Most college athletes have loved their sport since childhood, an activity they’ve been doing for as long as they can remember.
Not Abby Cavaiani.
Missouri State’s golf phenom remembers feeling indifferent toward golf when she was younger. Abby played just for fun — and because her parents made her.
When she turned 13, her and her dad took a trip to The Masters and everything changed. She fell in love with the game and decided to play competitively.
Abby began shooting lower and lower scores her junior year of high school, and started to realize that this was something she could take a step further.
And she did.
Abby was named the 2017 Player of the Year by the Wisconsin High School Coaches Association and shot an all-time Wisconsin high school record 60 (-12) at her high school conference championship.
“I don’t know if I’ll ever do that again,” Abby said. “But it was a pretty cool day. I had a feeling it was going to be a good day, but I never thought I could shoot something like that.”
Abby said she felt at peace and in the zone that day, and nothing was getting in her way.
Golf is described by many as a “head game” and can oftentimes get the best of players, but Abby doesn’t let bad shots or scores affect her game.
“You just have to know that you’re not perfect and you’re going to hit some bad shots,” Abby said. “But if I hit a few bad shots or have a few bad scores, my life isn’t over. It’s not going to define me. It’s just about going out and trying to shoot my best score, shot by shot.”
Her poise is what stuck out to head coach Kevin Kane, who met Abby on a visit to MSU before he saw her play.
“I got a great vibe from her and her family. I remember thinking to myself, ‘I really hope I like her game,’” Kane said.
She didn’t have a great round when he saw her play for the first time, but Kane said he could tell she had game by the way she carried herself.
“I don’t want to be able to tell how they’re playing just by looking at them,” Kane said. “And Abby is as even keel of a player as I’ve ever had. She’s cool as a cucumber on the course. Nothing seems to bother her.”
Kane said he had a feeling she would emerge as one of the better players in the league and that she has a shot to be in the thick of it every time she tees it up.
Abby only shot over 80 once in 29 rounds last season, leading the Bears with a 75.58 average. Her freshman year success didn’t stop there. Abby won the Missouri Valley Conference Championship, edging out the competition on the second playoff hole with a personal season-low 71.
She became the first first-year golfer since 2011 to take home a medal. Abby was also named Newcomer of the Year and All-Conference Team.
“I knew that if I had my best game, there would be a chance I could be in contention,” Abby said. “I tried to not think about how big the situation was and just put a good swing on it.”
Kane said he followed Abby on her last four holes, which he normally never did. His presence told her she was right there with the best of them.
“I wasn’t surprised (she won),” Kane said. “She’s a special player. Ones like her don’t come along every day.”
Kane said he won’t be surprised by anything Abby accomplishes, whether it’s going to the U.S. Women’s Open or seeing her name on tour someday — that’s how good she is.
Abby competed in her second U.S. Women’s Open qualifier round over the summer, missing the cut by six strokes. She said she played a little better than last year and hopes to continue getting better each year and eventually make the cut.
And she’ll do so alongside her biggest cheerleader: her dad.
Abby said her dad, Jay, is very supportive and always helping her improve her game. When Abby’s swing coach sends her things to work on, she’ll send videos to her dad to make sure she’s doing it correctly.
“Sometimes it’s hard to listen to him,” Abby said with a laugh. “But we make a pretty good team.”
So far this season, Abby shot one-under-par at the season opener, shooting 74-74-70 and placing third. At the MVC Fall Preview, she posted 75-82-76 to tie for fifth.
Kane said he’s excited to see Abby take her game one step further this season.
“I believe that some people are born with a little extra something,” Kane said. “I would put her in that category.”