Molly Larsen and coaches

Molly Larsen will compete this week in the WIAA girls state golf tournament. She is flanked Tomah head coach Tonya Gnewikow and assistant coach and uncle Jeff Larsen.

Golf is a big part of the Larsen family, but Molly Larsen let the sport come to her.

“My parents never pushed me to play golf,” Larsen said.

Larsen, daughter of Josh and Amy Larsen, approaches each match the same way. She lets the game come to her, which landed her a berth at the WIAA Division 1 state golf meet in Madison this week.

Larsen, a senior, grew up with golfing role models − Josh Larsen is pro shop manager at Forest Hills Golf Club in La Crosse, and her uncle and Tomah assistant coach Jeff Larsen is a former golf pro in Chicago − but Molly Larsen didn’t fully commit to the sport until she was a freshman.

“My dad is in the business, and I played off and on through middle school, but before that I never seriously picked up a club and said, ‘This is what I want to do,’” Larsen said. She said her parents told her, “If you’re going to do it, you’re going to do it on your own. We’re not going to force you to play a sport you don’t have a passion for.”

The result is a relaxed, confident golfer.

“When I see Molly on the golf course, she’s having fun,” Tomah head coach Tonya Gnewikow said.

Larsen played junior varsity as a freshman, moved up to varsity during her sophomore season and was honorable mention all-Mississippi Valley Conference as a junior. However, it wasn’t until last summer that her game really took off.

“She put in so much time with the summer tournaments and the swing coach,” Gnewikow said.

The result is a solid short game which has produced consistent scores in the low 80s. Gnewikow said Larsen is the team’s best putter, and since Larsen doesn’t lose strokes chipping and putting, she doesn’t need to gamble with big clubs or exaggerated swings off the tee.

“I’m not a long-ball hitter − I’m mostly from 100 yards in,” Larsen said.

Gnewikow said it’s chipping and putting that reveal Larsen’s talent as a golfer.

“She has a knowledge and sixth sense on the course,” Gnewikow said.

Larsen applied her knowledge and steady mental approach during a tedious 18-hole sectional that took nearly seven hours to play. Larsen’s foursome was constantly forced to wait behind slower players dealing with lost balls and rules issues. The backup had reached five groups at the 12th hole, which created a one-hour delay.

“They key was who could pull it back in when it was time to tee off,” Gnewikow said.

Larsen said she handled the delays by “thinking about things other than golf.” She finished with an 83 to land one of the individual spots at state with four strokes to spare.

Jeff Larsen has enjoyed watching his niece’s golf game take off, but he’s just as impressed with how she emerged as a team leader. He said parents of the younger players were impressed with the leadership of Larsen and fellow seniors Grace Pokela and Angie Bauman.

“They commented on how much of a leader they were and how they were so happy that their daughters picked golf − that they made the right decision, and Molly was a big part of that,” Jeff Larsen said. “She really took the younger girls under her wing this year.”

Gnewikow and Jeff Larsen believe the University Ridge course plays to Molly Larsen’s strengths.

“It’s not like she has to hit the long ball on this course,” Jeff Larsen said. “It plays to her advantage. It will come down to putting.”

WIAA rules allow coaches on the course, and both Gnewikow and Jeff Larsen will be there to help.

“She’ll have two coaches on the course,” Gnewikow said.

Molly Larsen’s goal at University Ridge is simple − play the best golf she can.

“I’ve already exceeded my expectations this year,” she said. “My goal is to compete with everybody else.”

“I’m not a long-ball hitter − I’m mostly from 100 yards in.” Molly Larsen

Steve Rundio is editor of the Tomah Journal. Contact him at 608-374-7785.

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