Many athletes who come from families with accomplished relatives feel stuck in the shadows, unsure of how to forge their own identity.
But Mikaela Schulz, a junior on the Michigan women’s golf team, never had that problem.
Her cousin, LPGA golfer Morgan Pressel, has been a role model for as long as Schulz can remember. Pressel definitely set a high bar: she went professional straight out of high school, appealing to join the LPGA tour in 2005 as a 17-year-old. Then in 2007, an 18-year-old Pressel won the ANA Inspiration to become the youngest winner of a modern major championship at the time.
“I had a lot of interactions with touring professionals,” Schulz said. “It inspired me to live that lifestyle as well and be really good at golf.”
Growing up, Schulz was constantly surrounded by golf, female players especially. She was taken behind the scenes to see locker room set-ups, sat on her cousin’s lap during interviews and even got an up close perspective into professional training.
“If you golf with them, you get to see the different levels of playing and how you don’t have to be perfect to be at that level,” Schulz said. “Being exposed to that world has led me to work hard and have a dream to play on the tour as well.”
Pressel is not the only successful female golfer in Schulz’s family.
Her mother, Rachel, is an experienced golfer as well who also competed as a Wolverine from 1982 to 1983. Naturally, Schulz went through her childhood with the desire to play golf at Michigan, declaring her dream at the mere age of nine and a half.
In a typical mother-daughter dynamic, it took until high school for Schulz to accept that her mom’s advice could go beyond inspiration.
“She would give me something to do and it would work,” Schulz said. “I would be surprised, realizing that she knows what she’s talking about.”
Mikaela spent countless hours throughout high school and leading up to college in order to earn her spot on the Michigan golf team. She battled burnout and low motivation and even considered quitting altogether. But her determination and grit carried her to the elite level she is playing at today.
In her first few years at Michigan, Schulz has been named an Academic All-Big Ten (2021), contributed to the 14th NCAA regionals and fourth NCAA finals (2021) in program history and came in first place at the Wolverine Invitational this past September.
“You get people who are like, ‘No wonder you’re good at golf; you’ve got the genes,’” Schulz said. “It’s challenging because it’s the hard work, not the genes.”
To balance her rigorous golf schedule, Schulz has adopted and prioritized other passions. She plays the ukulele and practices tae kwon do and yoga.
These hobbies and passions help Schulz distinguish her own identity.
“Golf is a huge part of my life, and finding time to also have other passions while maintaining my golf practices is really essential to creating my own path,” Schulz said.
The Michigan winters also help give Schulz and other northern golfers the break they need but would not take in other climates. In the offseason, with playing outside not an option, she is forced to work on her swing and look at the more technical side of her game, which pays off once the weather turns warm and the spring season starts.
“Having the winter time to rest and not really play gives me that exciting spark when we’re able to start up again,” Schulz said. “That’s a big advantage.”
Despite the grueling training regimen of playing at an elite level, Schulz does not anticipate an end in sight to her golfing career. With an extra year of eligibility due to Covid-19, she plans to take a fifth year at Michigan to further develop her game and mindset.
It is because of her coaches in the area and at Michigan, her teammates’ encouragement and her mother and cousin’s inspiration that Schulz has reached such heights; it’s because of them that she hopes to one day turn professional.
In one way, the overwhelming female presence has impacted Schulz’s perception of the male dominated sport, but at the same time, it has caused her to barely acknowledge that aspect.
“It influenced it to the point where I didn’t think about it that way,” Schulz said. “Growing up, we always had female golf on the TV more than men’s golf.”
While male golf is more popular, Schulz points out that the games are merely different. Men, for the most part, hit the ball further, which attracts the attention of many spectators. They are also more prone to spray the ball, while female golfers typically hit the ball straighter.
Neither the male nor female way of playing is better or worse — they are merely different.
“If you are just a spectator, you may not be able to appreciate the delicacy and precision of female players,” Schulz said. “I’ve learned to appreciate the beauty of the game and how it’s played by females and males as well.”
Her stellar family lineage may have conditioned her to dream big and set ambitious goals, but it is Schulz’s own passion and perseverance that has led her to accomplish what she has thus far.
And as long as she continues down her tenacious path, she will continue to flourish for years to come.