Nowlin leads on, off green in her final season with Illinois


By Josh Pietsch, Staff Writer

Being a senior on any sports team comes with perks, including experience and leadership. But on the Illinois women’s golf team, there’s only one golfer with the senior title: Tristyn Nowlin.

Nowlin, a kinesiology major from Richmond, Kentucky, is the only four-year collegiate golfer on the team. Although Nowlin has found herself leading the Illini, her journey with the team started four years ago in high school.

Nowlin was recruited by other schools prior to the start of her junior year at Madison Central High School. But despite being persuaded by other Division I programs, she said the decision to commit to Illinois wasn’t a difficult one. 

“A took a visit to Eastern Kentucky University … Then I visited Kentucky, Western Kentucky, came up here (to Illinois), and then I think I visited Purdue,” Nowlin said. “But pretty much as soon as I came up here, I knew (I would commit) just because of the facilities and the relationships I was able to build with the coaches so fast. It just kind of felt like home.” 

Head coach Renee Slone had been watching Nowlin since high school and was instantly impressed by her. Her ability as a golfer stood out, and Slone thought she would be a good fit at Illinois. 

“I felt a connection to her, and as far as progress that her game was making, it was exciting to follow,” Slone said. “Hearing what her goals and aspirations were long-term, we felt that we had the facilities and resources available to assist with her development to achieve those things.” 

Nowlin had a successful first season at Illinois, receiving All-Big Ten Second Team honors and recording the lowest individual score for the team that season. And she didn’t slow down her sophomore year. Nowlin earned All-Big Ten Second Team honors and posted the second-best single-season stroke average among many other accomplishments. Her junior year looked no different success wise, as she earned All-Big Ten Second Team honors. Nowlin was also on the Big Ten All-Academic team her second and third seasons with the program. 

Although the Illini don’t designate an official captain, Nowlin is recognized as a leader on the team and is a role model for her teammates. Nowlin likes being a leader and takes pride in her role. 

“Coach and I do consider myself the leader. I kind of get everyone going and hype the team up before tournaments,” Nowlin said. “(Being a leader) is something I’ve always loved … I have a lot of energy, so just being aware of that and trying to kind of spread that around the team, I think that’s really important.” 

Nowlin’s leadership qualities stand out to more than just her teammates.

“She’s been a person who has brought people together,” Slone said. “She’s always been one who makes others feel very comfortable because she does that herself. So when others see somebody doing that, they realize they can do that, too, and that’s been a very beneficial aspect she has brought to the team.” 

Along with leading off the golf course, Nowlin has shown leadership while competing as well. During the team’s second invite of the season, the Schooner Fall Classic in Norman, Oklahoma, Nowlin was not only the best performer for Illinois, but she also tied for first individually in the tournament. Nowlin’s tied-for-first is the best individual performance by an Illini this season, but she’s focused on more than her own success.

“I hope that my performance motivates the rest of the team, just to kind of put the work in and knowing we’re right there,” Nowlin said. “We haven’t been playing our best golf … Just knowing that we’re kinda right on the cusp of playing our best golf, I hope that (my performance is) motivating.” 

After college, Nowlin plans on continuing her golfing career at the professional level. She knows the competition gets tougher, but wants to put in the work to have a successful career. 

“I went to Q (qualifying) school in August and missed the cut by one,” Nowlin said. “But I think this summer I’m gonna play in some tournaments and some smaller events and see if I can get back into Q school.”

After coaching Nowlin over the last four years and reflecting on her own time in the pros, Slone believes Nowlin has the work ethic to achieve success professionally after her time at Illinois. 

“I’ve lived that life, I know what it takes and what it’s like, and it can be very rewarding, but it’s by no means easy,” Slone said. “It really is up to each individual … It takes an extreme amount of work and dedication, and I think that’s something Tristyn realized over the course of last year. She has taken it upon herself to invest in herself … I think she’s capable of anything she sets her mind to.”

Being the oldest on a team and acting as a leader isn’t easy, but Nowlin can handle the task. Her work ethic and leadership skills have helped her achieve continued success this season, and she still has time to improve individually. Her next chance will be Oct. 25-27, when Illinois will travel to Wilmington, North Carolina, for the Landfall Tradition. 


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