Higley inks commitment to play golf at Winona State
by Beth Kraft
Mathew Higley is a talented three-sport athlete at Eleva-Strum Central High School, but as his prep career has progressed golf has emerged as the clear winner that will take the E-S senior to the next level.
Higley signed his National Letter of Intent on Wednesday, Nov. 9, to play golf at Division II Winona State University next year. Several other high school athletes from across the region also put pen to paper that day in conjunction with the first day of the NCAA’s early signing period.
“It feels pretty great,” said Higley of making his commitment to Winona official. “I’ve been waiting for this day ever since I verbally committed back in August.”
A large student contingent, Mathew’s family, and E-S golf coach Jon Higley, who is also Mathew’s uncle, were among those who proudly watched the E-S golf standout sign his NLI.
Coach Higley says he is confident Mathew can hold his own on the fairways and greens at the collegiate level.
“Matt’s put a lot of time in and really improved a lot since his freshman year,” the Cards’ coach remarked. “With golf, you still work on plenty of things all the time.”
Top 10 finishes were common for Higley early on in his prep career, but breakout results during his junior season really turned heads.
Higley took first at the Marathon Sectional and went on to medal at the WIAA Division 3 State Golf Championship this past spring, taking third place. At State, Higley golfed the lowest round of the tournament, carding a 72 on day two.
Mathew is currently ranked 10th in the state amongst all other golfers in the class of 2017, Coach Higley noted.
Winona State head men’s golf coach Jeff Straight, who was unable to attend last week’s signing per NCAA rules, says he first became interested in adding Higley to the Warriors’ roster last spring.
“Mathew played pretty well the past couple of years, but I really noticed him after he won the College Showcase event at Whistling Straits this summer,” commented Strait. “He is a great young man to be around and I know he will be a good fit for out team. He also comes from a great family that is very supportive of his goal to play golf at Winona State.”
Higley’s dad, Kent Higley, golfed collegiately for UW-Eau Claire, but Higley says he wasn’t always certain he wanted to follow in his footsteps.
Higley is also a key player on the Cardinals’ football and basketball teams, earning all-conference honors multiple times, but he has ultimately chosen to take his golf game a step further.
“I think throughout high school I discovered that golf is my favorite sport,” Higley said. “I think golf is the best sport for me at the next level.”
Straight likes Higley’s background as a three-sport athlete in terms of coachability. He also says Higley’s 6-foot-3 frame is an asset because it “will help him with distance which is a premium in college golf,” Straight explained.
Higley says Winona State appealed to him in part because the university allows him to remain close to his tight-knit family while also allowing him the chance to experience a different area. Higley plans to major in accounting, noting Winona’s successful business program is also a plus.
The Warriors’ golf team also has a strong outlook. Winona took first in the JR Watkins Invite in early October, and the Warriors are currently ranked 13th in the Central Region with only one senior on the roster. Last spring the squad took second at the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference Men’s Golf Championship to qualify for the NCAA Division II Super Regional, where the team finished tied for 16th place.
Higley says he got along well with the players and coach when he visited the university.
“I think it’ll be a great fit for me,” he said. “They have a lot of guys coming back for the next few years, so there’s a lot of potential there.”
Straight feels Higley will have the opportunity to vie for a top 5 spot on the Warriors’ squad next fall.
“I think he has huge upside as a college golfer, and I look forward to coaching him in the years to come,” Straight added.
Currently Higley can only play golf about four months out of the year due to football and basketball seasons, but that will change next year, Coach Higley notes.
“I think that’ll help him when he can just concentrate on one sport,” he said. “He’ll be able to put a lot more time into it.”
Until then, Higley is excited to enjoy the rest of his senior year knowing his college choice is settled.
“I’m looking forward to basketball coming up and also golf,” Higley shared. “It’s nice to get all the recruiting done now so I can focus on sports and not have to worry about that.”