Olivia Stoll doesn’t think there was one specific moment when golf finally hooked her. But deep down, she admits walking around Cypress Point watching her parents play golf might have played a significant role. Her mother, longtime Michigan State head coach Stacy Slobodnik-Stoll, had taken the family to Northern California while she recruited at the 2018 U.S. Girls’ Junior at Poppy Hills.
Shortly after that trip, Olivia arrived at a high school volleyball camp and called her dad. She wanted to ditch volleyball and head to the golf course.
“I was like ‘What is going on?’ ” recalled Olivia. “I never thought I would want to play golf.”
Oh, but her mother had dreamed of such a day for so long. Olivia’s interest in the game went from 0 to 60 practically overnight at age 15, declaring at dinner one night that she wanted to play college golf.
“Olivia,” her mother said, “I’ve already offered girls full scholarships that are your age.”
Olivia was undeterred, however, and on Mother’s Day, she’ll head to Eureka, Missouri, with her Grand Valley State team for the NCAA Division II Women’s Golf Championship.
NCAA Championship: Meet the 30 teams, 6 individuals going to Grayhawk
Slobodnik-Stoll, the winningest player in Golf Association of Michigan history with 18 titles, heads to Arizona on Tuesday for the NCAA Division I Women’s Golf Championship. The Spartans claimed their first NCAA Regional title last week at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida.
Slobodnik-Stoll’s heart will be in two places as she guides her team around Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale, Arizona, and reads text updates from husband Jim on Olivia’s performance in Missouri.
“It’s been my life’s work on both occasions – my own child and my team,” she said. “I’m thrilled that I have such a good problem.”
For the first time in program history … pic.twitter.com/uhQ4ctCbzo
— Spartan Women’s Golf (@MSU_WGolf) May 11, 2023
Now in her 26th season as head coach at her alma mater, Slobodnik-Stoll said what impresses her most about this group of Spartans is they keep improving as the season goes along. Their success comes despite the loss of Valery Plata, a former Big Ten Player of the Year who turned professional mid-year.
Michigan State men’s basketball coach Tom Izzo was headed to watch former Spartan Draymond Green compete in the NBA Playoffs on the final day of NCAA regionals.
“When he landed he called right in the middle of our celebration,” said Slobodnik-Stoll. “I said to the girls, ‘Look who’s calling!’ and they were screaming.”
Sophomore Brooke Biermann took a share of medalist honors at PGA National, the best regional finish in program history. The team’s GPA this semester, 3.984, set a school record for the Michigan State athletic department.
“When they say they’re going to do something,” said Slobodnik-Stoll, “they’re going to do it to the best of their ability.”
That’s a trait that’s also shared by Slobodnik-Stoll and her daughter, along with showing up early and a strong competitive gene that’s not outwardly shown.
“Deep down we know we want to beat everyone in the field,” said Olivia.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Olivia asked her mom whether they could head to Florida when the temperatures dropped. MSU players weren’t coming back to school until January, and Olivia’s high school work was all online.
So on Halloween of 2020, mom and daughter packed up the car and headed south. In two-and-a-half months they played 50 rounds of golf. Olivia was also able to compete in several tournaments, and the time together proved invaluable as she strived to make up for lost time.
As Olivia began to play in more tournaments back home in Michigan, the story of a late-bloomer began to get out, and coaches were interested. Slobodnik-Stoll is often asked: Why not Division I?
Her answer is simple: “For her to go somewhere and sit on the bench was pointless. She needed to go somewhere to play, play, play.”
We are moving on!
— GVSU Women’s Golf (@gvsuwomensgolf) May 10, 2023
During her freshman year, Grand Valley traveled to tournaments in Hawaii, California and Arizona. Olivia was recently named Player of the Year in the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, despite a disqualification earlier in the season for signing an incorrect scorecard.
The lessons keep coming.
Slobodnik-Stoll doesn’t get to watch Olivia compete as much as she’d like, but their trips now consist of golf as a family – and knowing they’ll have that for rest of their lives is priceless. Husband Jim also played collegiate golf and has a deep passion for the game.
Mom and daughter celebrated Mother’s Day early on Saturday with a round of birthday golf for Slobodnik-Stoll’s father Dave before Olivia headed to NCAAs.
Olivia isn’t sure how far she wants to go in the game, but there will be plenty of options as her parents have purchased three daily-fee courses in Michigan over the past two years: Twin Oaks Golf Course in Freeland, Huron Breeze in Au Gres and Vassar Golf Club.
But first, there are national championships at stake.
“It’s just cool to have her as a role model,” said Olivia.