Caroline Powers: 'One in a Million'
May 21, 2013
When Caroline Powers competes for the final time as Spartan in the NCAA Championships this week in Athens, Ga., she will do so as the most accomplished women's golfer in the history of Michigan State.
Powers has rewritten the school record book since her arrival on campus in 2009 and will leave East Lansing with her name listed in nearly every category.
The 2013 Big Ten Player of the Year owns the top-three single-season scoring averages at MSU, including her school record of 73.53 she set as a sophomore. A three-time All-Big Ten First Team selection, Powers is also on pace to own the top career average. She has been named Big Ten Golfer of the Week six times, holds the MSU record for lowest 54-hole score (208), and placed the highest of any Spartan at the NCAA Championships when she took sixth in 2011.
Trying to add up all of her accolades can get dizzying.
But her incredible statistics aren't the only thing that stands out about Powers. It's her dedication to every facet of her life, from school, to family, to golf, to her teammates, to her community. She's completely embedded herself into the fabric of Michigan State the past four years.
Really, she doesn't know any other way.
Powers grew up in an athletic family in the college town of Bowling Green, Ohio, where her dad, Buddy, was the head hockey coach at Bowling Green State University, and her mom, Linda, worked at the university golf course and also golfed at BGSU.
Her older sister, Barbara, played golf before taking up running, and ran cross country for Bowling Green. John, the eldest, also played golf and earned a spot on Bowling Green's team in college.
And her cousin just happened to be Emily Bastel, an All-American golfer at Michigan State who played professionally on the LPGA Tour.
The link to Bastel proved to be beneficial for Michigan State.
"Emily was in school (MSU) when I was in fifth grade, so I remember the first day of fifth grade when you write out your name, your favorite color, your hero - I was like Emily Bastel, she is my hero," reminisced Powers. "I'm going to be just like her. I'm going to go Michigan State, I'm going to be a pro golfer."
Golf came early to Powers, and she not only embraced playing the game, but demanded it. She started playing in tournaments at the age of 9 - although the age limit was 10. After traveling to watch her brother, sister and cousin compete in tournaments, Powers was tired of sitting on the sidelines.
"Our family would always go to all of the tournaments and I would have to walk around, and I was like `this is stupid, I just want to play!' I can beat my sister and she's playing, so why can't I get out there?" exclaimed Powers. "I had to write them a letter and say I would really like to be given the opportunity to play, so they let me start when I was 9. I was just frustrated walking around the courses and watching my brother and sister saying `I should be out there.'"
If finally getting to play in the tournaments wasn't enough, the Powers family lived across the street from a golf course. The close proximity proved to be too tantalizing not to pass up on most nights, especially for a family of golfers.
"We had a golf cart, so in the summers every night after dinner, all five of us would just hop on the cart and drive over," said Powers. "When we got close to the clubhouse, it was like `everybody get off!' That's just what we did, we just played all the time. We all loved it. It wasn't like we were ever forced to do it, it was just something that was fun to do."
"Emily was in school (MSU) when I was in fifth grade, so I remember the first day of fifth grade when you write out your name, your favorite color, your hero - I was like Emily Bastel, she is my hero. I'm going to be just like her. I'm going to go Michigan State, I'm going to be a pro golfer."
Powers played countless rounds at Forrest Creason Golf Course on the BGSU campus with her mom serving as the assistant director of the course. She also played at Stone Ridge Golf Club in town, where the par-3 fifth hole provided Powers one of her favorite memories growing up.
"Number 5 is a par 3, all over the water, and the best moment was when I finally could get it over the water," said Powers with a laugh. "We used to just hit it through the trees and hope it got through. The summer I hit it over the water, I used a driver, it was like a 100 yards - that was the first breakthrough of my golf career."
From there, Powers' game took off. She played in tournaments during the summers throughout Ohio and was developing into one of the top players in the state.
By the time she reached Bowling Green High School, there was just one barrier standing in her way - there was no girls' golf team. But Powers wasn't going to let that stop her. She played on the boys' varsity team, something she credits a lot of her success to.
"I just went to try out like everybody else," Powers explained. "I was on JV my freshman year, and then just worked my way up. I loved it. I played on 6,400-yard courses all throughout high school, and so coming to college, a lot of times the courses got shorter. So it just made me so much better and made my short game so much better. We had good matches every day in practice. I think it was the best thing that could've happened to me."
Powers made the most of her time on the boys' team, earning all-league honors all three of her seasons on varsity. She also participated as an individual at the girls' state championships, placing third as a junior and fifth as a senior, and won the Ohio Junior Girls Championship in the summer of 2008.
When it came time to decide on where to attend college, Powers was obviously familiar with Michigan State, thanks to her cousin. As if the successful program and first-class facilities weren't enough to entice Powers to East Lansing, head coach Stacy Slobodnik-Stoll made the choice even easier.
"When coach slid that (scholarship) paper across, first of all, I misread it," said Powers. "So she passes us the paper that has your name and all the divisions of how much school costs, and then there's a column for how much you pay, and that whole column was 0's. So I thought that meant she was giving me 0's for every single column. I sat there and I was so deflated. I was like I can't come here now.
"But then I re-read it, and re-read it, and it took a couple of minutes, and then I was like oh my god! That made it a really easy decision. I knew I loved it here. When the financial aspect was thrown in, it was case closed. It really wasn't a difficult decision at all."
Slobodnik-Stoll can also vividly recall that moment.
"I remember the day they sat in our office when we offered her a scholarship, and (her father) Buddy had tears in his eyes," said Slobodnik-Stoll.
It turned out to be a scholarship well spent.
With a scholarship in hand, Powers spent the summer showcasing her talent before starting classes in the fall. She won the Big "I" National Championship in July, the nation's largest junior stroke-play golf tournament and one of the premier junior golf events in the nation, and did so by leading every round.
Powers made an immediate impact in her first season, starting in all 11 tournaments while compiling a 76.03 average, which is the best freshman average in school history.
In October of her freshman year, the Spartans won the prestigious Tar Heel Invitational by 12 strokes with a school-record 54-hole score of 860 (-4), topping an 18-team field that featured nine teams ranked in the Top 25. For Powers, who shot a 69 in the second round of the event, it was the moment that she feels helped springboard her career.
"I felt like it was the first breakthrough during my four years," said Powers. "I was like, `We can do this. We can do this any week. We're not going down here to finish in the middle of the pack. We can win.' I felt like that kind of broke through that glass ceiling...That was one of the biggest wins that we've had in our program."
But it wasn't just what Powers was doing on the golf course that was gaining attention.
At the annual academic gala in April, Powers was named the recipient of the Harold & Raynor Shnider Office of the Provost Award, which is presented to a freshman or sophomore student-athlete who embodies the characteristics promoted by MSU Student-Athlete Support Services, with emphasis on academic performance, community involvement and leadership ability.
"The thing that's unique about Caroline is she started (working in the community) a little bit earlier," said Angela Montie, Associate Director of Student-Athlete Support Services/Director of Student-Athlete Development. "I remember her freshman year thinking, `she's already done more than most kids do their entire career here.' She went to an outreach event her freshman year all by herself. Nobody else could go, I was going to cancel it, but she still wanted to do it. You just don't see freshmen doing that. She's very confident in herself."
It was the moment when Slobodnik-Stoll saw the true potential of what Powers could achieve.
"I think that really set the tone for not only what I thought of her, but our athletic department thought of her at a very young age," said Slobodnik-Stoll. "Since then, she's just exceeded expectations for what everyone thought, just in terms of her being a leader, and then obviously on the golf course, she's just tremendous. She's just done so much for the community, for Michigan State and for the athletic department."
The special relationship that Powers and Slobodnik-Stoll have has as much to do on the course as it does off of it.
"I think she just gets me," said Powers. "She understands what's important to me, and that I'm not just a golfer. I really enjoy school, I really enjoy the community outreach, I really enjoy going to church, and she just understands the whole package of what makes up me as a person and doesn't just focus on Caroline the golfer. I really like that. She encourages you to get better in all of the aspects of your life."
And for Powers, there is a lot to her life away from golf - which is just how she likes it. For all of her honors and awards, her list of community outreach activities and academic accomplishments is even longer.
"She just wants to make a difference. I don't know sometimes how she really does it, or how she keeps up with what she does, but that's who she is."
She has actively participated in numerous events throughout the Greater Lansing area, including March is Reading Month, Chuck A Puck, Teddy Bear Toss, Teams for Toys and the Student-Athlete Food Drive. She has mentored at-risk youth, helped at a special needs school, visited the Sparrow Hospital Children's Center, and coordinated this year's Random Acts of Kindness initiative. It's hard to find a place where Powers hasn't volunteered.
She also takes on the issues that affect her peers, representing Michigan State at the NCAA Leadership Forum in 2011 and serving as this year's president for the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee.
For all of her work in the community, Powers came full circle at the academic gala as a senior, as she awarded the prestigious Gwendolyn Norrell Community Service & Leadership Award, given to the student-athlete who best exemplifies the goals of the PACT (Putting Athletes and Community Together) program, excelling in the field of community service and outreach.
"I think it's the nature of who she is, to give back, and to give back to everyone," said Montie. "She's gets along with everyone, all different groups of people, from kids to student-athletes to people in the community - it's almost like it's innate within her to do that, and not for any reason but because that's what you're supposed to do, and she enjoys doing it."
"I don't really know when it started," Powers said of her desire to help others. "In high school I was in Key Club, which was a volunteer thing. I just always felt like it was your responsibility. When you're fortunate, or even if you're not, I feel like the way that the world is going to go around is if you help people. A lot of times I almost feel selfish because I thought I was getting more joy out of it than the person I was helping. When you do help others, everybody wins, it's not just in one direction.
"I really stand by that you make time for what's important to you. I know there's only so many hours in the day, but if you actually care about something, you're going to make the time for it."
Powers' community involvement fits right into her major of elementary education. Although Powers' primary goal is to become a professional golfer, her passion for kids has shone through in her teaching and class work. A three-time honoree on the National Golf Coaches Association All-America Scholar Team, Powers was on the dean's list every semester and graduated earlier this month with a 3.86 GPA.
A lot of that passion goes back to another important element in her life - her faith.
"It's a really important part of my life," claimed Powers. "I don't think it's got to be hidden in a box, because I feel like if we really love people then that's how you're going to be showing it, when you love people and you care about them and you ask them about their days and you actually care.
"I don't want to go throw it in other people's faces, but I think how you act on a daily basis can share that love and how you act on the golf course and different areas. I just think it plays into the big picture and you don't have to be pigeon-holed into religious conversation, but it's just something that how you live your life and how you care about people, I think that's how you really show the whole meaning."
"She just wants to make a difference," said Slobodnik-Stoll. "I don't know sometimes how she really does it, or how she keeps up with what she does, but that's who she is. She feels that she's been given a special talent, and if she can give back to people in the community, that's part of what she's here to do, and that's important to her. She's always willing to help."
Meanwhile, all Powers was doing on the course was setting record after record.
As a sophomore, she burst onto the national scene by setting the MSU single-season scoring average record with a 73.53, helped lead the Spartans past defending national champion Purdue to win the Big Ten Championship, and placed sixth at the 2011 NCAA Championships, the best showing by any Spartan at nationals in the history of the program. In just her second season, Powers was named a co-recipient of the George Alderton Award, given to the top female athlete at Michigan State.
She followed that record-setting campaign with another outstanding year as a junior, compiling the second-lowest scoring average at MSU (73.78) and guiding the Spartans to their second straight Big Ten title and also a berth in the NCAA Championships.
Powers was rewarded by winning her second straight Alderton Award, a feat that has been matched by just four other female student-athletes at MSU.
During the summers between collegiate seasons, Powers has had the opportunity to represent the United States at the World University Games in China and the Czech Republic. She helped Team USA to a bronze medal in 2011 in China and a silver medal in 2012 in the Czech Republic, and individually, took home the bronze medal last summer.
"Those were unbelievable (experiences)," said Powers. "I never really anticipated going halfway across the world. Some people love to travel and all they want to do is go see the world. I never really even had that strong desire. I wanted to go to Disney World. But when the opportunities presented themselves, it opened my eyes that this is why people want to do this, because it's awesome to see a new culture and be in a completely different place.
"But the same people are over there, they have the same interests, the same goals in life, the same attitudes, so it was really eye-opening to see across the world that people are still just like you. That was really cool for me. I think it really helps me to have a more global perspective, and just to care more about people in all different places than just my circle of life."
Caroline Powers owns the top-three single-season scoring averages in MSU history and is on pace to set the career average. The three-time All-Big Ten First Team selection was named the 2013 Big Ten Women's Golfer of the Year.
In this senior season, Powers has cemented her legacy as the top golfer in school history.
She became just the third Spartan to be named Big Ten Women's Golfer of the Year - Bastel, her cousin, was the first - and currently owns the second-lowest scoring average (73.61) at MSU entering the NCAA Championships. Her resume also includes six top-10 finishes, including a victory at the Central District Invitational in February and a runner-up showing at the Big Ten Championships.
It's safe to say that Powers has put herself into a good position to fulfill her ultimate dream.
"First and foremost, I want to be a pro golfer...that's very, very important to me," said Powers. "But I don't feel like that's all I have. It frees me up to be an even better golfer because if the day comes where it doesn't work out, then my life is not going to be over the day that golf ends. I take things one day at a time and who knows what I'll end of doing in life, but right now I'm going to go try be a pro golfer and hopefully all dreams come true and it's great, but if not, I have other things that also would make me happy."
"She's consistent," said Slobodnik-Stoll on why Powers has the ability to be successful on tour. "She hits it long, she hits it straight, her irons are dialed in so many rounds, she's hitting it right at the pins, she's making putts. She has the ability to go 4 or 5 under par. That's something that's not easy to do, but she has the ability to do that, and she does it on a very, very consistent basis. I think that's what makes her special. She feels that there's a higher reason for her being out there. She really lets that be the guide through her life. And she makes it look pretty easy."
It's an interesting and unique balance for Powers. She has the drive, desire and talent to play professionally, but also the personality to take a step back and not get too caught up in the moment.
"I think I'm a lot more relaxed," Powers said of how she's changed her approach over time. "Golf rounds can take a long time. I cannot concentrate for five hours. I definitely think about my shots and sometimes you're thinking more about them if things are not good and you're worried about something, but that's when you can paralyze yourself. I sing songs in my head, or I pray a lot when I'm on the course. I think golf is fun and I want to keep it fun."
Powers' calm demeanor is the perfect temperament for the hyper-competitive nature of her future occupation. She'll likely rely on it frequently as she makes the difficult transition to the next level. She has played in the top amateur tournaments in the nation, including the U.S. Women's Amateur and the U.S. Public Links, but will test herself immediately in the most prestigious event in the United States this summer when she competes in the U.S. Women's Open on June 27-30 in Southampton, N.Y.
Powers qualified for the event on May 14 by winning a sectional qualifying tournament, and had a special companion on the way, as her brother, John, caddied for her during the victory. Although John gave her good luck while qualifying, Powers said it's possible her father Buddy, who is currently an assistant hockey coach at Boston University, will be caddying "for the real thing" at the U.S. Open.
"Any way I look at her and anything she does, it's just been an outstanding ride for her...I really think she's one in a million."
But that's for next month, when Powers will be playing as a professional. This week is all about closing a storied chapter at Michigan State.
"It's going to be really bittersweet," said Powers of wearing the Green and White for the final time at the NCAA Championships. "It will be the last time I'm on a team for maybe ever. So that's something that I'll be pretty sad when it's over, but I'll just try and soak it up all week."
For Slobodnik-Stoll, it's hard to believe that the NCAA Championships will be the final tournament of Powers' collegiate career.
"It means everything because it's going to be the pinnacle of her career," said Slobodnik-Stoll. "Her life is like a dream to me. I just can't imagine. She's going to the national championship and, oh by the way, she just qualified for the U.S. Open. Things just keep happening for her and it's funny, good things happen to good people.
"Any way I look at her and anything she does, it's just been an outstanding ride for her and her representing our team, whether it's her playing, her in the community, her with recruits - no matter what she does, she's good. She's just a really impressive kid. I really think she's one in a million."
Powers' bucket list is quite lengthy, and possibly includes a national championship, which she will have a shot at this week. But there's one item that stands above all in her mind.
"My real dream is to go on `Dancing with the Stars'," she said with a smile. "If I get on `Dancing with the Stars', I'll know that golf worked out - because that's the only way I'm going to get on there."
By Ben Phlegar, Michigan State Athletic Communications