As her collegiate golfing career winds to a close, Kali Griggs can rest assured that her impact on the Gustavus women’s golf program will not soon be forgotten. Coming off a second place showing at the Eau Claire Spring Invitational, Griggs is looking to cap her outstanding career with a stellar showing at the NCAA Championships this week at Howey-In-The-Hills, Florida.
The outgoing senior from Burnsville, Minn. will lead the second-ranked Gusties in their quest to capture the program’s first ever national championship. Griggs has firmly entrenched her name in the Gustavus record books while helping build the credibility of the program. She has accomplished this by playing a large role in the team’s first ever Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference titles that have come in each of the last two years.
“If [our team] could win nationals this year it would be the culmination of everything that I’ve done in the last four years,” said Griggs. “We’ve developed enough that we can play under pressure, and I feel that with the way we’ve been playing as a team this year we can handle the four days and win. Every year we get closer and closer, but this year is the year.”
Griggs will be competing in her fourth NCAA Championship tournament, with her performance in last year’s event placing her in a tie for sixth as the Gusties took third place at the contest.
“I have expectations that haven’t quite been met this year, but I’m trying to accept that and just enjoy playing,” said Griggs. “My golf game feels great right now, and I feel that I can achieve something equal to or better than last season as long as I’m in control for all four days.”
Over the course of her career at Gustavus, Griggs has made a name for herself around the nation for her consistent play. She has finished outside of the top ten only eight times in her 39 regular season tournaments en route to garnering three individual tournament wins. Griggs currently owns the record for the lowest 18-hole score in MIAC Championship play (74) and with her fifth place finish at the MIAC Championship this year she became only the second Gustie to win All-Conference honors in all four years of eligibility.
“She definitely has the desire to be the best. If she just goes and plays like she has, she’ll do great,” said head coach Scott Moe. “If she does that, she and the team will both be in the spot we want to be in for the entire week.”
Despite being one of the most decorated golfers in Gustavus history, Griggs didn’t begin seriously competing in the sport until she reached the sixth grade. When she reached high school, Moe pursued her by attending her golf matches and basketball games to get a better sense of her character.
“I knew that she’d be a great golfer because she is such a great competitor,” said Moe. “Kali has a great desire to learn and is an extremely hard worker as well. She wants what’s best for the program, which is very admirable.”
Griggs faced a tough decision in her college search because she felt torn between choosing an art school where she could put all of her energy into her artistic talents and a liberal arts college with a varsity golf program.
“Golf and art are my two passions, and in the end I chose golf over an art school,” said Griggs. “I loved art so much, but I didn’t choose art school because I felt that Gustavus was the best fit for me. I knew Gustavus was a highly academic school which was very important to me.”
After a freshman year that saw her reach as high as second place in regular season tournament play, Griggs broke through the following year by winning two tournaments and improving her stroke average from 83.7 in 2006-07 to 81.7 in 2007-08.
“It’s a work ethic thing. I chose to make golf a big focus in my life during my sophomore year,” said Griggs. “I struggled during my freshman year because college felt so different to me. It was really nice to have golf as an outlet because I was able to meet a lot of people.”
After the fall season of her sophomore year, Griggs came into contact with swing coach Kevin Smeltz through a former Gustie golfer in hopes of improving her technique. Smeltz had previously worked with such professional stars as Camilo Villegas, Charles Howell III, Steve Marino, and Suzann Pettersen.
“Scott [Moe] says that I’m a mechanical player, so I’m trying to learn from him how to combine both mechanics and feel to enhance my swing,” said Griggs. “At that time I wanted to improve my game, but I didn’t have an independent swing coach. I went down to Florida and enjoyed everything that [Smeltz] taught me.”
Her hard work during the offseason paid dividends for both her and her teammates as her work ethic began rubbing off on teammates.
“I play a lot of summer tournaments that help prepare me for the fall season,” said Griggs. “During the offseason, I practiced every day. My goal was to inspire the other players to practice as hard as I did.”
Although Griggs led the team her sophomore season with her solid regular season performance, she struggled at the NCAA Championship and finished 84th; a drop of twenty spots from the previous season.
“Nationals wasn’t anything to write home about [that] year. It was kind of disappointing that we didn’t achieve the great things that we’d hoped for,” said Griggs. “I used to be so nervous at tournaments, but I’ve gotten over that now. My hands were shaking because I felt the pressure to play and perform well.”
Griggs entered the following season with more determination than ever to finish the season atop the leader boards. After posting runner-up performances to St. Thomas at the MIAC Championships for four consecutive years, Griggs helped the Gusties earn their first ever conference title in her junior year.
“It was exciting seeing how we came together as a team. We were playing to get a [championship] banner in the Lund [Athletic Building], and we finally got it,” said Griggs. “It was so special to be a part of the team that [won conference] for the first time in school history.”
The season only got better for Griggs as she placed in the top seven spots of every tournament after the MIAC Championships. Her season was capped off by an outstanding performance at the NCAA Championships that saw her finish the tournament in a three-way tie for sixth place, with the team earning a third place finish in the field.
“Playing four days of consistent golf at Nationals was exciting for me. I tried not to focus on my score, so I didn’t know where I was individually during the final day,” said Griggs. “I knew that if I played my game, it would be a benefit to the team, and with that mindset I was able to take away the pressure. Individually you grow a lot going through tournaments like that. It helped me emotionally knowing that I could accomplish anything.”
Griggs has improved her scoring yet again in her senior season to a career-best 79.4 heading into this week’s NCAA Championship. Her strong effort helped the Gusties win the MIAC title for the second consecutive year and set the team up for an impressive run of five straight tournament victories to close the regular season.
“I feel that I’ve taken another leap and grown a lot as a player because now I go into every tournament wanting to win both as an individual and as a team,” said Griggs. “If I’m not winning tournaments, I’d like to at least see my name in the top five or ten so that I know I’m improving.”
Coach Moe senses that Griggs will perform well at nationals and finish her career on a high note due in large part to her consistency and determination.
“She’s been very consistent this year,” said Moe. “The results haven’t quite been what she wanted, but that hasn’t stopped her from giving her all.”
Griggs earned All-America Honorable Mention honors in her freshman year, and improved to the All-America Second Team her sophomore year before reaching the All-America First Team last year. She is also a five-time MIAC women’s golfer of the week recipient and is set to finish her career with three of the top fifteen season averages in Gustavus women’s golf history (third – 79.4 in 2009-10, sixth – 80.3 in 2008-09, and 12th – 81.7 in 2007-08).
While Griggs has accomplished many feats over the span of her career, she still has her eye on one honor that has eluded her up to this point, and has devoted much of her time to achieving it.
“I’ve accomplished a number of things here, but one more thing that I want to earn is Academic All-America honors,” said Griggs. “I’m working hard to get up to [the necessary] 3.5 cumulative GPA, and I’ve made the Dean’s List a couple of semesters in a row in the process, which has been rewarding.”
Her approach in the classroom and her involvement in extracurricular activities such as the Student Athletic Advisory Board and various intramural sports have helped improve her grades and provided her with a healthy outlook on life.
“I set my schedule so that I can be a student before being an athlete,” said Griggs. “When I have school work to do I put golf to the side.”
Through her dedication to learning, Griggs has made favorable impressions upon many members of the Gustavus faculty. Among those impressed by Griggs’ many talents is her Studio Arts advisor Bruce McClain.
“Kali seems to excel when there’s that high level of competition. From the first time I had her in one of my classes, I knew she was one of my most dedicated students because she chose such a tough subject [to paint] and stuck with it,” said McClain. “Her motivation is a really healthy one when she has a goal in mind.”
Moe—a former Gustie golfer himself—says that Griggs fits the Gustie mold ‘to a T’ because of her many talents and drive to succeed at her many endeavors.
“Kali has developed into a great team player and she has become very serious about her academics,” said Moe. “Being a good student athlete is what Gustavus is all about.”
Griggs has made clear her ambition to attempt a career in professional golf once she graduates at the end of the month, but she is also toying with the idea of spending a year in a graduate level program at a prestigious school of design before committing entirely to golf.
“I would like to move to Florida and have the opportunity to practice year-round to get on the same level that the LPGA is on. I’m going to use this summer to build my game and get ready for some qualifying school tournaments that I can play to get ready for the next go-round,” said Griggs. “I am willing to do whatever it takes to reach my goal of competing at the next level.”
Moe feels confident that Griggs can make a career for herself with her talent, and looks forward to watching her chase her dream.
“Kali has all of the skills to play past college. It will be a very big step facing the mental challenges on a day-to-day grind, but dealing with that can only be learned by doing it,” said Moe. “She will be successful with whatever she chooses to do in her life.”
McClain also thinks strongly of Griggs’ chances of success in her future endeavors, and knows that she will be happy with whatever she ends up pursuing.
“She is a very interesting person with a lot of capabilities. She does a really nice job of drawing and it’s easy to see her wit and intelligence come together in her art,” said McClain. “She’s willing to take chances and she is able to back it up with her skill. I know that she’s very good at golf, and it would be nice to see her go pro.”
Although she aims to play golf for the foreseeable future, Griggs looks to one day begin a venture in fashion design that will bring her passion for golf and art full circle.
“After I finish golfing, I’d like to start a fashion design program,” said Griggs. “Being very tall, I have to look hard for clothes that fit me right, so my ambition is to design clothes for golfers my age. I already have an interest in retail and clothes in general.”
Griggs is confident that she will have a successful career both in golf and in her artistic projects due in large part to her four years at Gustavus.
“Gustavus has prepared me to excel after graduation. My time here has created opportunities and I have met people here that will help me in my future endeavors,” said Griggs. “Gustie alums are everywhere; as small as the school is, it has established itself quite well.”
Despite her ambitions to make the Ladies Professional Golf Association and put in all of the work necessary to reach her goal, she insists that she will never forget the program that provided her with the drive to compete at a higher level.
“I will always follow the Gustavus golf team because it’s been my life for the past four years. I look forward to watching the team grow and checking up on the legacy left behind by the teams I was on.”