For the first time in her career at Nebraska, senior golfer Kirsten Baete was a tournament champion.
Finishing a career-best 10-under at the White Sands Intercollegiate at Paradise Island in the Bahamas, Baete captured the individual title that had previously eluded her career.
“It means the world, it’s so amazing to finally achieve that milestone,” Baete said. “This fall has been the closest I’ve ever been to getting there, certain elements of my game have felt so good in each tournament, I’ve just had struggles piecing it together.”
Baete cites her ball-striking skills as always being solid, but her putting and short game needed improvement in order to get over the mountaintop. At the Allstate Sugar Bowl Intercollegiate in New Orleans last March, Baete played solid, consistent golf, but missing birdie putts from the eight-to-ten foot range kept her from the top as she finished in a tie for fourth.
Until Baete got to college, the importance of putting never fully dawned on her, with her preferring to hone her skills at the driving range rather than the putting green. However, upon the arrival of women’s golf head coach Lisa Johnson at Nebraska, the importance of putting became clear.
Johnson stressed that putting is where a golfer makes up the most strokes, and with several years of experience as a college head coach, she knows firsthand that tournaments are won on the green.
Baete took the advice, and honed in on improving her putting skills. She started practicing putting on a yardstick, placing a golf ball on top of it and trying to get it to the other side without it wobbling or falling off. Over the winter, Baete would practice 50 putts a day on the yardstick, helping her gain more confidence in her putting.
“Kirsten’s putting has dramatically improved this year,” Johnson said. “She’s focused a lot on speed control, and matching the read of the putt with the speed.”
Putting would improve at Paradise Island, one of the toughest greens the team will face all season. On greens in Nebraska, players only have to read the slope of the green to determine where to hit their putts. In the Bahamas, reading the grain of the green comes into play as well.
“When there’s grain involved I try to walk in a circle around the hole, because you can see where it’s shiny and not shiny,” Baete said. “I also look at the cup itself and see which areas are smooth and rough coming out of the cup.”
The grain does not affect the angle of the putt, but it has a significant impact on the speed. Baete credits going down to the Bahamas two days early, getting practice rounds and time to read the course to be very helpful for the tournament. Being able to make notes of how to read the greens took pressure off in the actual tournament and helped the putts fall.
The two extra days not only helped success on the course, but it also made the trip to the Bahamas a highlight of Baete’s career compared to other destination trips in previous years to Hawaii and Cabo.
“We got to take the whole team, so all nine of us were there, which was super special. My head coach’s kids got to come along as well, and I’m super close with them,” Baete said. “To have all of them there to celebrate with me, and hang out all week before I won made this my favorite destination trip I’ve gone to.”
With her first career win in the books, Baete and Johnson look to take the confidence from this tournament forward in the season, and continue her success with hopefully more tournament victories in store.
“Golf is such a mental game and for her to understand that she’s a champion, she'll always be a champion, and she can be a champion again,” Johnson said. “That keeps the confidence in her game moving forward.”