Nicole Rae got used to gawking at her surroundings during a recent study abroad tour of Italy.
The mountains and villas still lingered in her mind as she returned to competitive golf last week, but Rae’s focus since has shifted to stateside fairways and greens.
A St. Charles East product entering her junior season at Iowa, Rae played into the semifinals of the 1st flight championship at the Illinois State Women’s Amateur at Cantigny Golf in Wheaton. The event marked her first rounds since the Big Ten championship in April, and Rae quickly pinpointed what needed the most sharpening.
“Having full confidence in my swing stepping up to the ball,” she said. “Short game, a lot of it is just mental. But the swing, if you’re not hitting every day and getting that muscle memory, it can kind of go away a little bit.”
Rae was diplomatically done in by a prodigious opponent in the semis.
Haines Middle School seventh-grader Megan Furtney – a South Elgin resident and the flight’s eventual runner-up – defeated Rae, 1 up, after 20 holes.
“I was very surprised at how well she did for her age,” Rae said.
“She was really good at hitting at the target. I mean, she hit a couple shots that were within two feet of the pin, and she hit it pretty far, as well.”
When Rae is on her game, she drives the ball between 230 and 240 yards. At the state am, her muscles needed little time dusting that action off, as Rae started feeling comfortable at the tee after the first few qualifying holes.
Although her irons were admittedly troublesome at times, Rae awaits the chance to hone her game at a pair of upcoming tournaments, including one that takes her to Lake Tahoe, Calif. She hopes to punctuate the summer with a strong showing at the Illinois Women’s Open, set for Mistwood Golf Club in Romeoville from July 31 to Aug. 2.
In the interim, she’s investing in a solid month of practice to help her ascend the Hawkeyes’ lineup. Rae competed in four tournaments as a sophomore – twice as many as during her freshman season – while shaving 17 strokes from her personal-best 54-hole score, which now sits at 237.
“It was a tough transition going from high school to college, and it was definitely a little bit of struggle, but I’m working hard and definitely making a couple improvements,” Rae said. “I’m looking to make those adjustments and hopefully get to travel to all the tournaments we go to.”
Rae was unable to see any of the sparkling Italian golf courses she had heard about during a four-week trip to the small mountain town of Paderno del Grappa, Italy. The town, located about 90 minutes north of Venice, was convenient to other major Italian cities, which Rae visited on weekends.
A double major in marketing and journalism, Rae appreciated the opportunity to take business classes in the homeland of many of her mother’s relatives.
“It was really neat to get to see where my ancestors are from and kind of get to experience the real Italian culture,” Rae said.
• Kevin Druley is a sportswriter for the Kane County Chronicle. He can be reached at 630-845-5347 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @kevindruley.
St. Charles North sister acts
Recent St. Charles North graduate Ariana Furrie leaves for campus at Wagner College in Staten Island, N.Y., on Aug. 20.
It won’t be the first time she’s reported to the Seahawks.
With no early summer workouts scheduled for the women’s golf program she’ll be joining, Furrie has remained on the radar by informing coaches of her summer tournament scores and trends.
“Right now, I’m just staying in touch with my coaches and telling them how I’m doing and which ones I’m playing in,” Furrie said. “Just so they can kind of know what to expect.”
Furrie was frank about her showing in the Illinois State Women’s Amateur at Cantigny Golf last week. While she “didn’t play nearly what I was hoping for” in her qualifying round, it put her in a competitive 3rd flight.
She won, 3 and 2, on each day of match play and began to wonder whether No. 16 at Cantigny – a favorite track from her youth – had transformed into a lucky hole. A victory against Hanna Netsingha of Carol Stream sealed the title.
Furrie’s younger sister, Gianna, an incoming freshman at North, was a 5th flight semifinalist and left encouraged by the experience.
“I thought it was good,” she said. “I liked it.”
Her big sister hopes to share that sentiment – and send happy news to the northeast – with a busy remaining slate of summer tournaments. She has hovered around the high 70s and low 80s in recent practice rounds.
“Once I start playing full rounds on the course, I hope my game will come together better,” Furrie said.
– Kevin Druley, firstname.lastname@example.org