Story courtesy Purdue Fort Wayne Athletics
FORT WAYNE – Standing in an airport on March 11, the Purdue Fort Wayne women’s golf team had just learned that the season was over. But the chant that had been said hundreds of time throughout the year was said one more time.
“‘Dons on three! One, two, three, ‘Dons!”
It was a phrase that senior Linnzie Richner had been in charge of leading during the 2019-20 season, so head coach Matt Zedrick had a simple request: “Give us one more ‘Dons, Linnz!”
Over the next few months, Zedrick and Richner’s teammates would ask this of her again. Give us one more. But this time with a different meaning. Give us one more year. After a long process of decision making and logistics, Richner decided to return to Purdue Fort Wayne for another year of being a student-athlete.
On the second day of the Benbow Collegiate on March 10, Richner played the best round of golf in program history. She shot a 69 (-2), the first time in her career that she scored under par. She rattled off 16 pars and two birdies at the Jacksonville Beach Golf Course, finishing in third place in the field of 86 players.
After the tournament, in which the Mastodons tied for fourth, the team picked up some donuts and returned to the house for dinner. While Zedrick was preparing dinner, news started to break on social media of athletic departments across the country cancelling athletic events for the rest of the year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Holly Anderson was standing with Richner on the porch of the house as they kept refreshing Twitter to see what news was coming out, and discussing the situation at hand.
“At this point, I’m starting to freak out,” Richner said. “I wasn’t ready to be done.”
After a quick practice round the following morning, the Mastodons headed to the airport, set to return to Fort Wayne. Zedrick pulled Richner aside, asking to speak with her one-on-one. At this moment, Richner knew the season was over. Emotions started running rampant, and the tears started to flow.
“I’m not a very emotional person, so the fact that I was crying, [the team] knew to give me some space for a little bit,” Richner said.
The emotions came in waves from this moment on. Richner, a 2016 NorthWood graduate, knew that she had ended the season with a bang. Breaking a school record is about as good of an end to a season as one could hope. Her excitement of the round and the news of the season being cut short continued to counteract each other on the trip home.
“The flight attendant announced to the passengers that I had broken the record, and that made me cry, too,” Richner said.
When the team arrived at the Fort Wayne airport, coach Zedrick pulled them all aside to thank them for a wonderful year. The team had broken several records in 2019-20, including the single-season scoring average.
“It was heartbreaking to have to tell Linnzie that the season was over,” Zedrick said. “I’ve had a front row seat the last four years to all the hard work she’s put in and to see things end that wat was really tough.”
As the days and weeks passed after the season was over, there were glimpses here and there on social media about spring sport student-athletes gaining another year of eligibility. Richner did her best not to get her hopes up, but an unfortunate reality loomed over her.
“I didn’t really have a plan for after graduation,” Richner said. “That’s probably not the smartest thing on my part, coming out of college and not having a plan.”
She was in the final semester, on track to receive her bachelor’s degree in biology in May, 2020. As classes shifted to online-only, Richner completed her program and earned her degree. On March 30, the NCAA offered a second chance.
And this opened up a choice for Richner: enter the work force or return to school for another year of education and golf.
“Quite frankly, I wasn’t sure if I would be embarrassed to be a fifth-year person,” Richner said. “I always thought of it as ‘do your four years and get out of here.'”
Richner talked with coach Zedrick, her teammates, the Purdue Fort Wayne compliance office, and her advisors in the Mastodon Academic Performance center to go over options. Zedrick was leaving it open to her to return, as she had been an influential part of the program for the last four years.
“When I found out that she would have the chance to come back next season I just hoped that she would see it as an opportunity to continue elevating our program,” Zedrick said. “She’s done so much to help build the culture and identity of our program.”
She had a chance to make a choice, unlike many students as they reach the end of their time in college.
“I was thinking, do I want to start my life, start a career, kind of continue on?” Richner said.
When it came down to it, Richner made her decision to return to school, to give Purdue Fort Wayne one more.
“In retrospect, this is kind of continuing on,” Richner said. “With the pandemic, we don’t know what’s going to happen. This option kind of leaves me in a safer spot. This gives me another year to look at jobs and internships.
“I’m going to be working the rest of my life, and I love being a student. I love the team and I love golfing for Purdue Fort Wayne,” Richner said. “I really do enjoy college. I’d like to, not be a kid, but be a kid for one more year. This is an amazing opportunity.”