NORMAL — Kiley Walsh has figured out the secret of separating golf from school and doing both remarkably well.
Well, most of the time anyway.
"Whenever I'm on the golf course and paired with someone on the other team who is from a Spanish-speaking country, I ask them if we can just speak Spanish all day," said Walsh. "Usually they're like, 'Please, I haven't spoken Spanish to my teammates or anybody.' "
A senior on Illinois State's women's golf team, Walsh has earned all-Missouri Valley Conference honors the last two years. The Prospect High School graduate finished tied for fourth in the MVC Tournament last season and tied for ninth as a sophomore.
Walsh qualified for the U.S. Women's Amateur this summer and has high hopes for the Redbirds advancing to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in her career. ISU begins its season Sunday by hosting the Redbird Invitational at Weibring Golf Club.
But it's in the classroom where Walsh has taken it to a Tiger Woods-like level.
A Spanish education major, Walsh sports a 3.95 grade-point average. Her lone B came in a calculus class as a freshman.
Walsh was among 14 juniors in the spring who were named as a Robert G. Bone Scholar, the highest university-wide honor awarded to ISU undergraduate students, for the 2017-18 academic year.
"Some student-athletes understand the balance. The more elite athletes want to have the choice whether to play professionally afterwards or not and be really successful in their careers," said ISU coach Darby Sligh.
"Kiley has really good balance understanding she could want both at some point, and she works hard in both areas. It takes a special athlete to do that. They're more rare than you think."
Sligh said the team's GPA had dipped slightly when she was recruiting Walsh. According to Sligh, getting Walsh "sparked" a team resurgence that was evident when six Redbird women's golfers were selected last spring for the Women's Golf Coaches Association All-American Scholars.
The women's golf team posted a 3.85 GPA in the spring and a 3.70 mark last fall.
"It's almost like the way we play golf," said Walsh, a team captain along with senior Abby Luchtenburg. "We don't ever want to be unprepared to play a round of golf and when it comes to our schooling, we never want to go to a class unprepared."
Walsh said she tries to get all her academic work done before the team heads to a tournament. That allows her to concentrate fully on golf and not be "thinking about the quiz that is due at midnight."
According to Sligh, Walsh is like a lot of golfers who are excellent students that helps them handle their emotions on the course. The ISU coach also sees "a totally different player" than Walsh was as a freshman, physically capable of hitting the ball farther but also able to hit different kinds of shots.
Walsh said everything came together during a qualifying round for the U.S. Amateur at the Bridges of Poplar Creek Country Club in Hoffman Estates on June 29.
She sank a couple long putts along with a 40-yard pitch, shooting a 1-over par 71 to advance to San Diego Country Club in Chula Vista, Calif., in August.
"It was so much fun. The experience felt like being a professional there," she said of going to San Diego. "My whole family was there, my parents and both my sisters. It felt like junior golf again with the family all staying at the hotel."
Walsh said she plans to see how her game is at the end of the season before deciding if she wants to turn pro. In addition to Spanish, she is also learning French. Walsh sees herself as a language teacher sometime in her future, but might also use her language skills in other areas.
"Knowing a couple languages with the game of golf brings a special connection to people who never have international experience," she said. "I could help international players come here (to the United States) or helping teams here find international players would be a cool way to use the language."
What is cool for Walsh this season is having freshman Maria Jose Rojas from Colombia as an ISU teammate.
"Kiley's one wish when she was a freshman was to have someone who spoke Spanish," said Sligh. "It took me to her senior year to get her someone to speak with."