Sept. 15, 2006
By Sean Carroll
College athletes come in all shapes and sizes, with different personalities and varying ways of achieving success. There’s not one surefire way to attain your goals on the playing field. However, among good athletes you will find similar traits.
Golf at the collegiate level is not played in front of 80,000 spectators or on national television every week. The student-athletes are usually not scrutinized by commentators or booed by fans. Although, the concentration needed to succeed on the golf course can rival the amount of focus needed in any other athletic arena. Noriko Nakazaki is fully aware of the concentration needed to achieve success.
“I made it to the U.S. Amateur Championship this year by winning my 18-hole qualifier so the concentration there for me was very important,” says Nakazaki.
“After five holes I was three-over (par), but then I was able to go three-under (par) from there and my concentration had a lot to do with that.”
Nakazaki is arguably the best golfer in the history of the women’s program at Notre Dame. Statistically, she is the best. The senior enters her final season with the program’s top career stroke-average mark of 76.05 along with two medalist finishes and three all-BIG EAST team honors to her credit. With all of those accomplishments, one might expect Nakazaki to bring an ego to match her game to the course every day. That is far from the truth.
When one thinks of a leader and a champion in athletics, usually it involves a ‘rah-rah’ type of individual; someone who inspires and motivates others through the decibel level of their speech. That is not Nakazaki.
“I probably lead more by example since I’m not a very talkative person in general,” says Nakazaki. “Alejandra (Diaz-Calderon) is a very vocal leader for our team. She’s awesome with talking to people and being a leader that way. Being more vocal is something I should work on.”
Golf is the epitome of an individual sport. It is a challenge between an individual with a club and a ball taking on the many obstacles that a golf course presents. If you mention personal accolades to Nakazaki, she will soon point out the goals and accomplishments of her team.
Nakazaki was part of a Notre Dame team that advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in the program’s history in 2004 and then returned there in 2005. The ’04 squad also claimed the Irish’s second straight BIG EAST Conference title.
“Team success along with my personal success is what motivates me the most,” remarks Nakazaki.
“Hopefully we will strive to achieve our goals together as a team. Going to the NCAAs is a really neat experience and hopefully as a team we get to the NCAAs again this year. Last year I experienced a lot of pain by not making it, so I’m hoping not to repeat that.”
Playing with a team is something Nakazaki has not done over the past two summers as she has teed it up at the U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship.
“Playing the U.S. Am is a great experience because I get to play the top players from all over the nation. Seeing their work ethic and their passion motivates me even more to work harder.”
Not only has Nakazaki been able to compete with some of the best players in the country, she has also had the privilege to watch some of the top golfers in the world firsthand. The Hanover Park, Ill., native volunteered at the 1999 and 2006 PGA Championships at the Medinah Country Club, which is located just outside of Chicago, near her hometown.
“Working at Medinah was a great experience. I met a lot of people and seeing them at the major was a very different thing. I saw Luke Donald and Tiger Woods on the driving range. Luke looked a little tight and I thought maybe he needed to relax a little bit. Just by looking you could sense it. So it was a neat experience to be able to see them in that way.”
Like many golfers do, Nakazaki admires the game and ability of Woods, the No. 1 male golfer in the world. She observes him with more of a purpose than an average fan might.
“My ultimate golf role model is Tiger Woods. I admire his work ethic and concentration and how he handles pressure.”
Hailing from the suburbs of Chicago has also allowed her parents to make the two-hour drive to South Bend. The visits take on an added importance since her father is her swing coach. Having her mother and father close has also been a comfort for Nakazaki as she tries to tackle the difficulties of being a student-athlete, which she has done quite well by carrying a 3.386 grade-point average as a finance major.
The University of Notre Dame conjures up different things to different individuals, yet many times two things will come to mind – academics and athletics. The term student-athlete is one that is taken very seriously at Notre Dame.
“Not only is Noriko a phenomenal athlete, but she is a phenomenal student as well,” says Irish assistant women’s golf coach Kyle Veltri.
“She’s always here working hard and is a leader by example. The team really rallies around her to better their games. She exemplifies what being a student-athlete at Notre Dame is all about. Her dedication is amazing and her success is a result of that.”
Senior Noriko Nakazaki owns Notre Dame’s all-time low women’s stroke average with a 76.05 average. She has been an all-BIG EAST selection in each of her first three seasons with the Irish.
As Nakazaki finishes her collegiate career during the 2006-07 season, it will be different in a few ways. Newly appointed head coach Susan Holt begins her first campaign at the helm of the Irish program and Nakazaki will be without her sidekick from the past three seasons, Katie Brophy. Brophy was a ’06 Notre Dame graduate and had been right alongside Nakazaki since she was a freshman. The duo ranks one-two on the career stroke average list and have been a driving force behind Notre Dame’s emergence in the women’s golf world.
“I just want to keep working on what I’ve been working on over the past three years and hopefully achieve more this season. I’m expecting a lot from this team and hopefully it’ll be a great year. I think I’ve grown as a person over the three years that I’ve been here. For me, becoming a leader has been a gradual process. I don’t know if I’m there or not, but my teammates are helping me get to the level I want to be at.”
A level Nakazaki would like to be at next year is on the professional level. She plans to try and qualify for the LPGA Futures Tour in November. Depending on the result of that, she is keeping the Japanese Tour open as an option.
Even though her future is not quite in focus, yet, Nakazaki remains concentrated on the game she loves.
“My passion for golf is one thing that inspires me. I tend to focus on the process and then the results will follow. That’s the mentality that I have right now.”