Passion for golf, forensic science German-native’s drive for success at the University of Texas
By Sean Cartell, Special Contributor
AUSTIN, Tex. (Sept. 26, 2018) –If it weren’t for an e-mail and a set of lost golf clubs, Greta Isabella Voelker may never have ended up at the University of Texas.
Now, almost three later, Voelker, who was named the 2017 Big 12 Freshman of the Year, has played in 26 career tournaments for the Longhorns and is on track to play the best golf of her collegiate career.
Voelker recorded a strong showing at the NCAA Austin Regional last May, carding a season-best three-under-par 213 [70-72-71], and won the Dutch Ladies Amateur Championship this August by seven strokes with a nine-under-par 279 [66-73-67].
“Greta is a tremendous ball-striker,” said Texas head coach Ryan Murphy (shown above with Voelker), the 2017 and 2018 Big 12 Conference Coach of the Year. “When she putts well, she is certainly capable of shooting good scores.”
Voelker hasn’t always liked golf.
A native of Witten, Germany, she remembers when she was first introduced to the game around the age of six.
“We had an apartment and, nearby, was a golf course,” Voelker recalled. “My parents tried it out and they really liked it. They started playing and even had a membership in Germany.”
Her parents – Wolfgang and Nina – had not been athletes, but took a liking to the game. She tagged along with them to the golf course several times. She even had her own set of clubs.
“I remember thinking, ‘this is stupid,’” Voelker joked.
When Voelker was 10 years old, she went on vacation with her family to Italy. They played golf while they were away and, this time, it was different for the young Voelker. She began to enjoy the game.
Two years later, she won her state championship with a handicap of 28. She won despite “being the worst in the field,” according to her assessment.
Her passion for the game stayed with her and continued to grow.
Voelker finished third in the 2015 Scottish Ladies Junior Open and was the low amateur at the 2015 Hamburg Open. She placed among the top 10 at the German National Amateur.
Voelker has had her sights set on a professional LPGA career for a number of years now, though she admits that when she was young “everything seemed impossible and so far away to me.”
Following her high school graduation from Karl-Müchler Schule, she knew what her destination was, but she was uncertain what her next stop on the journey would be.
Voelker took a “gap year” after high school and trained at the ANNIKA Academy in Kissimmee, Fla., outside of Orlando, with the legendary Annika Sorenstam. Her sister, Charlotta, is a Texas Ex and a member of the Texas Athletics Women’s Hall of Honor.
“Taking the gap year helped me a lot in realizing that I’m not that far away,” Voelker said. “Seeing all the girls and playing in all the tournaments, it was really fun and I liked it a lot.”
In October of 2015 – the beginning of Murphy’s second season as the Texas women’s golf head coach – an e-mail popped up in Murphy’s inbox from a golfer with whom he was unfamiliar.
“Greta sent us an e-mail,” he said. “She told me that she was interested – perhaps – in going to college. But – oh, by the way – she was going to Q school as well – the European Ladies Q school. She said if she wasn’t successful there, then her plan was to go to college.”
Voelker included a video with her e-mail.
“I recognized the golf swing right away,” Murphy said. “It was impressive to see. I just quickly responded back to her, thanked her for reaching out, said that we were interested and let’s stay in contact.”
As promised, Voelker headed to Q school to start the process towards a professional career. She played the first stage in Colombia and won.
“She’s cruising,” Murphy said. “I’m thinking, ‘this person is not going to college.’”
When Voelker arrived at the final stage of qualifying in Morocco, there was only one problem – her golf clubs didn’t arrive with her.
“The airline lost her golf clubs before she got to the final,” Murphy said. “Through no fault of her own, it kind of throws her out of sorts.”
The clubs arrived in time to play and Voelker played well, but ultimately didn’t qualify for status. She decided to head to the Forty Acres to begin her collegiate career.
“We’re lucky that she ultimately chose Texas,” Murphy said. “She visited several schools and thankfully chose us.”
Voelker’s precociousness as a youngster wasn’t limited to the golf course.
She grew up reading books about crime and was instantly compelled. If golf has given Voelker a plan for life post-college, similarly her interest in crime has given her a plan for life post-golf.
“I thought it was really interesting from the point of view of a forensic anthropologist because they examine everything and then figure out what happened and how long ago the death occurred,” she said. “I thought, ‘Wow, that’s so interesting.’ I started looking up how it all worked and thought that maybe I could do something like that.”
She is majoring in anthropology in the College of Liberal Arts at UT. She is also working towards a forensic science certificate through the College of Natural Sciences.
“I really like it so far,” Voelker said. “I’m just excited to go more in depth. Right now, it’s kind of broad-based with all the aspects of it. I want to go more into the scientific side of it.”
Voelker will soon take chemistry and biology classes. She is interested in genetics, anatomy and “what happens after death.” Her passion for the subject matter is evident.
“She is a hard-worker, a good teammate and a respectful person,” said Dr. Ally Hartzell, academic coordinator for the Texas women’s golf team. “She has taken really good advantage of the resources that we provide here.”
While Voelker admits anthropology may not be a major that is common with athletes, “I like it a lot and I wouldn’t be good at something else anyway,” she remarked.
With Voelker’s interests, one might assume that she would enjoy binge watching the many true crime and forensic science shows that are so popular on television these days.
“I’ve watched a few, but I prefer the books,” Voelker said.
Voelker has excelled since arriving in Austin. As a freshman in 2016-17, she competed in all 13 tournaments for the Longhorns with a 73.28 stroke average. She posted 12 top-30 finishes, including seven top-15 showings. That earned her Big 12 Freshman of the Year honors, making her the first Texas golfer since 2005 to garner that accolade.
As a sophomore, Voelker competed in all 13 tournaments with a stroke average of 74.84. She posted nine top-30 finishes, but the totality of her performances last season didn’t meet Voelker’s own high standards for herself.
“My season last year wasn’t that great, in my mind,” she said.
Back-to-back top-25 finishes in the Big 12 Championship and the 2018 Austin Regional, coupled with her victory at the Dutch Ladies Amateur have Voelker trending in a strong direction as the 2018-19 campaign gets underway.
“She’s had a good college career so far,” Murphy said. “She’s always been in the top 100 of the rankings since she arrived. There’s definitely more for her to work on before she’s ultimately ready to tackle the next level. Consistency is one of those things. From a skill standpoint, she can pretty much play with anyone in the world if she plays well.”