Just by looking at his statistics, you would never know that senior golfer Nick Willenborg, a 22-year-old accounting major, only started playing golf competitively in his sophomore year of high school. He currently holds the third-best stroke average on the Ramblers’ golf team.
However, Willenborg began playing golf for fun at a young age.
“I started when I was 10,” he said. “My grandpa and dad took me out to the driving range, and I started hitting back then.”
Willenborg, who also played for his high school’s basketball team, decided to focus solely on golf during his sophomore year.
“I had a good summer after my sophomore year and really started playing in bigger tournaments the summer after my junior year,” Willenborg said. “[I] made it a goal of mine to play college golf somewhere.”
His success on the course soon paid off. Willenborg looked at various universities’ golf programs, but he knew exactly what he wanted out of a college golf program.
“I wanted to play a lot, [so I liked the] smaller golf program at Loyola,” Willenborg said.
Willenborg, a native of Knoxville, Tenn., entertained the idea of committing to other schools such as Davidson College and James Madison University, which are closer to home. Ultimately, however, he felt Loyola was the best place for him.
“I have a lot of family in Illinois; my family is originally from here,” Willenborg said. “[Loyola] is a good school. There are good opportunities in a good city.”
Team camaraderie and higher level of competition were some factors that attracted Willenborg to play college golf.
“The competitive nature we all have when we’re playing a practice round … can get more intense than a tournament because of how much we want to beat each other,” he said, joking that he and his teammates trash-talk each other while playing.
This team dynamic has impacted Willenborg’s skill in a positive way. Director of Golf Kyle Stefan has noticed an improvement in Willenborg’s swing.
“He is a little more consistent, especially with his driver,” Stefan said.
Longer tee shots gives him the opportunity for “a few more shots around the greens.”
“I know my swing is a lot better now, and I adjust things if they’re going badly,” he said.
Having played golf in Tennessee prior to attending Loyola, Willenborg was not used to Chicago’s winters and not being able to always play on grass. However, he has taken this adversity and turned it into a learning experience.
“Playing here has helped me with the mental aspect,” Willenborg said.
Willenborg has learned to use his experiences playing in good and bad weather as an advantage over other golfers who play in the same weather year round.
Even though Willenborg isn’t a Chicago native, he has still seen immense success on the course despite the harsh weather. During the spring season of his sophomore year at Loyola, he had a stroke average of 76.4, the second highest on the team. Additionally, he and his teammates were Horizon League champions in 2012.
“There are a lot of lows in golf, so it was a good feeling coming out on top when it mattered most,” Willenborg said.
Another highlight of Willenborg’s golf career at Loyola was tying for first place overall at the D.A. Weibring Intercollegiate tournament this past fall with a score of 214 (73-70-71). The entire team as a whole finished first at the Weibring as well, with a score of 868 (294-286-288).
“He’s got a fire in him. He hates losing,” Stefan said. “He’s a quiet kid, very unassuming, humble, but not afraid to dish it out with his teammates.”
With Willenborg’s final season playing for the Ramblers coming to an end, Stefan wants to “see him go out on a high note” and feels Willenborg’s “best golf has yet to come.”
Winning the Missouri Valley Conference championship would be the icing on the cake for Willenborg.
After graduation, Willenborg will return back to Tennessee to pursue a master’s degree in accounting. However, he will still continue to play during his free time.
“I expect just to play with friends and family after I graduate, maybe even at corporate events, so not too seriously,” he said.
Willenborg and his team will head to Muncie, Ind., on April 21 and 22 to play in the Earl Yestingsmeier Invitational prior to the Missouri Valley Conference championship in Silvis, Ill., on April 28 and 29.