From the court to the course: Gustafson leaves her mark at Iowa State


Jake Miller/ Iowa State Daily

Senior golfer Katie Gustafson works on her shot during practice April 15 at the Iowa State Golf Center.

Mike Randleman

Katie Gustafson knew she was going to be a Cyclone. Growing up just 20 miles from Ames, there was no doubt she was going to play for her hometown team.

Reflecting on her ISU golf career, the senior from Jewell, Iowa, acknowledged how she was able to fulfill her dreams of becoming an Iowa State athlete, but in a different way than she ever expected.

“Honestly, I grew up a huge Iowa State basketball fan,” Gustafson said. “My dream was to play at Hilton Coliseum and play for coach Fennelly and be a Cyclone. I’ve been a Cyclone my whole life, but I just took a different direction.”

At South Hamilton High School, Gustafson was one of the top basketball players in Iowa. As a three-time all-state honoree, she began to draw interest from several college programs.

She played high school golf competitively, too, earning three all-state honors to go with her basketball accolades. But unlike her first love of basketball, golf was seen as more of a pastime.

Dreams of a college basketball career were quickly dashed for Gustafson, however, when she suffered a fateful ACL injury shortly after her senior year. Before she knew it, what was once a surefire decision was quickly put into question.

Golf, not basketball, would be her ticket to the next level.

Fearing that she would not be the same player post-injury, her overarching desire to become a college athlete led her to switch paths.

“The turning point from basketball to golf was that I won state my senior year [in golf] and had the ACL injury, so I turned a corner and I decided to take on a new challenge,” Gustafson said.

With confidence stemming from a Class 2A state championship, along with her all-state honors, Gustafson set her sights on playing golf at Iowa State as a walk-on.

Gustafson was aware of the challenges she would be up against in joining a team that returned eight of nine members from a 2009-10 NCAA regional qualifying squad.

ISU coach Christie Martens already had a full roster for the fall, but from what she saw in Gustafson on and off the course, the decision to allow her to walk on was an easy one.

“You can tell just by talking to her that she has a great attitude, she’s super positive and she’s a really caring person,” Martens said. “She loved Iowa State, she wanted to be part of our team and she’s put in more effort than anyone because of that.”

To play golf at a high level, a sport she had only begun to play in junior high school, Gustafson knew she would have a different role on the team after being in the spotlight for so long on the basketball court.

“The biggest thing I’ve learned taking the golf path is hard work and perseverance, because I started in basketball and that was all I knew,” Gustafson said. “Taking this golf path, I’ve taken on a different role not being the starter.”

Gustafson’s hard work paid off in her amateur career, earning 2013 Iowa Golf Association Player of the Year honors after a successful string of tournaments last summer.

At the collegiate level, she has only competed in two events in her career, but has thrived in a leadership role both in practice and off the course.

“Katie, from the beginning, has done a great job of embracing others and really being this person people can count on and lean on,” Martens said.

As the only American on the roster, Gustafson and her family have opened their doors to welcome her international teammates. From holidays, to get-togethers, to teaching them a thing or two about basketball, the Gustafsons have provided a home away from home for the team.

“I’m really close to her and both her mom and her dad, they’re like my family here,” said teammate and Sweden native, Cajsa Persson. “That means a lot to me when I don’t have my family around.”

When asked to describe Gustafson’s impact as a teammate, Persson immediately lit up, mentioning the positivity, sense of humor and work ethic that she will remember her by.

These same characteristics are what Gustafson hopes will define her legacy as a Cyclone.

“I want to be remembered for just always working hard even though I’m not necessarily always in the spotlight,” Gustafson said. “The biggest thing I’ve learned is just to work hard towards a goal. Just being a positive role model and being a really positive person, being encouraging, just really being there for my teammates.”