in Sherwood and Ridgeway CC in Neenah) he improved by an average of 13 strokes. It mirrored the improvement the 2022 second-team Fox Valley Association golfer had from his junior season to his senior season with the Polar Bears — his 2021 season ended with a 97 at the sectional at Thornberry Creek at Oneida GC and his 2022 season ended with a 79 at the sectional at Fox Valley GC.
"I see myself jumping into a newly started golf program and, hopefully, be one of the leaders of this newly started team," Schaefer wrote. "I want to jump into my freshman year and create a close bond with my teammates and make a family out of this team. I am committed to working as hard as I possibly can to play at the best of my abilities at UWSP."
In becoming the first golfer to publicly commit to the Pointers, Schaefer understands that his opinions on the program will go a long way to showcasing it to prospective future teammates.
To that end, Schaefer wrote that he could not imagine golf facilities more impressive than those he will be enjoying this fall at UWSP. The Pointers count among their home courses both SentryWorld, the host of the 2023 U.S. Senior Open and where Kreuser is a teaching professional, and Stevens Point CC, which has played host four times to the Wisconsin State Open.
Moreover, Schaefer was told that indoor simulators would be added to facilities on campus in addition to those already in place at nearby SentryWorld. Developing the on-campus component will be critical to helping UWSP keep pace with UW-Eau Claire (ranked 43rd in the GolfStat.com Division III rankings) and UW-Stout in Menomonie (No. 92), the only other WIAC schools to currently sponsor men's golf, as well as other in-state Division III programs such as Carthage College in Kenosha (No. 51), Edgewood College in Madison (No. 70) and Wisconsin Lutheran College in Milwaukee (No. 71).
"The coaches made sure I was aware of how committed they are to making this new program successful first," Schaefer wrote. "They made sure to show interest in me to start their new program off, which excited me to join. Even now, they have communicated with me everything I need to know to get this season off to a great start. They are dedicated to run this program and run it well!"
Apparently, though, Kreuser and Gilbert weren't the only ones.
"During my first tour there, the chancellor of the university (Thomas Gibson) was also walking around," Schaefer wrote. "He went out of his way to stop and have a full conversation with my friend and I about the campus and made us both feel welcomed. This just tells you a little bit about the family that is built at UWSP."