DETAILED STORY WRITTEN BY FSU SPORTS INFORMATION INTERN TAYLOR CARADONNA
Swinging a golf club at just 22 months old was Fletcher Wunderlich’s first glimpse at what was to come in the sport of golf.
Born in Colorado and with the help of his two professional-athlete parents, he competed at just four years old and entered into his first US Kids Golf tournament. Upon more competitions and furthering his dedication to the game, the Wunderlich family moved to Ohio for a few years, up until Fletcher began his eighth grade year, where they relocated to Port St. Lucie, Florida.
This is when his true talent and capabilities came to light, finally in a place that allowed year-round play, as well as having the opportunities that competitive golf in the Sunshine State provided.
Prior to Wunderlich’s move to Ohio, he was diagnosed with hereditary spherocytosis at just four years old, a condition that affects blood cells and lowers hemoglobin, which was caused by an enlarged spleen. Although this limited him in sports as a child, he managed to play tennis and baseball up until he was 10 years old.
Because of excess tiredness and risk of rupture, he was obligated to stop contact sports altogether. Hereditary spherocytosis could not take away his dedication to golf though, as he continued to play the sport up until it was decided that he would defeat his condition by undergoing spleen removal surgery.
Wunderlich said his surgery was the best decision of his life, something that resulted in a “night and day difference” almost immediately. His decision was not without hesitation though. Due to the rarity of the condition, doctors did not have enough information to encourage the surgery, as well as the spleen naturally going inactive around the age of 18.
With both factors playing a role in his decision, Wunderlich’s mother, Ann Wunderlich, took matters into her own hands and reached out to someone who, at one point, had her son’s condition. They immediately scheduled surgery at the Jack Nicklaus Children’s Hospital in Miami, where in January 2017, Wunderlich was finally able to be pain-free and in his words, “normal” again.
The surgery removed Wunderlich from golf for nearly two months, but fortunately prior to his surgery, he committed to Florida State on a four-year scholarship. This motivated him to get back on the course as soon as he possibly could, along with the support of his parents, who understood what it meant for him to get back to his best play.
Ann Wunderlich was a professional tennis player, who was ranked as high as 29th in the world on the WTA tour during her career from 1987-1998. Starting her professional career at the age of only 17, she constantly supported Fletcher in his dedication toward golf, as she hoped to do for Fletcher what her father did for her. Ann’s father had a hands-on approach in her tennis career, and she appreciated his constant push toward success later in life. She uses her own method of support in Fletcher’s golf career.
Ann is not the only parent who is dedicated to their son’s golf career, as Eric Wunderlich, Fletcher’s father, always provides his constant support. Eric, being a Summer Olympian who placed sixth at the 200-breaststroke in 1996 in Atlanta, grew up highly independent and without a father. He continues to ensure that his son will never go through his own sports career alone.
Initially trying to get Fletcher into swimming, as he had done, he realized his mistake as he described his son as a “drowning giraffe” in the water. Both Ann and Eric have given their all to Fletcher’s golf career and he is more than thankful to have grown up with two professional, caring athletes as parents.
Growing up and playing golf in Port St. Lucie required Wunderlich to come up with some serious ideas and changes. While attending Port St. Lucie High School, he realized that if he wanted to compete for his high school, there first needed to be a team. Wunderlich himself recruited baseball players at his school, hoping for them to give golf a chance, as well as hoping to make a team out of it. His brilliancy paid off and Port St. Lucie officially had a golf team.
This golf team was clearly not an ordinary one, but it was more than just baseball players becoming golfers overnight. For Wunderlich, it brought a fun atmosphere back into golf and a maturity that was learned through one another. With Wunderlich being the primary role model for his teammates, he shared the idea that there is no fear in asking for help, and with this mindset the team won their High School Country Championship at Fairwinds Golf Club.
Because of his time commitment to the team, Wunderlich missed out on a couple of opportunities that would have inevitably grown his junior golf career. An AJGA tournament, the Oregon Invitational, was one of those circumstances, where the high school district tournament fell on the same day. Wunderlich chose his team, which ended up being a reward as not only did they make it to the regional tournament, but Wunderlich ended up qualifying for the state tournament as an individual.
Through his appearances at these major tournaments, Wunderlich was able to get his name out in front of college coaches. Georgia Tech was the first collegiate level school that watched him play and it didn’t take long for others to catch on. Jeff Leishman, Wunderlich’s golf coach at Dye Preserve in Jupiter, Fla., also played a role in Wunderlich’s commitment to Florida State, due to his connection with Florida State head coach Trey Jones. Once Wunderlich and Jones got in touch, the junior golfer knew that this was where he was meant to be: a University that was promising in all areas of athletics.
Upon his transfer from junior to collegiate golf in the fall of 2019, Wunderlich immediately felt a different, but uplifting atmosphere. Different in the ways that everything was now solely his responsibility – creating his own schedule, getting to classes, workouts and more. He was also no longer competing against other junior golfers, but now against the best amateur golfers in the nation. Wunderlich understood that this level of competition was different.
“You are playing for your team, your school, yourself,” Wunderlich said. “This is the step below professional golf, it means way more now than it ever has before.”
One thing that has not changed for Wunderlich is his desire to win.
“I hate losing, I hate losing anything,” Wunderlich added.
He even describes how competitive winter holidays are, as due to the Wunderlich family’s busy schedule, it is the only time they are all together. From playing spike ball to street football, there is always some type of banter due to the competitive nature of the family.
“If you don’t play to win, then why are you doing it at all?” Wunderlich asked. “Everything you do, give it your 100 percent and do it with a purpose.”
By playing against some of the best teams in the nation, Wunderlich was able to put his motto to use, until the greatest enemy of all hit.
COVID-19 was a show-stopper for every sport in the world. For the men’s golf team at Florida State, this meant their 2020 spring season being cut short and not resuming until the following 2021 spring season. During this time, a lot was going on for Wunderlich – he was growing into himself and getting stronger with each practice and workout. Although this is naturally a positive thing, this also meant that his misses were more sporadic and his mechanics had to be constantly worked on.
Wunderlich has recently teamed up with a mental coach and ensures that his mechanics are becoming promising. He has learned that college golf is all part of the journey and he has to focus on figuring out the best way to grow long term and get better, as he wants to give himself the best chance at his future in professional golf, as well as giving his teammates his best play in the upcoming tournaments.
Wunderlich has nothing but gratitude for his team
“Everyone kind of brings their own things to the table. We are like a pirate ship, not quite misfits, but we are all our own person and because there are so few of us, we can express our own opinions, actions, and characteristics without fear of being overshadowed,” Wunderlich said.
He believes the team has a bond that is unbreakable and even one that can take them all the way to winning a NCAA Championship this spring.
All of this would not be possible without the constant dedication from head coach Trey Jones. Wunderlich explains that Jones always challenges his golfers with practices that are essentially designed for failure.
“Coach Jones lives by the motto, ‘Make the game harder than it is,” Wunderlich said. “He designs these games and drills that challenge us mentally and physically, many times it will take the whole three-hour practice to complete or we will have to come back out the next day, but they do make us better.”
Wunderlich believes in the capabilities of the 2021-22 Seminoles, despite not having the services of golfing legend John Pak.
“Florida State golf is still Florida State golf. We all have our own shoes to fill,” Wunderlich added. “Brett (Roberts), Freddie (Kjettrup), and Cole (Anderson) know what it takes to get the job done, and with our new roster I believe we have what it takes.”