Illinois Wesleyan University didn't get to defend its Division III national title this year because of the pandemic, but senior Rob Weutrich of Bloomington picked up his own hardware — and got a new perspective on the sport he loves.
The Normal Community High School alum became Wesleyan's first DIII National Golfer of the Year. Weutrich said the highlight of winning the award was getting to speak via Zoom with the award's namesake, golf legend Jack Nicklaus.
“It was kind of surreal. I don’t really know what I was expecting, but he came on and was just super laid back and relaxed and started asking questions and was just super congratulatory,” Weutrich said. “It just felt really sincere.”
Weutrich said during the 90-minute chat that included five other student athlete honorees, the man nicknamed the “Golden Bear” dispensed plenty of advice, not so much about hitting the little white ball, but about life.
Weutrich said Nicklaus explained how he had to cut back his time on the links during his professional career as he and his wife raised five children.
“He said if he would have not had the family, he probably could have won some more times. But he said he wouldn't trade those kind of life experiences for anything,” Weutrich recalled. “So I just was kind of remembering that sports we play are just a game and just have a really fun time when you're playing them.”
Those lessons may be especially poignant during a pandemic that has short circuited sports for thousands of student-athletes.
One year after helping the Titans to a national championship, Weutrich said winning an individual honor during a time of isolation pales in comparison.
“I still was able to celebrate and kind of get a little bit of congratulations from it, but the national championship by far is unparalleled to anything else, just because ... there's so much hard work and everybody's got to be clicking,” he said.
The coronavirus brought the golf season to a halt in March when the Titans were the top-ranked Division III program in the country.
Weutrich said he hopes golf will return for his senior season and he’s considering using his extra year of eligibility the NCAA granted because of the canceled season.
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