Centerville grad wins prestigious Western Amateur golf tournament

Marissa Wenzler calls it the biggest victory of her career

Credit: Charles Cherney

Credit: Charles Cherney

Golfers often celebrate victories by jumping in the closest water hazard. Marissa Wenzler’s family threw her in the family pool in Centerville.

After a long drive from Park Ridge Country Club in the northwestern suburbs of Chicago, Wenzler arrived at her family’s home with the Women’s Western Amateur trophy Saturday. Her family couldn’t attend the tournament because it was hosting a family reunion the same day. They told her to keep the trophy in the car when she got home because they had a surprise for her.

The surprise was an unexpected dip in the pool, which added another memorable moment to the greatest golfing week of Wenzler’s life. She won a Division I state championship as a senior at Centerville in 2018 and competed at the NCAA championship meet with the Kentucky Wildcats this spring but had never won a tournament as prestigious as the Western Amateur, which has been held every year since 1901.

Wenzler clinched the victory on the second hole of a sudden-death playoff, making a 4-foot putt for par and then watching as Oklahoma State sophomore Maddison Hinson-Tolchard miss a putt that would have sent the match to a third playoff hole.

“It’s so weird to look back at it now,” Wenzler said Tuesday, “and think about everything that I was feeling and thinking and my heart rate and the nerves and everything. When she she missed her putt, I was in shock. I was preparing to go to hole three. She’s a really great putter. Then she missed it and I was like, ‘Wait, what just happened?’ I just was so emotional. So many good tears. It was great.”

Wenzler played well all week. She had the lowest score in stroke play, shooting 8-under (67-69—136).

Then Wenzler had to win four matches to advance to the championship. She defeated Western Kentucky University junior Sarah Arnold 5&4, University of Tennessee senior Mikayla Bardwell 3&2, Purdue University junior Kan Bunabodee 1 up and University of Virginia sophomore Jennifer Cleary 2&1.

Wenzler credited her performance to the work she has done on the mental side of the game.

“I started to realize, especially this past summer,” Wenzler said, “you get to a certain level and obviously you’re going to find ways to get better in the physical aspects of the game and tweak a few things, but it gets to a point where the mental aspect has to be identical to the physical. It’s very hard to practice the mental side of golf because it’s such a gray area. I don’t love gray areas, so it was hard for me to take that step, but I definitely have become more open in talking about how I’m feeling.”

Wenzler said she did a better job handling her nerves at the tournament, and not worrying about her own expectations helped her focus on why she was there.

“I’m here because I love golf,” Wenzler said, “and I’m here to compete because that’s what I love to do. If it ends up bad, that’s just how it is. You’ll go to the next week and you’ll play another event and you’ll learn from it. So that was a really big thing: to kind of play more free and to have a good game plan when I did get nervous, because obviously you are going to get nervous in golf. You can’t just turn it off.”

Wenzler’s boyfriend, Conor Stolly, an Alter grad, caddied for her throughout the tournament. Often her brother, Ryan Wenzler, a former Wright State golfer who made his PGA Tour debut in 2018 is now preparing for the Korn Ferry Tour Q-School, often caddies for her but was at the family reunion.

“Nobody from my family could come,” Wenzler said, “and I was like, ‘Ryan, wouldn’t it be funny if I won with Conor on the bag? That’d be hilarious. You’d be fired.’ It was obviously a joke. And then it happened and we were like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is crazy.’ (Stolly) doesn’t golf, but he was weirdly very good at reading putts, and I think he helped a lot with calming me down. He was really positive the whole week for someone who’s not used to walking 36 holes in a day.”

Wenzler was the No. 37 prospect in the class of 2019, according to the American Junior Golf Association, when she started her college career at Kentucky. She posted a 73.18 stroke average in six events as a freshman. That was the second-best mark on the team and the third-best single-season mark in school history.

When the pandemic shortened Wenzler’s freshman season in the spring of 2020, she returned to her home course at NCR Country Club in Kettering and then returned to tournament golf months later.

Wenzler won the Metropolitan Amateur Championship at Wetherington Golf & Country Club in West Chester last summer and also won the Heritage Classic in Shepherdsville, Ky.

As a sophomore at Kentucky, Wenzler saw her stroke average rise to 75.7 in 10 events, but she played her best at the end of the season, tying for 59th at the NCAA Championship. She hopes that performance and the victory at the Western Amateur leads to success when she returns to the U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship at Westchester Country Club in Rye, N.Y., from Aug. 2-8.

Wenzler knows she’ll have the support of her family even if there’s not a pool surprise next time.

“It was just cool to have that support immediately right when I got home,” she said. “My immediate family has always been there for me and is my biggest support in the whole world. To have all of them there, it meant so much to me.”

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