The official site of the Western Dakota Association
Resides: Columbia, MO
WDA school: Jamestown, class of 2011
Did You Know: Kraft attended the University of Missouri and competed four season for the Tigers program...She graduated with a degree in Chemistry and a minor in mathematics and a Masters in Positive Coaching.
With the backdrop of her home course and friends and family in attendance, Jamestown's Laura Kraft made history in the fall of 2010. Kraft became the first, and to date, only Class A golfer to win three consecutive individual state titles.
An impressive feat considering how much the sport relies on skill, mental toughness and a bit of good fortunate.
There would be more golf to come for Kraft. She went on to compete at the University of Missouri for four seasons. She coached high school golf for a time, and today, is working toward her final credentials to become a PGA teaching professional.
What began as a fun, family activity has indeed grown into much more for the Jamestown native.
Q: You graduated from Jamestown in 2011, correct?
Q: Can you recall when you first started golfing? I'm assuming your dad was a big part in getting you active in the sport?
A: I don’t have a specific memory of my first day golfing, but I started when I was 6 years old. Yes, my dad got me started. We started out playing golf together as a fun family activity. My mom loved to walk along with us as well.
Q: Was there a point when you were playing that you thought, "Hey! I'm getting pretty good at this!"
A: There was definitely a point when my dad realized I had a natural talent for the game. As far as my own feelings, I wanted to continue to get better so badly that I didn’t really realize I had a special skill until I was starting to enter some larger tournaments and had some success.
Q: Certainly tournament golf is much different than recreational golf. It requires more focus and precision. Did you always enjoy the challenge/pressure it brought? The fact you have to put in the time to get better?
A: I like to think I’m someone who doesn’t back down from a challenge. Particularly if it’s like a puzzle. With golf being a game that requires heavy strategy and problem solving, that was the driving force that helped me stay motivated and excel. I will admit, there were moments when practicing didn’t sound quite as fun as alternative activities, but it was well worth the time and effort to experience some of the opportunities that golf allowed me to capitalize on. As I got older, I went through a time competing in college where I started to feel a lot of pressure to perform. It was a tough time in my golf career because I knew I was not playing to my full potential, but after some help from the athletics staff at Mizzou, and a little soul searching, I finished my college career strong.
Q: Did you also compete in junior tournaments in the summer to continue to perfect your game?
A: I did! I competed in a lot of summer tournaments both in the North Dakota/Minnesota area and branching out to national tournaments. Traveling was always one of my favorite parts of competing because I got to see new courses, meet new people, and continue to compete all at once.
Q: When did you begin playing high school varsity?
A: I started practicing with the high school varsity in 6th grade; I started competing in the 7th grade.
Q: You won three consecutive state individual titles. Was there a particular championship that stood out? One you were most proud of winning?
A: I think the state tournament I won as a senior was the most special to me (2010). I was incredibly lucky to have that tournament on my home course in Jamestown, so lots of my friends and family were there to watch and support. I have a vivid memory of coming to the par 3 14th hole during the tournament and realizing how many people were out watching me. The green on #14 is surrounded by a semi-circle of pine trees. I remember seeing a cart parked, or people standing between every single tree. Being able to share that experience with them and sharing that success with my dad (Dean Kraft) who won coach of the year that year, was more special than I could’ve ever imagined.
Q: What do you think separates a great high school golfer and a good golfer?
A: I think good players everywhere whether they’re in high school, or not have to have drive, focus and mental stability. Through my time as player, coach and teacher, that a player will not succeed to their full potential unless they want to succeed. They need to practice and play every moment with success in mind. That, to me, is the big difference between your average golfer and a good golfer.
Q: Golf is unique because it's a team sport, but relies on each golfer performing well. Do you like that dynamic?
A: When you’re in high school (and college for that matter) you have a team striving toward a common goal. Not every player may be the same skill level or level of seriousness, but you get to share that experience together.
Playing in other tournaments and even just practicing (in the summer/off season) sometimes was very different because you don’t necessarily see the same people, or competition. So you’re often on your own. I felt very lucky to have such supportive parents because I could share those experiences with them. They attended a lot of my events.
Q: Following school, what was the next chapter for you?
A: After my golf career, I attended graduate school and got a masters in Positive Coaching. I coached a high school team in Columbia, MO for four years (the Hickman Kewpies) and did a few small part time jobs with athletics and golf such as tutoring for the athletes at Mizzou and working Player Service at The Club at Old Hawthorne.
Now, I’ve moved on to being an Assistant Golf Professional at the Country Club of Missouri in Columbia, MO. I’m currently in the process of getting my PGA certification. (PGA as in teaching professional, not playing professional). My career would be a full-time teaching professional at a club.
Q: What is it like to be a golf coach/teaching pro?
A: Coaching is a whole new experience in comparison to playing. I’m starting to realize why my dad and my college coaches spoke the way they did! It’s extremely gratifying to take someone, regardless of their skill level, and help them grow. Honestly, teaching golf is my favorite part of my job.
Q: You are still living in Columbia today, right? What are you up to?
A: I am living in Columbia as of right now. I spend a lot of time at Country Club of Missouri, but unfortunately, I’m spending most of it working instead of golfing. Columbia won't be my forever home, but as of now, I absolutely love living here.
Q: Is golf still a big part of life for you right now? Or are you focused on other things. What are some of your interests and hobbies?
A: Golf is definitely a large part of my professional life. That being said, I do occasionally get out to play. When I play golf these days, it’s a lot more recreational than when I was at my competitive peak. I would say one of the biggest golf aspects of my life, other than work, is volunteering for the Columbia Golf Foundation (CGF). CGF is a group of avid golfers in the community that have created a program to encourage and teach youth to play golf. They have a number of golf camps in the summer, but I was most involved with their “golf in schools” program. In this program, members of CGF go to grade schools and middle schools in the mid-Missouri area and take over gym class for a day to teach golf. I’ve loved being involved! In my down time, I’ve been working on my PGA work, but I also like to cook, spend time with friends, take care of my two lovely cats, and play video games online with my boyfriend, Kameron, who recently moved to the Seattle area. One of my big goals for the near future is to get back into music. I was an avid singer and cellist in high school, and as life has gotten busier I’ve gotten away from it. I would love to join a community choir if I can find time!
Q: Is there any advice you can give to young high school athletes. What they should be most focusing their attention on?
A: My advice to high school athletes out there is to learn how to mentally compartmentalize. In golf especially, there is down time between shots. If you stay intensely focused that whole time, you’ll become mentally exhausted. On the flip side, if you choose to be aloof and casual the entire time, you won’t succeed. Learn how to turn your focus on when you need it, and turn it off if you can, but ALWAYS carry yourself with confidence. I remember during my time at Missouri, we were taught about playing with confidence. Confidence is something you can choose. It doesn't just show up. And practicing your mental approach to playing is what helps you become confident in your abilities! Last but not least, regardless how you tackle your day, always be grateful. There is always something in your life to be thankful for. Make sure you take the time to realize what it is you’re thankful for and share that gratitude when you can. It makes a huge difference!
Jamestown's Laura Kraft, to date, is the only Class A golfer to win three consecutive state titles (2008-10). Photo courtesy of the Jamestown Sun
Note: This is one in a series of stories on former WDA standout athletes who moved on to careers/lives elsewhere.
Kraft played collegiate golf at the University of Missouri. Photo courtesy of Univ. of Missiouri Athletics
Won three consecutive Class A medalist titles
Q: Was there a point in your high school career that you started to think about competing at the collegiate level? And what drew you to the University of Missouri?
A: When I was a sophomore in high school, my dad (who was Jamestown's coach) and I started preparing and sending a golf resume to college coaches. Based on both my skill level and my personal preference, I mostly sent my resume to schools in the Big 10 and Big 12. I wanted to stay in the midwest where there were four seasons, and the competition seemed like a comfortable range for me to be challenged, but still excel. The recruiting process has a lot of steps. I took many visits to schools and met many coaches, but when I met the coaches and toured Mizzou, it seemed like the perfect place for me. Their academics are stellar, the coaches, Stephanie Priesmeyer and Mindy Coyle, had a similar competitive mindset to me. And Columbia felt like home. If I could go back and make that decision again, I wouldn’t change a thing!
Q: Moving from North Dakota to Missouri must have been both exciting and challenging. Was it quite an adjustment getting acclimated to a new place and going to school far from home?
A: I definitely resonate with that statement. Moving far away required an adjustment period particularly because I am so close with my family and had a lot of close friends. The first semester in particular was very difficult emotionally, but having the support of my team, who had all experienced similar feelings, was instrumental in how I grew and made Missouri my new home.
Q: High school golf and Division One golf is quite different. What were some of the main differences that stood out to you? What skills do you need to compete at that level?
A: I distinctly remember having a day in college after having competed in my first couple tournaments where I said to myself, “Wow, I used to be a big fish in a small pond…now I’m a tiny fish in a great big ocean.”
The level of competition both physically and mentally is immensely different. Even when I’m in the zone on the course, I like to be social and enjoy the day with my fellow competitors. I found that in high school, this was something I could look forward to every single week. In college competition, there were many more serious faces and quiet competitors. I’m a big advocate for the mental part of golf. I think to compete at the highest level there is a certain amount of technical skill you need, but the players that rise above are the ones who have strong mental games. They don’t just attempt to score well, they KNOW they will score well.
Q: Playing a collegiate sport is demanding, but then to balance school and living away from home makes it quite challenging! What were the keys to being successful at that? (time management/discipline).
A: Time management was a huge part of being a college athlete. Between classes, practices, and workouts, you had to be very cautious with how you were spending the rest of your time. My major in college was chemistry, so I used to joke that I lived in the chemistry computer lab. I certainly learned to run on less sleep than I do now! That being said, if I could give one piece of advice to college athletes out there it would be to take time to reflect and enjoy your experience. I made friends in college that will be friends the rest of my life, and amidst the tight schedules and travel, having that time with them or even just “me time” helped me stay sane through all the busy times.
Q: Was there a particular season/tournament/moment that standouts in your college career?
A: I think the moment that stands out the most for me is our home tournament, The Johnnie Imes, my senior year. Not only was it my best tournament finish of my college career, we also won the tournament as a team. Kind of like I mentioned talking about state my senior year of high school. It was so amazing to experience my best tournament finish of my college career at our home course. I tied for fourth, shooting 68-72-72
Q: How were your college seasons set up?
A: Our season was split between fall and spring. Typically, we would have five tournaments in the first half, ending in late October. We would continue practicing and training for a few weeks before taking a break. And then picking up again the next year with five-six more events. We were fortunate to have a great indoor practice facility at the University of Missouri. Tournaments were three rounds. It was first set up where you would play 36 holes the first day and then 18 the second. Tournaments eventually went to three days of 18 holes. Practices often included a morning workout three days a week and we would then practice after our classes each day. The great thing is we had a lot of flexibility in our practice schedules. They weren't always at a set time. The coaches gave us a lot of independence when it came to working on our game. Underclassmen were also required in the evening to take part in study sessions and work with tutors to make sure we were on track with our academics.
Q: What degree did you pursue/receive at Missouri?
A: I got a bachelors in Chemistry with a minor in Mathematics.
Where are they now: Jamestown golf standout Laura Kraft