Summer Champions: Stacy Slobodnik
By Jim Heil
Stacy Slobodnik may have earned the respect of her peers when she won her first Michigan Women's Amateur Championship in 1996.
Now she's out to earn the respect of younger women as the second-year women's golf coach at Michigan State University. So far, so good.
Slobodnik seems to have the Spartans pointed in the right direction, and winning her second state amateur title in three years certainly hasn't hurt her recruiting pitch.
With some of her players looking on, Slobodnik, of Kentwood, two-putted from 35 feet to beat Ann Arbor's Katy Loy on the 25th hole of the championship match, ending a nerve-racking five-hour battle on Boyne Mountain's Alpine course July 17.
Slobodnik, 26, counted six of her present and future players in the tournament. And those who exited early loyally followed their coach the rest of the way.
"I guess if they say to themselves, `Wow, we've got a coach who did this,' I think that makes them proud," Slobodnik said. "And I'm so proud of them for playing so well this week, too. But I think for me the biggest thing is I know they respect me as a player. And when I tell them something, they know I know what I'm talking about."
Among those competing with Slobodnik in the championship flight was one of her prize recruits, Grandville's Stacy Snider. Named Michigan's Miss Golf this past spring, Snider appeared destined to face Slobodnik in match play -- until two-time champion Mary Jane Anderson of Clarkston beat her in the quarterfinals.
Loy defeated Anderson 2-and-1 in the semifinals. Slobodnik, meanwhile, needed 19 holes to beat Rockford's Joan Garety, the defending champion and a fellow member at Egypt Valley Country Club in Ada.
It was at Egypt Valley that Slobodnik beat Anderson 4-and-3 for the 1996 title. Her '96 victory came after a year of mini-tour golf and work with noted teacher David Leadbetter in Florida. Slobodnik returned home in the fall of 1995, became an assistant coach at Michigan State and had her amateur status reinstated.
"I felt the whole week (at Boyne Mountain) went easier because I felt like I was a veteran," Slobodnik said. "I wasn't the rookie, I knew what to expect, I knew what I had to do and how to handle it. That comes with experience, and that's why it's so important to play in as many tournaments as you can, to put yourself in those situations." That experience paid off for Slobodnik on the seventh extra hole against Loy. She cautiously hit her tee shot on the 168-yard par 3 toward the middle of the green, leaving her with a long putt. Loy, apparently aiming at the flag, missed green and faced a difficult up-and-down. Her chip shot sailed across the green, opening the door for Slobodnik.
Loy could have won the match on No. 5, an uphill par 5, after Slobodnik's second shot landed in fairway bunker. But Loy's short game faltered, and both settled for bogey.
"You just kind of have to roll with the punches," Slobodnik said. "I knew I wasn't hitting it great, I wasn't putting great. But with experience, you learn to make that work. Whatever you have for the day, that's what you have to play with. Loy had fought back to tie the match five times through 15 holes. The finalists tied on nine straight holes before Slobodnik sank an 18-inch putt for the victory on No. 7.
"I think you become more cautious, and I think as it went on , the tension was building and I felt myself tightening up," she said. "I feel like I tried so many times to just hit a good shot and get it in there close to get a birdie, and it just wasn' t happening."
Slobodnik played at Michigan State University but it wasn't until her experiences in Florida that she became a golfer, at least in her own eyes. "Before that, I would hardly consider myself a golfer. I did not have an outstanding college career at all," she said. "I really think I learned how to play golf down there. And I think working with David Leadbetter really changed my game around."
With a little more time, Slobodnik might have enjoyed success on the professional tour. But she isn't second-guessing her decision to coach at her alma mater. "It's always in the back of your mind," she said. "What if I did have the time to practice every day like like I would want to? You never know. But I'm very, very comfortable where I am. I absolutely love my job."
Part of that is recruiting players like Snider, who Slobodnik expects will make a major impact on her program. "I'd love to play with her but there will be plenty of time to come," Slobodnik said. "She's self-motivated. Her parents do not play golf. No one has ever pushed her to play the game. She's done it all on her own. She wants to be the best player that she can."
Snider and other MSU recruits aware of Slobodnik's exploits can say they play for the best women's amateur golfer in the state.
"I think that's really cool because there aren't many coaches in the country who still compete," Slobodnik said. "I think it's really a unique thing. And I love that they come out and support me and watch me, as I do them during the whole entire season.
"I just hope that I can watch one of them someday win the state amateur."
In Slobodnik's Bag:
IRONS: King Cobra irons with senior shafts
PW AND SW: Callaway
7-WOOD: Custom Made
DRIVER AND 3-WOOD: Callaway Big Bertha
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