STOUGHTON — There is one thing you need to know when Stoughton golfers Myranda and Caylie Kotlowski walk into a room: They are not sisters.
Myranda's father and Caylie's grandfather are brothers, making them second cousins. They share the Vikings' most recognizable golfing last name since the Klongland siblings passed through the boys and girls programs at the start of the decade, but otherwise it's tough to see similarities between two golfers whose name figures to be plastered on the leaderboard Monday and Tuesday at the WIAA Division 1 state tournament at University Ridge Golf Course.
A capsule look at the 2019 WIAA Division 1 state girls golf tournament.
Caylie, a junior who finished fourth at the state tournament a year ago, is the more aggressive of the two and can (and will) hit the golf ball a country mile. Myranda, arguably the state's most improved golfer set to make her state debut, is proud of the fraction at the end of her 5-foot-2½ frame and her coach envies the way his petite senior has inched past her cousin in stroke average with uncanny accuracy off the tee and a stronger worth ethic.
"That sums it up perfectly," Stoughton coach Stephen Stokes said after the two left his classroom the other day. "They have the same last name, but they are otherwise significantly different in how they approach things."
Neither Kotlowski started playing competitive golf on a regular basis until the summer of 2017 on the Wisconsin PGA Junior Tour and, even two years later, they have seldom entered the same events together or played and practiced together side-by-side.
"I was always real big in basketball," Myranda said in the figurative sense. "I (got to high school and) was like 'I'm 5-2; I'm not going to play basketball in college.' So I really transitioned into golf and focused on that.
A capsule look at the 2019 WIAA Division 2 state girls golf tournament.
"We never really did anything together until high school started."
Myranda's first competitive event was a 2016 WPGA Tour event at House on the Rock Resort in Spring Green where she shot 127 and finished last in the 12-player girls division. She didn't tee it up in another tournament until the 2017 Sherri Steinhauer Invitational where she shot 104-99 and finished in a tie for 40th out of 46 golfers in the girls-only event named for the former LPGA Tour golfer from Madison.
"It was not pretty," Myranda said of the House on the Rock event.
Callie said: "Yoooou've improved."
So has the younger Kotlowski, whose competitive debut came in 2017 at a WPGA Junior Tour event at Yahara Hills Golf Course in Madison. She shot 102 and finished tied for 17th in a 37-golfer field that featured the early work of several golfers in the field at University Ridge in Madison this week.
The following summer, Caylie was confident enough in her game that she entered the Wisconsin Women's State Open at Janesville Country Club where she shot a pair of humbling 94s and finished 56th out of 64 golfers. Four months later, she shot an opening-round 73 at University Ridge in the first round of the WIAA Division 1 state tournament and found herself in medalist contention before closing with a 79 to finish fourth, 10 shots back.
"I felt better with my game," Caylie said, describing the impact the strength of her schedule during the summer has had on her approach to the high school season in the fall. "The bigger tournaments, I didn't feel as nervous as I usually was. I played a lot of AJGA (events) and those are big ones with a lot of good competition. Going to regionals, that first tee didn't seem as nerve-wracking."
Indeed, both Kotlowskis are brimming with confidence entering the WIAA state tournament.
Each played a robust junior schedule this summer. Caylie posted eight top-10 finishes in nine starts in WPGA Junior points events (highlighted by a tie for fifth place at the Wisconsin PGA Junior Championship) while Myranda had six top-10s in eight points events.
Both Kotlowskis competed in the Wisconsin Women's State Open this year with Caylie improving to a tie for 26th and Myranda debuting in a tie for 46th. Myranda also made her debut in the Wisconsin Women's State Amateur at La Crosse Country Club where she finished 22nd out of 32 golfers.
"Summer tournaments, you're playing against the top players in the state every, single tournament," Myranda said. "The courses are a lot harder, I think. Going into the high school season, you have more confidence knowing you can score well on harder courses so these shouldn't be that hard."
Caylie: "They are longer during the summer. And tighter. Coming into this, the distances are shorter. They're not particularly easier, but it just feels a lot better."
That they have arrived at University Ridge together for Myranda's final high school tournament belies how they got there.
"I think we both have different goals and we've worked on those separately," said Myranda, who hopes to play NCAA Division I golf and is willing to leave the Midwest to do so while her cousin, still early in the recruiting process, is hoping to find a similar opportunity close to home.
"I'm not a long hitter. I'm a placement hitter and just hit the ball straight. That's my game. I'm here, here, on (the green). That's how it's always been."
Caylie, the more aggressive of the two, works with teaching professional Larry Tiziani at Cherokee Country Club in Madison. They have focused as much on course management as they have the mechanics of her swing.
"Before state, he said something to me last year about course management and placing it," Caylie said. "After that tournament, I'm like 'OK, I'm going to work on hitting the ball straight and knowing where to place the ball.' ... At The Oaks (in the DeForest sectional), I place it a lot and played safe and played smart, just to get the ball where I wanted it to have a good next shot."
The result? Caylie earned medalist honors with a 74 by one shot over Myranda, who overcame the disappointment of the 2018 sectional in which she played her final three holes in 6-over-par and missed qualifying with her team by two shots and individually by four.
"It's funny; the very first meet of the year at Brown Deer, when Caylie was our No. 1 at (the Franklin Invitational) and Myranda took second," Stokes said of the older Kotlowski, who has won three invitationals and finished second four times and has a nine-hole stroke average (38.04) that is less than a shot lower than her cousin.
"Myranda's like 'How come I didn't play (No.) 1 today?' I'm like 'You didn't play (No.) 1 because Caylie took fourth in the state last year and this is our first meet.' She was our best player. Right, here inside me, I'm like 'I love that.'
"It's a really healthy competition that has made both of them better. They both want to beat each other."
This week, they are going to have to expand their field of focus to no fewer than a dozen individuals accomplished enough rightfully to contend for Division 1 medalist honors. That group is led by defending champion Jo Baranczyk of Bay Port and Rachel Kauflin, the 2018 WPGA Junior Player of the Year who placed third at the state tournament a year ago.
"I truly believe if they both play to their abilities, they’re going to be in the hunt," Stokes sad. "I told them 'If you guys play your best golf, you guys will be right in the thick of things. You’ve played against a lot of the girls here during the summer, during the school year and you’ve beat ‘em.'"
They've already won one battle, in their coach's mind: They got there ... together.
"The relationship they have, it's funny; their family dynamics are different," Stokes said. "Those two together, the way they've come together, not like best of friends or anything like that, they really care about how each other does."