By TYLER ELLYSON
KEARNEY – Off the course, University of Nebraska at Kearney golfer Brandi Lemek is the loud, goofy one who keeps her teammates loose before competitions.
“You never really question where she is, because you can always hear her,” UNK head coach Shawn Rodehorst said. “She’s always laughing and bubbly and kind of dancing around.”
Lemek, a junior from Doniphan, calls it “enthusiasm.”
“Golf can be pretty tense,” she said. “Being able to loosen up and have fun, that helps.”
Don’t let that happy-go-lucky attitude fool you, though. When Lemek steps onto the first tee, she’s all business.
“It’s pretty easy for me to turn the switch,” she said. “There’s definitely a difference between my mindset in golf and everything else.”
Lemek, who was named the Nebraska Women’s Amateur Golf Association Player of the Year in 2018, thrives on competition.
She can thank her older sister, Danielle, for that.
The siblings, now 20 and 25, grew up golfing together.
Danielle started in the backyard, hitting balls with a set of men’s clubs her grandfather shortened to fit a 4-year-old.
“I was the little sister following behind her, just doing what she does,” said Lemek, who picked up the game at the same age.
As the sisters got older, the stakes kept rising – and Danielle set the bar pretty high.
One of the most-decorated amateur golfers in Nebraska history, Danielle won four straight Class C state titles at Doniphan-Trumbull High School, where she finished first in all but one tournament from 2008-11. The four-time Nebraska Golf Association Girls Amateur Golfer of the Year collected 15 junior and amateur state championships and played collegiately at Bradley University, where she was the first three-time Missouri Valley Conference Golfer of the Year.
That success created some tension between the siblings in their younger years.
“It’s definitely difficult being the little sister of such an accomplished golfer and such an amazing person,” Lemek said, “but I’ve made my own way.”
OUT OF THE SHADOW
A three-time Class C state runner-up, Lemek followed in her sister’s footsteps by winning the Nebraska Women’s Amateur stroke play championship in 2016.
She had scholarship offers from several NAIA schools, but decided to walk on at UNK to prove she could succeed against Division II competition.
“I didn’t want to go to UNK until I stepped on campus and took a tour,” she said. “After coming on campus I fell in love. It was literally love at first sight for a college.”
Lemek, who is majoring in education with a 7-12 history endorsement and art minor, viewed UNK as a perfect fit both academically – through the teacher education program – and athletically, with quality on-campus facilities and access to three top-notch courses in Meadowlark Hills, Kearney Country Club and Awarii Dunes.
“It’s such a great school for everything I was going into,” she said.
The Doniphan-Trumbull graduate didn’t have any trouble making the transition to the collegiate level.
She posted the team’s second-best stroke average as a freshman and sophomore, with last season’s 81.14 average ranking as the 10th-lowest in school history. Her career stroke average of 81.86 entering the spring is the third-lowest all-time at UNK.
Lemek also holds the UNK record for low score in a 54-hole tournament, firing a 234 at the NCAA Central Regional last spring.
“She hits the ball a lot farther and a lot higher than most girls, so she just has an advantage that way,” Rodehorst said. “She can excel on any golf course that we play.”
The UNK coach also credited Lemek for improving her short game and putting over the past two seasons.
“When those aspects are combined with her ball striking and length, she’s pretty deadly,” he said.
Lemek, who tied for second at the 2018 Nebraska Women’s Amateur Championship and reached the semifinals of the match play tournament, recorded her best finish as a Loper last fall when she was runner-up at the rain-shortened Central Region Preview.
As a team, UNK has a pair of runner-up finishes this season, and the Lopers have recorded the three lowest 36-hole tournament scores in school history.
“We’re definitely reaching new heights,” said Rodehorst, who expects the group to peak during the season-ending stretch.
The Lopers reached the NCAA Central Regional for the second consecutive year last season. They had never qualified for the postseason tournament prior to 2017.
Rodehorst believes the current squad is good enough to make a run to the NCAA Division II Championships, scheduled for May 15-18 in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida.
“We can definitely be in that conversation,” he said. “We’ve just got to continue to put in the work.”
Lemek also sees the potential.
“Not many people know about UNK golf. Not many people know about our accomplishments,” she said. “We mean business and we’re going to do our best to show people who we are.”
SIBLING RIVALRY CONTINUES
Lemek will continue playing in the Nebraska Women’s Amateur championships this summer as she pushes herself to become a better golfer.
She also hits the links as much as possible with her toughest competition – her older sister Danielle.
That relationship is much more cordial these days, with Danielle providing tips and pointers for her younger sibling.
Although there might be a little trash-talking mixed in, too.
“It’s all fun and games, then sometimes it gets a little too serious,” Lemek said. “Words have been said. I’ll put it that way.”
Danielle, who lives in Arizona, competes on the Symetra and Cactus tours while trying to earn a spot on the LPGA Tour – giving her younger sister yet another goal to shoot for.
“I’m in awe of how hard she works and how far she’s come,” Lemek said. “She’s actually able to live out her dream of becoming a professional golfer, which is insane to me.”
Major: Education with a 7-12 history endorsement and art minor
Career notes: UNK record for low score (234) in a 54-hole tournament; 81.86 career stroke average is third-lowest in school history; 81.14 stroke average in 2017-18 is 10th-lowest all-time at UNK
Other honors: Nebraska Women’s Amateur Golf Association Player of the Year in 2018; Nebraska Women’s Amateur stroke play champion in 2016