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Determination & Drive

Winter 2018

Margaret Loncki ’18 worked hard at attaining golf greatness—and she did it on her terms

By Thomas Rozwadowski

Margaret Loncki ’18 knew she got away with one.

It was her freshman year at the 2015 SCIAC Championships in Beaumont. Successfully sinking a three- foot putt would secure a one-stroke win over a Pomona-Pitzer rival.

The putt—“a weak slider, just at the corner of the cup”—barely rimmed in, earning her top individual honors and a signature victory as a first-year competitor. Except instead of elation, Loncki felt relief. Almost lucky.

“I remember walking away from that putt and thinking, ‘Wow, you just stole something,’” Loncki said.

It is the question asked of every athlete after their moment of greatest triumph. “What was going through your mind when ... ?”

Three years later, as Loncki sized up a 15-foot putt on a second sudden death playoff hole against Williams College at the NCAA Division III Women’s Golf Championships in May, she flashed back to that shaky three-footer. She would not tempt fate again.

“I said to myself, ‘This time, hit a confident putt. No matter what happens here, if you make it or miss by a mile, don’t be left thinking that you didn’t trust your line or trust your ability.’

“Don’t steal it. Win it.”

The steely-eyed senior met the challenge, giving the Claremont- Mudd-Scripps women’s golf team its first title. With a four-round score of 11-over-par 303, Loncki also won the individual national championship.

The putt capped a year of surreal accomplishment for Loncki. In addition to being named NCAA Division III Player of the Year, she was All-Conference, All-Region, and All-American. Not too shabby for someone who almost avoided college golf altogether.

Loncki arrived at CMC only expecting to walk on as a soccer player. “A solid high school golfer” who treated the sport more like a hobby, she joined the CMS women’s team at the urging of her swing instructor, who contacted CMS coach Jodie Burton.

Loncki wavered on college golf because of concerns that playing two sports while dual majoring in Organismal Biology and Economics would be too taxing. Her key to making it work, she said, was the opposite of what most athletes and coaches preach. Instead of “practice makes perfect,” she took a deliberate break from golf during soccer season to avoid burnout.

“I would put down the clubs for four months. Really, that’s what helped me persevere in my later college years,” Loncki said.

“In golf, you can go over the same problems day after day after day. It becomes minutiae, and then you get frustrated if the results don’t come fast enough. By taking a break, I would actually miss golf and come back to the course renewed. I was allowed time to reset and get back to my fundamentals.”

Memories from her magical May championship run are still fresh: cooling off with towels after seven hours in the Florida heat. The mounting pressure while waiting 45 minutes in the tee box as the last to golf in sudden death. Sinking the winning putt, then running to the cup almost instinctively to make sure the “ball didn’t pop out of the hole.”

Now, fully recovered from the “delirious” combination of fatigue, stress, and adrenaline, she laughs at her fondest recollection of the day. The real stress, she joked, was from worrying how long the playoff would last. More time on the course meant she might miss a flight back to California—and lose out on a bigger prize the next day at CMC. Her diploma.

“I can still see my mom (Susan Budinger) tapping her watch,” Loncki said. “She was like, ‘Hey, that golf trophy is great and I’m really happy for you. But c’mon, let’s get you walking across that stage.’”