AVON LAKE — When she was 9, Niki Schroeder spent back-to-back weekends winning national drag racing championships in Tennessee and Illinois, driving at speeds of 80-85 miles per hour.
So, really, how terrorizing could a downhill 3-foot par putt possibly be after that?
Probably not very. Still, Schroeder traded in her lead foot for a bunch of irons a few years ago and hasn’t looked back.
Today the 14-year-old Avon Lake freshman will put those irons to work in the 19th annual Division I girls state golf tournament at Ohio State’s Gray Course. She is the first Shoregal to ever make it to state, earning that honor by shooting a 5-over 77 at the district tournament at The Legends of Massillon to land the final qualifying spot.
And, just think, she’s only been playing golf for three years, proving she’s not just a fast driver but an incredibly speedy study as well.
“Hard work, practice,” Schroeder said when asked how she was able to get so good so quickly in a sport that has frustrated so many in so many ways. “You have to look at your future and ask yourself where you want to be. And that’s why you work so hard.”
That’s right, she’s 14, though you’d never know it talking to her or watching her play golf.
“She has the mental aspect,” Avon Lake coach Kevin Fitch said. “She doesn’t get rattled. Her maturity is what really stands out.”
Schroeder said she took to the game right away, then really improved after taking a few lessons. Her father, Jim, got her into golf and drag racing, as well, though she said she was attracted to the latter because her dad and cousins were involved.
She started racing at 8 and retired, sort of, at 12 when she found golf. Sort of, that is, because she recently “snuck in” a race.
“I told her nothing faster than a golf cart until the season is over,” Fitch joked.
Schroeder is finding plenty of thrills in the slow-motion world of golf these days. She had a breakout summer, shooting a career-low 74 at Red Tail in the American Junior Golf Association’s Cleveland Open, then won her first high school tournament.
She averaged 76.4 for 18 holes and broke the girls school record for 18 holes with a 75 at the Edison Invitational. A week later she broke her own record with a 74 at the Magnificat Invitational.
Shades of those back-to-back drag racing titles? Could be. She is quick to say her time on the track has helped her deal with pressure on the course.
“Definitely,” she said. “I’ve been in that position before and I kind of know what to expect.”
Her success hasn’t been much of a surprise, even though she is just a freshman.
“It was one of my goals,” she said of making state.
“She works so hard,” Fitch said. “She’s by far the most complete player I’ve ever had.”
Last week Schroeder dropped in on the Gray Course and watched her good friend and fellow freshman Haylee Hartford of Warren John F. Kennedy win the Division II state title.
“It was fun,” Schroeder said of seeing her friend do so well. “Then going to state and being in this position, you’re hoping you can do that, too.”
Fitch is a believer.
“She knows it’s a big deal, but she just handles her emotions so well,” Fitch said. “I would not be surprised if she does well in this tournament.”
Player of the week
Niki Schroeder, Avon Lake
- YEAR: Freshman
- WHAT SHE DID: Shot a 5-over-par 77 at the Division I district tournament to become the first girl in school history to earn a berth in the state tournament.
- BIO: Started her high school career in style by winning the North Olmsted Invitational, then also won the Edison Invitational and the Southwestern Conference championship. Averaged 76.4 for 18 holes and 39.3 for nine. Broke the girls school record for 18 holes with a 75 at the Edison Invitational, then broke it the next week with a 74 at the Magnificat Invitational. Helped lead the Shoregals to a 16-2 record, 10-2 in the SWC, where their only losses came against Brecksville, which qualified to state.
- OTHER SPORTS: Drag racing and basketball. A drag racer from age 8-12, she won two national championships in back-to-back weeks at age 9. Was a point guard on her seventh-grade basketball team. Quit both to concentrate on golf, though she did recently participate in a drag race.
- INTERESTS: Spends her free time doing homework, working out, relaxing and hanging out with friends.
- FAVORITE PRO GOLFER: Dustin Johnson
- FUTURE PLANS: Would like to play golf in college and possibly study physical therapy.
- PARENTS: Jim and Lyn