Illini golfers

From left, Illinois women’s golfers Tristyn Nowlin, Sarah Hauenstein and Reena Sulkar at the 120th Women’s Western Amateur golf tournament in Frankfort.

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FRANKFORT — Sarah Hauenstein assumed she was in the clear.

Yes, the Illinois junior women’s golfer would have rather qualified for the Women’s Western Amateur round of 32 instead of missing the cut after two rounds of stroke play over two days.

But since she wasn’t on track to do so, Hauenstein saw no issue scheduling a doctor’s appointment about an hour from Prestwick Country Club after her second round wrapped up.

“They even told me when I left, the cut was going to be plus-4,” Hauenstein said. “So me at plus-6, I was in 50th place most of the day, which is pretty far away from 32nd.

“So I was in the middle of a doctor’s appointment (and) I looked at the live scoring and I realized the cut had gone to plus-5, and there was a lot of girls who hadn’t finished. I had to tell my doctor, ‘I’ve got to go.’ And he’s like, ‘Right now?’ And I’m like, ‘Right now.’”

Even on the drive back to Frankfort, Hauenstein still didn’t believe she would get the chance to golf again on July 22.

“They actually sent out a text to everyone when I was on my drive there saying plus-5 was the cut. ‘If you’re at plus-5, meet on the back patio,’” Hauenstein said. “I was like, ‘Shoot, I didn’t make the playoff. That’s OK, I’ll get to go support my teammate who is plus-5.’”

That was Tristyn Nowlin, a senior on the 2019-2020 Illinois women’s golf team. She and Reena Sulkar, an Illini junior, joined Hauenstein in the Western Amateur field.

So Nowlin was firmly in the round of 32, while Sulkar was missing the cut at plus-10. Which side of the fence would Hauenstein join?

Neither. At least not right away.

“They ended up realizing they made a mistake and (the cut) was actually plus-6,” Hauenstein said. “It was a lot of excitement, kind of nervous, hopping on a tee with no warmup.”

Unfortunately for Hauenstein, she joined Sulkar on the wrong side of the cutline after coming up short in a five-athlete playoff that lasted two holes and offered just two spots in the round of 32.

“I’ve never really had the opportunity to be in a playoff for a cut that was in such a big tournament,” Hauenstein said of the 120-player outing. “So it was good for me to know for the future, if there is a chance, to always stick around the area, be ready, be warmed up.”

Nowlin ultimately was bounced in the round of 32 to end the trio of Illini competing in the tournament.

Hauenstein has been busy since the 2020 spring Illinois women’s golf season ended prematurely because of the COVID-19 pandemic. With golf a sport easy to socially distance in, Hauenstein hasn’t had trouble finding offseason tournaments in which to compete — although she said she’s had to leave the state more often than usual, since Illinois shut down golf within its borders through late May.

Hauenstein teed up in tournaments held in Texas, South Carolina and Michigan before the recent run in Frankfort, less than an hour from her hometown of Wheaton.

“I feel so lucky to have been out there and playing,” said Hauenstein, a sophomore at Illinois this past season who helped Wheaton Warrenville South win a Class 2A state championship in 2016. “When it was closed in Illinois, I was pretty much going to Indiana to play most days. It’s fortunate I was able to continue to play the sport I love.”

Even though golf has gone on as scheduled — or close to it — across the nation, Hauenstein has noticed differences that were brought on by pandemic concerns.

At her Michigan tournament, there was a volunteer on every green taking out the flag stick for putts. At other events, Hauenstein and her cohorts weren’t allowed to remove the flag at all.

Paper scorecards have gone out the window in favor of live scoring on cell phones. In some of Hauenstein’s tournaments, she’s been permitted one caddie and one spectator. In others, she’s only been allowed a spectator and no caddie.

“My mom and dad had to split time between tournaments if they wanted to come watch,” Hauenstein said.

Hauenstein also is typically more accustomed to playing much of her summer golf in the confines of Illinois. The South Carolina showcase she signed up for happened in Myrtle Beach, and Hauenstein said it was the inaugural version of the tournament.

“It was cool being part of the first year of a tournament,” Hauenstein said. “But overall it felt pretty similar. It’s just nice to be back in a competitive atmosphere.”

That feeling was enhanced in Frankfort when she got to practice and share time with Nowlin and Sulkar. The trio are all set to return to play for Illinois in its next season, whenever and under what circumstances those events will take place.

“It was great,” Hauenstein said. “I would usually finish as they were starting or they would finish as I would start, and we would give words of encouragement before we would go out and play.”

Colin Likas is the preps coordinator at The News-Gazette. He can be reached at clikas@news-gazette.com, or on Twitter at @clikasNG.

Prep Sports Coordinator

Colin Likas is prep sports coordinator at The News-Gazette. His email is clikas@news-gazette.com, and you can follow him on Twitter (@clikasNG).