As the rest of her family was back in Wisconsin, preparing for a weekend of below-zero temperatures reaching double-digits, Jessica Guiser was in Bradenton, Fla., lamenting a recent stretch of temperatures that dipped into the 40s at night.
"It was cold the past couple days," Guiser said in a telephone interview last week, "but I still pushed through it."
Guiser was joking, of course.
2020 WPGA Girls Player of the Year: Top 10 finishers
2024, Hartland, WI
2022, Dousman, WI
2021, Green Bay, WI
2023, Janesville, WI
2021, Grafton, WI
2023, Racine, WI
2021, Stoughton, WI
2022, Suamico, WI
2021, Oconomowoc, WI
2022, Brookfield, WI
The Hartland golfer makes it clear she isn't spending the second semester of her freshman year at IMG Academy just to soak up the warmth of the Florida sun. Guiser is there to soak up the experience of chasing her golf potential in the company of some of the world's top emerging athletes and figure out if IMG is the right fit, long-term, for her to pursue her goals.
Once upon a time, it wouldn't seem normal for someone to leave home just months after punctuating her freshman season at Hartland Arrowhead with her first WIAA Division 1 state championship. Then again, normal is a word that has taken on a whole new meaning since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic — particularly for the thousands of high school students across Wisconsin forced to pivot between in-person and online instruction — and Guiser doesn't see anything abnormal with someone trying to build off an exceptional 2020 highlighted by her earning Wisconsin PGA Girls Player of the Year honors by testing herself against another level of young golfers.
"I knew a couple of people down here already and I know it's a really competitive environment with a bunch of really good golfers, which I feel pushes me," Guiser said. "I just came down here to grow toward reaching my full potential. ... I golf in the morning and I go to school in the afternoon."
That's the condensed version of a day in the life of Jessica Guiser.
Each morning begins with supervised golf practice from 7:20 to 11 a.m. Then after an hour workout, Guiser eats lunch with her friends before hitting the books until 6 p.m. Many evenings, Guiser finds herself captivated by the athletic talent showcased at IMG — more than 1,300 students from 49 states and 70-plus countries developing their talent in nine sports — and has been drawn to games that some of her friends in other sports are playing.
"During summer camp, I knew this was a special opportunity," said Guiser, whose parents Dan and Sheway flew her to Florida for weekly camps at IMG and the IJGA Bishops Gate Academy several times last year. "I think having friends in different sports, it's cool to see their work ethic and the differences (with golf). ... It motivates me, watching other players play different sports. Overall, it's a really special place that has really special opportunities."
At the same time, it was not an easy decision for Guiser and her family.
"It wouldn't have occurred to me to send her other than the one week a few times a year," Dan Guiser said. "But she loved it there so much. She was excited to go down there as much as she possibly could. She helped us make that tough decision. Her desire to compete with better players, she was very firm in what she wants. It was hard for us not to help her realize that."
Her mother added: "She loved the opportunity to practice with the best golfers and making friends with them. It was not only golfing, but also that she had so much fun. So she jumped to this opportunity when we mentioned going down there for a semester."
Indeed, Jessica Guiser — thoughtful and focused in everything that she does — showed during 2020 that her ability is far ahead of most girls her age and it might be difficult for her to be challenged year-round in Wisconsin.
The 15-year-old Guiser held her own at the Wisconsin State Women's Open, shooting 78-84 to finish T18 and post her second top-20 finish in the state's most competitive women's event for the second year in a row. After that, she didn't finish outside of the top-four in eight junior events, winning The Dells Junior Golf Championship, the Lake Arrowhead Invitational and the WIAA Division 1 state tournament in addition to finishing second at the Wisconsin State Girls Match Play and third at the Wisconsin PGA Junior Championship.
With 1,627.50 points, Guiser edged out Dousman's Jenna Anderson (1,470.71), Green Bay's Jo Baranczyk (1,387.50), Janesville's Hannah Dunk (1,167.71) and Grafton's Elise Hoven (1,157.50) for the top spot. Finishing ahead of Baranczyk and Hoven, a pair of junior golf veterans, was not lost on Guiser, who remembers looking up to them when she was just starting out.
"I remember (one of) my first Junior Tour events; I was paired with Jo and Elise at Washington County (Golf Course in Hartford)," Guiser said of that 2016 pairing. "I was really young, like 9 years old. I remember I knew who Jo Baranczyk was and I was scared of her at the time because I was really young. ... Jo definitely motivated me to to practice harder and get better."
And, as she looks forward to 2021, Guiser is eager to continue getting better.
She said her short game has been the focus of her early work at IMG. Guiser credited her strong iron play last summer for much of her success, but she would like to hone her scrambling skills for those times when she misses the green.
Her 2021 schedule, coordinated by her parents, will look a lot like it did a year ago with it being built around events on the American Junior Golf Association Tour. Guiser anticipates playing in the Wisconsin Women's State Open, the Wisconsin PGA Junior Championship (the overall champion qualifies for the National PGA Junior), the U.S. Girls Junior qualifying and the Morgan Stanley Tour Championship. Yet to be determined is whether Guiser has room on her schedule for two other junior majors in Wisconsin — the Girls Junior Match Play or the Lake Arrowhead Invitational — or the WSGA Women's State Match Play, being played earlier (June 7-9 at Geneva National Resort in Lake Geneva) this year and ahead of many of the in-state junior events, or the Wisconsin State Women's Amateur at the Legend at Merrill Hills CC in Waukesha.
Having watched former Hartland Arrowhead standouts Emily Lauterbach (now at the University of Wisconsin) and Piercen Hunt (now at Illinois) go through the process of earning an NCAA Division I opportunity, Guiser appreciates the need to balance national and state events in her schedule.
"I've seen the track they went through with the AJGA tournaments and some of the bigger, national tournaments," Guiser said. "My parents are (encouraging) me to go toward those bigger national tournaments. They think they will be really helpful for getting into a college.
"But I'm still trying to have fun with the game. I'm still only a freshman. I'm trying not to let college get too much on my mind and not let the pressure get to me. I'm still trying to have fun with the game."
As demanding as the IMG schedule has been for her, Guiser said her coaches there have made it enjoyable.
"The coaches here are really amazing," she said. "They help me work toward goals. The competitive environment, I feel, helps push me a lot. I feel being around people who are really good at golf, too, is what really drives me to work harder and improve more."
And when Guiser isn't doing that? "I'm just chillin' down here," she said.
It's not the kind of chillin' that the rest of her family is doing back home in Wisconsin. But it is helping Guiser warm to the idea that the path to where she is going might require her to understand that, for now, home is where the golf clubs are.
2020 WPGA Junior Girls Player of the Year Standings