Long Way From Home
Germany Native Schallenberg Making People Take Notice
By Ken Klavon, USGA
North Plains, Ore. – Katharina Schallenberg has been an enigma, an unknown from the time she arrived at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club Aug. 3.
The 26-year-old Germany native had led a nomadic existence in the golf world, before finally finding her way to her first Women’s Amateur.
“Never. Never even heard of her” was Stacy Lewis’ response after being asked what she knew of her semifinal opponent.
Guess what? Not many others have either. But they are paying attention now. That’s because Schallenberg denied USA Curtis Cupper Jennie Lee, 1 up, in Friday’s quarterfinal round. If Lee didn’t know who she was, she certainly did afterward.
“She made very few mistakes out there,” said Lee, after Schallenberg secured the match with a 15-foot birdie putt on the 18th green. “Kudos to her.”
Had Schallenberg wilted from the pressure, no one would have given it a second thought. So it is only righteous to provide her props for showing a resiliency that, thus far, has made the trip worth it.
Schallenberg comes across as docile off the course, getting teary-eyed when telling others that friends and family have been gathering around this Web site to follow her progress. On it, she is indefatigable and strong-willed. It developed from a maturation process that was culled from her indecision of what to do with her life.
She took up the game on happenstance in her small town of Lengerich, a cement and industry-laden city located in the northwest part of Germany. One day her father, Weinrich, quit coming home for lunch, which piqued the family’s interest.
“My dad brought us on the golf course, because he started playing golf and he got addicted to it and didn't appear at lunchtime,” said Schallenberg. “I have two sisters and we were asking mom, ‘Hey, where's dad? Why isn't he coming for lunch?’”
The secret out, Weinrich took his daughters with him to practice. That’s how Schallenberg, at “10 or 11,” developed her affinity for the game. She worked hard from 1998 until 2000. She bore the fruits of her labor with an invite to play for the University of Oregon women’s team. Four months in Eugene and she had had enough. A fear of flying paralyzed her, leading to a prompt exit back to Germany.
The experience made her rethink her life. She decided to stop playing competitively for four years while she pursued a trade. For two years she did an apprenticeship at a bank, becoming a clerk. Schallenberg didn’t like it, bored by the minutiae of doing repetitive work. In 2003, she started getting the itch to play again. The clubs came out a year later and she hooked up with the German Federation Team while enrolling at the University of Paderborn to study international business.
The blonde-haired Schallenberg rose up the ranks, winning the Team Championship in 2005 and 2006. She was crowned the International German Amateur champion this year. This past spring, her coach (and caddie this week), Marcus Neumann, convinced her to try qualifying for the Women’s Amateur.
“It’s huge,” said Schallenberg of how popular the championship is back in Germany. So big that her family and friends - nine hours ahead of the West Coast - have been huddling around a lone computer to follow her, sometimes during the middle of the night.
Schallenberg, the oldest player left in the field, never tried qualifying before because of financial reasons. When the German Federation prodded her by absorbing all the costs, she agreed, heading to the qualifier at Butler Golf and Country Club in Pittsburgh.
Now she’s here, in the semifinals, playing in golf’s most prestigious female amateur event. Regardless of how she does, it won’t deter her from finishing her studies.
“After that, coach is pushing me, ‘Go on the [professional] tour; you can do it,’” said Schallenberg. “But I'm not sure about it. I'll decide it later. It's nice playing as an amateur because the federation covers all the costs. There's no pressure making money to make a living.”
But first, she’ll have to fulfill her journey to evaluate how her game stacks up against the others still left in the field. Thousands of miles from home, she may seem like a lost soul waiting to be fueled by the kind of happiness that only a title can provide. If that happens, no one will be able to claim they know nothing about her.
Ken Klavon is the USGA’s Web Editor. E-mail him with questions or comments at email@example.com.