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Niemiec finds solace on course, in family

Published: Saturday, Oct. 12, 2013 5:30 a.m. CST

Northern Illinois senior women’s golfer Jenny Niemiec played an abbreviated summer tournament schedule after her mother, Sue, died from ALS, Lou Gehrig’s disease, in June. The former St. Charles East multisport standout has coped in part through golf, a frequent activity with her older brother, Chris, and father, Ed. Niemiec tells Shaw Media sports reporter Kevin Druley about her life the past few months and her long-lasting connection with her alma mater. The following is an edited transcript:

How did the fall golf season go?

We actually had our last tournament this past week. We start our offseason in two weeks, so we’re just practicing now. … [It was] not as good as I would have hoped. Still trying to figure some stuff out, but the spring is the most important season, so hopefully I get everything figured out by then.

What was your summer tournament situation before that?

The Illinois (Women’s) Open for me went really well. I shot 78-72-79, I made the cut, so it was really good, especially because I didn’t play in that many tournaments this summer just because of family circumstances. But just to get back out there and play that well kind of gave me a boost in confidence before I went back to school.

You mentioned family circumstances. How has everyone been handling your mom’s passing?

My brother and dad and I went to Italy for a family vacation before I headed back to school, which was really nice. We’re all really close. I talk to my mom’s sisters almost every day. They’ve come and watched my tournaments. … I just got done a couple weeks ago with an ALS walk we did in Chicago, so just taking it day by day. … It’s not fun, but you know, live through it, I guess.

How often do you and Chris talk golf?

All the time, to be honest. That’s how we, I guess, bond, is we all golf together. My dad’s an avid golfer, too. Chris and I would go out a lot. He would go out more than me. … But it’s a lot of fun. My dad and brother are pretty much my only swing coaches I’ve ever had, so they all help me on my game. It’s nice to have somebody so close to you that knows your swing inside-out. ... My dad and my brother both caddied for me at the Illinois Open. My brother did the first day, my dad did the second, and then my brother did the last day again.

Talk about transferring to NIU from South Carolina in the 2011-12 school year.

I had been recruited at Northern going into my freshman year, and I made the decision that I wanted to come back home and be closer to my mom. I figured why not play golf while I’m here. I didn’t know anybody, really, on the team, just a few girls from when I was growing up who I might have had a tournament against them. Schoolwise, I knew a lot of people here just because a lot of people from St. Charles East go there.

But then you definitely were re-acquainted with Rachael Edwards at NIU.

She was on the golf team when I was at East. She actually transferred from Arizona State (to support Niemiec), and she’s my best friend, so we actually ended up living together. So I have her here, which is really nice just to have somebody you’re close with.

Is Rich Harvest Farms (NIU’s home course in Sugar Grove) everything people say?

Honestly, I didn’t remember it or I didn’t know how cool it was when I first went there for the Solheim (Cup in August 2009), but getting to play it every day now, just everything about Rich Harvest is unbelievable. [Owner and NIU alum Jerry Rich] has done so much for our program. It’s so cool to actually call that your home course and be able to play it whenever you want.

When’s the last time you took grounders at shortstop or swung a bat?

I play catch from time to time, but honestly, probably two, three years. I miss softball a lot. … I actually went to two of the [East postseason games last season]. I still keep in contact with coach (Kelly) Barnett – Horan now. I talk to her at least one or two times every couple months, so it’s nice. And they did awesome [as Class 4A state runners-up in 2013]. … I still keep in touch with my golf coach, Rod Osborne. A lot of the teachers, when I go to games once in a while to watch one of my friends’ sisters or something. I don’t know, I was really close with a lot of people just because I was involved in sports there, so it was always nice, because I feel like St. Charles East was like a family.

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