LODI — At first, Haley Thoeny noticed surprise from opposing golfers when she approached the first tee.
As time progressed, that reaction disappeared as friendships developed and respect grew for Thoeny, a junior who’s the No. 1 player for the Lodi boys team this spring.
“Obviously, freshman year, I went into it pretty nervous because you never know if boys are going to be judgmental,” Thoeny said prior to a recent practice at Lodi Golf Club. “But I’ve learned throughout the years that they are really accepting and fun to play with.”
“At first, they were a little surprised to see me walk up. But this year, with conference and always playing with Cambridge and Lakeside (Lutheran), I feel like I’ve grown some really good friendships and that hasn’t been a problem for me at all.”
Lodi, which doesn’t offer a girls golf team, has eight females in a boys program that includes 38 players.
Thoeny leads Lodi, tied for sixth with Rice Lake in Division 2 in the Golf Coaches Association of Wisconsin state rankings, into the Capitol Conference meet Tuesday at The Legend at Bergamont in Oregon.
Thoeny tops Lodi with a 40.7 scoring average and has been medalist at three conference mini-meets, said Lodi coach David Zilker, who believes Thoeny has ramped up her game and is “getting better and better.”
Zilker is impressed by how Thoeny carries herself around other students and adults.
“I think everybody who has played with her respects her because she respects other people with the way she plays and treats other people,” Zilker said about the 17-year-old Thoeny, also an outstanding student. “She’s been wonderful with our team and golfers here with the way she acts, speaks and plays. Ever since her freshman year, she’s carried herself in such a way and wanted to compete.”
She said her father, Travis Thoeny, played golf in high school in Rice Lake and hoped she’d take to golf as a child, even presenting her with a plastic set of clubs. But Haley Thoeny didn’t enjoy playing golf until eighth grade.
“After eighth grade and freshman year, that’s when I truly fell in love with the sport and it really got serious for me,” said Thoeny, who was in gymnastics prior to high school and still competes in high school volleyball.
Her new-found passion led to her improving while playing more golf with her father and learning more about shot strategy.
She usually was Lodi’s No. 4 or No. 5 golfer as a freshman in 2019. The 2020 season was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
That lost season increased her expectations for this spring.
“I would have looked at last year as a season to grow, but because I lost that competing season, I came into this season wanting to do even better,” said the even-keeled Thoeny, a straight hitter, which allows her to stay in fairways.
She struggled at season’s start, but her subsequent strong play in the league boosted her confidence.
A chip for eagle on the ninth hole gave Thoeny the victory at a recent conference mini-meet in Lake Mills. She had the low score with a 2-over-par 38 at Edelweiss Chalet Country Club in New Glarus.
“It kind of surprised me and it clicked in my mind that I can do this,” said Thoeny, who added: “I’m always striving to do a little better. I’m definitely feeling determined going into the conference meet Tuesday. That’s a really nice course. I love playing at really nice courses and I’m hoping to compete really well.”
Thoeny and junior Bailey Clark, sophomore Brian Meitzner and freshman Kogen Baron are the core four in the Lodi lineup, with the fifth spot in flux.
Thoeny said she’s known Clark for many years growing up in Lodi and has become friends playing golf with Meitzner.
“The whole team has worked really hard to play really well,” Zilker said.
Zilker said Lodi won its six conference mini-meets, but he believes the Blue Devils can play even better and hopes to see that at the conference meet.
“Hopefully, we fire on all cylinders because Cambridge has been creeping up on us,” Zilker said.
Thoeny has her eye on Lodi making a run at a state berth.
Madison Edgewood, the top-ranked team in Division 2 and the WIAA Division 2 state champion from 2017-19, is the favorite in the regional that includes Lodi, which won the Division 2 boys title in 2015, finished third in 2016 and was second in 2017.
“I’d really love to go to state,” she said. “Who wouldn’t want to go to state? We have a really young team. That would be really cool.”