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updated: 8/23/2013 8:57 PM

All by herself, Stevenson's Marquardt looms large

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  • Stevenson's Nikki Marquardt is standing tall, having committed to Eastern Michigan.

       Stevenson's Nikki Marquardt is standing tall, having committed to Eastern Michigan.
    Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

 
 

The short game was so good.

But Nikki Marquardt won't try to be the next Stephanie Miller, the short superstar who won a pair of individual state championships for Stevenson before taking her golf clubs to the University of Illinois this year.

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Marquardt says if anyone asks, she'll tell them she's going to try to be "the next Nikki Marquardt."

The long game, in short, will have to suffice for Stevenson's girls golf team this season.

Marquardt stands nearly 6 feet, almost a foot taller than Miller. The incoming senior's summer was so good: three tournament wins, including this month's University of Illinois Classic on the Illini's home course, Stone Creek Golf Club in Urbana. Winning a Mid-American Junior Golf Tour event can put kid golfers (ages 8-18) on the map, if they aren't already.

Marquardt won it in a playoff.

"That was my best career win so far," Marquardt said. "I really played some solid golf out there, so it was a lot of fun to pull out that victory, especially in a playoff, too."

At high school sectionals last fall, she lost in a playoff, costing her a trip downstate. She drew on that experience this month when she prevailed in the MAJGT playoff. Her tap-in parr putt on the first hole gave her the victory.

"I've been in some playoffs before, so I knew how to handle myself out there, and I was able to get the job done," Marquardt said.

She began her fourth season of varsity golf last Monday. She carded a 33 -- 1 stroke off Miller's school record for nine holes -- and then called Eastern Michigan University that night to verbally commit to the Eagles' Division I women's golf program.

She's been good since she entered high school, but she's clearly playing at a different level this summer.

"I guess you could say that," Marquardt said. "I had a great summer season, some good breakthroughs in my game, and I feel like I'm at that top level."

What's especially impressive is that she's been playing competitive golf for only three years. She started taking lessons and played her first IJGA tourney in the summer before her freshman year, shooting a 91 she recalls in her competitive golf debut.

Before that, her golf experience included only hitting the ball around with her dad on occasion. She would do the same when she'd visit her grandparents, who live on a golf course in Arizona, on spring break trips.

"I attribute it to a lot of hard work and effort," Marquardt said of her success on the links. "I've come a long way in a short time, but I enjoy it, which is the biggest part I would say. It makes you come back, to keep practicing."

Over the winter, when other golfers keep their clubs in the basement or garage, she worked on her short game.

"Which has improved tremendously," Marquardt said. "I looked at my whole game and realized where I needed to improve. I put the effort in to do that."

Golf is one of the toughest sports in the world, mentally. Negative thoughts can frustrate a golfer like a windmill on a putt-putt course. She worked on that, too.

"Mentally, I've gotten a lot tougher," she said. "Whether it's a big tournament or small tournament, I have learned to treat them all the same."

So now, after three years in Miller's shadow, she's ready to be Stevenson's No. 1.

"I embrace this opportunity 100 percent," Marquardt said. "Stephanie was a great teammate to have. I looked up to her at certain points in my career, and I've learned stuff from her, as well. But at the same time, I'm making my own mark."

It's a tall order for the tall golfer, and she's up to the task.

jaguilar@dailyherald.com

• Follow Joe on Twitter: @JoeAguilar64

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