GREAT FALLS – Gina Kowalchuk is re-writing the record books at the University of Great Falls.
Last year, as a sophomore, she became the first Argo golfer to advance to the NAIA national tournament. And on Tuesday she led her team to its highest ever finish with a third place trophy at the UGF invite.
But Kowalchuk’s success on the links started at the junior level in Lethbridge, Alberta.
“I started golfing when I was really little,” she said. “My parents would always take me out to the course with them. And I had my own little plastic set that I got from Costco at age four.”
And if you follow Gina around on the golf course long enough at any event, you’ll notice a small gallery behind her.
It’s those same parents who gave her that first set of plastic clubs.
Bill and Sherri Kowalchuk made the three hour trip from Lethbridge to watch their daughter play golf, just like they have for most for every tournament from Arizona to Georgia. The two are nearly always smiling and chatting with others on the course. They’re smiling because they get to watch their daughter play the sport she loves. And play it well.
“When she was about three or four years old we had her hitting balls in the back yard,” Bill beamed. “And we realized watching later she never whiffed a ball and her hand eye coordination was unreal. So we thought, there might be something too this!”
Wherever Gina goes, the Kowalchuk family isn’t far behind. They stay silent, but still cheer on their daughter in their own way.
“We just mentally, telepathically say ‘go, go, go!’” Sherri said. “It’s a lot harder watching than it is playing.”
“Our stomach gets tied up in stomachs many times,” adds Bill.
Gina enjoys having the support of her family on the course and off.
“Last year when I won a tournament they weren’t there,” Gina said. “That was the only one they didn’t go to and I know they wanted to be there. So it’s been really cool to have them around this time for sure.”
And so far, the Kowalchuk family has had plenty to be proud of. Gina has won the first two Frontier Conference tournaments of the season, posting a wire-to-wire seven stroke victory at the UGF Invite. The reigning Frontier Golfer of the Year, had a disappointing finish at nationals, finishing 55th out of 143 golfere at a rain shortened tournament in Savannah, Georgia.
But of course, parents will always be parents.
“They always ask if I want food,” laughed Gina. “Offering me muffins! But that’s about it. They’re really good about just being there to support me.”
At the end of the day, Bill and Sherri are happy with the role they’ve played in their daughter’s success. And it’s incredibly gratifying to see her walk off the 18th green a winner.
“I’m so proud of you,” Sherri said through joyful tears as she hugged her daughter following the Argo Invite.
Bill beamed again.
“When she was a baby we always had her on the golf course with us. And we never believed that she would get that good. And we’re just so proud.”