In order to play a game as unforgiving as golf at a high level, a love for the game must be present. Former Nebraska Junior Golfer of the Year Christopher Atkinson, now in his third year at UNO, is confronted with just how much he loves the game on a consistent basis.
Atkinson hones his golf skills for up to five hours a day on top of being a full-time student with a job. “When you’re not hitting the ball well, and you still have to go out there and practice every day, you can get a little burnt out,” said Atkinson. “You really have to love it to play it at this level.”
In stark contrast to the weekend golfer, Atkinson does not get the privilege of bowing out due to uncomfortable weather. “It can be rough going out there when it’s 45 degrees and the wind is blowing.” Said Atkinson.
The brutal midwestern winter doesn’t quite provide an off-season for golfers like Atkinson. Atkinson takes a short break at the conclusion of the season in fall, but too long of a break can set a golfer back in a manner that is much more severe than any other sport. Thankfully, Atkinson and the UNO golf team have access to a new indoor practice facility. The facility includes a few golf simulators along with a brand new putting green.
The life of a Division I student athlete that does not participate in one of the four major sports can seem arduous and thankless when looking in from the outside. The never-ending grind can surely lead to burnout, but there are some valuable perks that make all the hard work worthwhile. It turns out that being in the top 0.5% of golfers around the world can lead to some nice amenities.
On top of discounted clubs, Atkinson receives balls, hats, polos, bags, access to Indian Creek (one of Omaha’s best courses) and access to an indoor practice facility. A single 18-hole round at Indian Creek can cost up to $90 and unlimited access to a golf simulator can cost upwards of thousands of dollars a year. In addition to all of this, Atkinson gets to travel around the country and play top-tier golf courses that the majority of golfers only play in their dreams.
One perk of golfing at such a high level that is often overlooked is the fact that Atkinson always has access to a coach. While Atkinson has his own personal swing coach, it is still unquantifiably beneficial to have another set of eyes on your golf swing. Lessons can be incredibly expensive, and there is no guarantee they will work. It is for this reason that Atkinson sticks to what his personal swing coach says, while taking pointers and suggestions from the UNO Golf coach, Joey Baldwin.
“They definitely didn’t try to rebuild my swing, but if he [Baldwin] sees something, he’ll say something,” Atkinson said.
Although Atkinson said golf will always be a part of his life, he is not sure if he has the talent to make it as a professional golfer.
“Maybe if I get a lot better in the next few years I will try to make it,” Atkinson said.
While being a professional golfer may sound illustrious to the layman’s ear, it is a grind that is unlike any other sport. Atkinson doesn’t have to pay to travel to tournaments. He doesn’t have to put up money for a hotel while he’s there either. As a professional golfer, Atkinson would have to foot the bill for all of these expenses without a guaranteed a paycheck.
While Atkinson may have to put his head down and power through chilly 40 degree rounds of fall Nebraska golf, he gets to experience the game he loves in a unique way.