Rock Chalk Weekly: Handling Transition and Adversity

Written by Allan Parker, Kansas Athletic Communications Student Assistant

Life can be full of transition and constant change. In order to reach the dreams that people desire, it requires leaving their comfort zone that they aren’t used to being in. Throughout the ups and downs of life, dealing with constant adversity can be difficult for anybody to handle, but this is nothing new for Kansas senior golfer Minami Levonowich.

Minami, which is a Japanese translation of the word “South” in English, was born in London, England, and was constantly on the move in her early life. She lived in four different countries growing up as an adolescent including England, Russia, Switzerland and the United States. Levonowich traveled all over the world at a young age because her father works in the oil industry, a career that allows the family flexibility to live in different places. Her dad, who is Russian and Lithuanian, and her mom, who is Japanese, loved to travel and experience new places. Because of her dad’s career and her parents’ adventurous lifestyle, Levonowich described her childhood far from simple.

“My childhood was a little complicated,” Levonowich explained. “I was born in London, but soon after I was born, I moved straight to Moscow, Russia and lived there for three years. After that, I moved back to London for three years, then I moved to Switzerland and lived there for six more years. I truly developed a passion for golf while I was living in Switzerland. I was member of a beautiful golf course by the mountains in France because we lived right next to the border. Around middle school I realized I could do this for my passion-to become a professional golfer.”

With Levonowich making her decision to pursue her dreams in golf, this would require yet another a life-changing transition to place that she wasn’t familiar with.

“Once I decided I wanted to continue pursuing golf, my parents and I decided moving to America would be best for me since they have so many resources here for golf,” Levonowich said. “After my seventh grade year, I moved to Hilton Head, South Carolina and went to the golf academy there (previously called the Gary Gilchrist IGAA). It was really different. I had trouble making friends the first year and half because it was just so different. I went to a big International school in Switzerland, but when I moved to South Carolina the school was very small so it was a huge adjustment.”

Attending prep school in South Carolina helped Levonowich develop athletically for the amateur and collegiate level and made the transition into these levels of competition much easier.  

“The prep school was very helpful,” Levonowich said. “The school itself in South Carolina was similar to college life, based on how the schedules were set up. It helped me a lot because I kind of knew what to expect in college.”

Levonowich, at the age of 16, began playing numerous amateur golf tournaments around the country as she was named junior golfer Player of the Week by Golfweek in October of 2009 after she won the Golfweek Junior Series event by eight shots in Southern Pines, N.C. This was one of many accomplishments that Levonowich experienced in her young golf career.

After a successful junior golf career, Levonowich committed to Kennesaw State in Kennesaw, Georgia, for college as she played five events for the Owls her freshman year. After playing one season in Georgia, Levonowich decided to transfer and make another transition in her life to a school that was a better fit for her.

“Before, I wanted to play somewhere warm and Georgia was a great place for golf, but I always wanted to go to a big school as well. I chose to come to Kansas because I knew my current assistant coach, Katy (Nahm) and her husband (Josh Nahm), who was my swing coach at my prep school in South Carolina. He helped me a lot to come here and I love it.”

Even though Levonowich was excited to transfer to Kansas as a sophomore, it would be another time in her life that she would have to adjust to the new surroundings.

“It was a huge adjustment the first semester,” Levonowich described her transition from Kennesaw State to Kansas. “I came in the spring of 2013, so I was basically the only new player on the team. I felt like a freshman again. I had trouble getting my credits transferred and I was in the process of changing my major, so I was just really behind. Getting adjusted with golf was really tough, but I was able to handle it.”

After placing in the top-20 in two events in her first spring season with the Jayhawks, Kansas head coach Erin O’Neil started to see growth from Levonowich throughout that semester and summer.

“It was the beginning of her junior year when we saw the biggest transformation out of her,” O’Neil said about Levonowich. “She had not been real happy at her previous school. I think her confidence was down and she didn’t know what she wanted to major in. There were a lot of uncertainties for her. We really worked that spring of 2013 to help find her way through that and get her confidence back up because she is a really good player, but she is also really hard on herself. So trying to help her get better at motivating herself and staying positive was key. Since then, she has been much more confident and it has been showing up in her golf game.”

Last year, during her junior season, Levonowich was a vital part of the Jayhawks’ lineup as she helped them qualify for nationals for the first time since 1990 and improved her average stroke score from 78.7 to 76.3. She was the leader for the Jayhawks at the NCAA Regional in Stillwater, Oklahoma as she led the Jayhawks with the best score of the tournament, shooting a 222.

Levonowich was recognized after her strong performance by Golf Channel Japan and she got invited to compete at the 2014 Meiji Cup where she was only one of three amateurs playing in a field full of professionals.

“It was amazing and it opened a lot of doors for me,” Levonowich said about making nationals last year as a team. “Somebody from the Golf Channel Japan Network did research on me when we went to nationals, and I got invited to play in a professional tournament in Japan. It was a huge deal and even in Japan I got a lot of offers (to play in other events), so I feel that was a pretty huge accomplishment.”

Now, as a senior on the team and having experienced a lot of transition in her life, Levonowich has tried to become a leader and mentor to the freshmen on the team.

“Of course I have tried to step it up and try to let the freshmen on the team know that the first year is always the toughest, it was so tough for me.” Levonowich explained. “If you don’t play in all the tournaments, it’s completely understandable. It doesn’t mean coach doesn’t like you or anything just keep working hard and you will see results.”

After a life full of traveling the world and constant change, Levonowich is thankful her parents being supportive of her throughout the process.

“They have been so supportive the whole time,” she said.” My dad changed his job just so I could come to America. Even if I play bad, they always encourage me and never give up on me.

Just like Levonowich is passionate about golf, she is also devoted to trying to get more golf players from Japan to come to America to play collegiately. Despite living in so many countries herself, Levonowich has always stayed true to her heritage. With family still living in Japan today, she would also like to help make Japanese players’ transition into the United States easier, using her own experience from the process she went through coming into this country.

“We, as a country, don’t have many Japanese people that play many sports at Division I schools and I think it’s mainly because they are nervous of the Japanese-English language barrier and the culture change. I just want to help them transition easier, so hopefully I can be some type of recruiter in the future,” Levonowich explained.

With one year of school remaining after her eligibility is up as a student-athlete following this season, Levonowich plans on going through another transition phase. She is aware that she will probably face more adversity, as she plans on moving to Japan to pursue her life-long dream of becoming a professional golfer.

“I would love to experience living there. I believe that Japan would be a great start for my golf career since I have a lot of support there,” Levonowich concluded.

Dreams don’t become reality easily, but they are possible with hard work. To reach those goals, it sometimes requires leaving one’s comfort zone and stepping out to have courage. Coming from across the world, Levonowich is a perfect example of someone who overcame these struggles of transition and adversity to become a success in the sport that she grew up loving.

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