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Sight doesn't fail St. Anthony golfer

06/05/2012, 4:45pm CDT
By DAVID La VAQUE, Star Tribune

Katie Wortman has perfected her game by adjusting to blindness in her left eye.


Katie Wortman practiced after school at Gross National Golf Club in Minneapolis. Wortman, a sophomore, is making her second consecutive state tournament appearance. Photo by JOEL KOYAMA, joel.koyama@startribune.com

Open stance. Hands forward. Behind the ball.

Like the Siberian husky head cover poking out over her golf bag, Katie Wortman's putting style is unique. But one is an accessory, the other a necessity.

Blind in her left eye, Wortman, a sophomore standout for the St. Anthony Village Huskies, changed her mechanics to get a clearer view for her right eye.

"I can make out shapes and color, that's about it," Wortman said of her left eye, the front eye for the right-handed golfer. "It's really fuzzy but it doesn't seem like anything to me because I've always had it."

It hasn't held her back. Wortman qualified for her second Class 2A state golf tournament. She placed 26th last season and hopes to make a move up the leader board June 12-13 at the Ridges at Sand Creek course in Jordan.

Adept at making physical adjustments, Wortman labored to overcome mental obstacles this spring.

"I kind of got to a point where I was just a little bit burnt out this season," she said. "I think the expectation to go to state again this year maybe did it. The first three quarters of my season were a little stressful. This last quarter I focused on having more fun and I succeeded the most."

Second-year coach John Heltunen saw the seeds for change planted even sooner. The Huskies defeated Mounds Park Academy 202-203 on April 25. Mounds Park Academy coach Greg Lundgren told Heltunen it was the Huskies' first victory in the series he could recall in his 18 seasons.

Wortman took medalist honors despite a horrid start. She carded a bogey on the first hole, then lost her ball and took a double bogey on the second hole. Heltunen said Wortman looked "devastated" and encouraged her to regroup.

"I just said, 'That hole is over,'" Heltunen said. "Then she went out and made par. I think that helped us a ton because four of our girls went on to have career days."

Wortman heeds Heltunen's marching orders -- "Play the holes, not the girls" -- most of the time.

"The key word is try," Wortman said with a laugh. "It's hard because it's competitive. At the end of the day it's really about playing the holes, but you really want to outperform the other girls."

Far away from the intensity of match play last week at Gross National Golf Course in Minneapolis, Heltunen observed Wortman's mechanics and offered praise and pointers.

"Good tempo, nice and relaxed," Heltunen said after Wortman launched a 180-yard tee shot on No. 12 that landed a few feet left of the fairway.

Straight but not overpowering off the tee, Wortman makes up ground with her mid-range game.

"If my game is going well, it's because of my iron play," she said. "My driver can spray a little bit and I'll still end up all right. But if I struggle with my irons then it's ..." As if scared to even discuss the possibility, Wortman doesn't finish her thought.

Later on the 14th hole, Wortman's approach shot landed on the green about 36 feet from the hole. Last year, Heltunen said, her shot would land a few feet from the green and required a chip shot. This spring, Wortman is learning to accept the need to putt twice.

She settled over her ball -- open stance, hands forward, behind the ball -- and putted within one foot of the cup.

"Great putt," Heltunen said. "That's the type of putt she needs."

Though her high school season ends next week, Wortman's summer features some high-level golf opportunities. She's once again participating in various Junior PGA events. She also was selected to attend the Ryder Cup Junior Golf Academy from July 1-8 in Port St. Lucie, Fla.

"From what I read it seems like golf all day, every day, which is great," Wortman said. "I hope I come out of it a different golfer. I think it will be very worthwhile. Game-changing."

David La Vaque • 612-673-7574

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