Charlie Danielson: a small-town kid with a big-time game

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Illinois’ Charlie Danielson sinks a putt at the Big Ten Championships. Danielson tied for the individual Big Ten championship this weekend.

By Dan Bernstein

Illinois sophomore Charlie Danielson may be the best golfer in the Big Ten, but if you ask him, he won’t even say he’s the best golfer in his family.

Most golfers would be satisfied winning one state championship. The Danielsons are a little different. The Danielson family won a combined 10 individual state championships in Wisconsin. Charlie won his first during his sophomore year in 2010 and added another in his senior season. His older sister, Lindsay, won four state titles and received a scholarship to play at Wisconsin. His younger sister, Casey, also won four state titles and is now a freshman playing for Stanford.

“Casey’s got a lot of good golf in her,” Danielson said. “I would say her and I are pretty much neck-and-neck.”

Despite their competitive nature, the three siblings all support each other as much as they can. Charlie, who won “only” two state titles in high school, calls himself Lindsay and Casey’s biggest fan.

“I check Golfstat nonstop to see how they’re doing,” Charlie said. “It’s really fun to watch them have so much success.”

Many of the golfers Charlie plays against now grew up in huge houses, belonged to country clubs, and attended high schools with thousands of students. Charlie grew up in the small town of Osceola, Wis., a town on the border of Wisconsin and Minnesota, which is home to just over 2,500 people.

“There is only one stoplight in my entire town,” Charlie said. “I live out in the country on a lake with one golf course called Krooked Kreek, which maxes out at around 6,300 yards. It’s a fun little course, but I definitely didn’t grow up with all of the same resources as some people do.”

Charlie’s relatively humble background makes his golf career that much more unique. His dad, Craig, got into golf after graduating from Minnesota, and became a scratch golfer. His passion for the game rubbed off on his three kids.

Craig encouraged his kids to play golf, but never pressured them. He would take Charlie, Lindsay and Casey out to Krooked Kreek multiple times per week when they were little, and even served as their personal caddy — carrying their bags while they ran from hole to hole competing against each other. Craig still gives Charlie some tips and advice to keep his confidence up.

The word “supportive” seems to run throughout the Danielson family, which is part of the reason Charlie chose to pursue his golf career at Illinois. There is no coach in the country who supports his players more than the Illinois head golf coach, Mike Small.

“My relationship with Coach Small is awesome,” Charlie said. “We’re both upfront with each other and he helps me with anything I need help on. He’s an all-around coach.

“He helps us out with our entire lives too. He’s somebody that we all look up to and see as a role model.”

Charlie started playing golf at age 2, as soon as he was big enough to grip a driver. Now, he stands at a towering 6-foot-5 and can consistently drive the ball more than 300 yards.

This weekend at the Big Ten Championships, his team finished second, but Charlie earned medalist honors, tying for first place in the individual competition.

Standing on the par-5 18th tee box, Charlie held a one-stroke lead over Minnesota’s Jose Mendez. After pulling his tee shot, he was left with a tough second shot from a side-hill lie. He managed to hit his second shot 90 yards short of the green, leaving him with a short approach shot for his third.

Charlie played solid golf all week, but his third shot on the 18th hole on Sunday is one he would like to have back.

“I shanked my next shot into the bunker,” Danielson said, “I hit my bunker shot to about 22 feet and two-putted for bogey.”

A par on the hole would have won the individual title outright.

Every golfer who has played the game competitively hits bad shots; Charlie understands this. While still tying for the Big Ten title, he is not yet satisfied with what he has achieved.

“I’m proud of myself,” Charlie said. “It feels good, and I have come a long way. The whole experience of the last couple holes — dealing with my emotions, my nerves, and realizing where my mind was — will really make me a better player.”

Last season, Charlie played his best golf in the NCAA tournament, and the Illini made an incredible run, finishing as national runner-up. Charlie finished as state runner-up his junior year in high school; he followed his runner-up finish with a championship the next year.

Just as he was able to do so in high school, Charlie looks to turn a runner-up finish into a championship. 

He has one goal left for this season, “I want to be a national champion with my team.”

Dan can be reached at [email protected] and @yaboybernie11.