UMES senior Nia Troutman had a front-row seat this summer to one of 2017's biggest events in women's golf while earning credit toward her degree in PGA golf management.
Troutman is in the midst of a seven-month internship at the Des Moines Golf & Country Club, which played host Aug. 14-20 to the Solheim Cup, a team competition that pits America's best pros against counterparts from Europe.
It afforded Troutman an opportunity to observe up close LPGA stars she watches from afar - Anna Nordqvist, Lexi Thompson, Michelle Wei and Cristie Kerr.
"It was amazing how focused they were," Troutman said. "I got a chance to see how professional golfers conduct themselves - how hard they practice and prepare, and how they interact with fans."
The Solheim Cup is a match-play format, so fans treat the biennial competition as any other routine American sporting event.
"The energy was amazing," Troutman said. "You can scream, yell, and be as loud as you want.
"I felt like if I could hit a ball. I could do the same they were doing," she said. The competitors "fed off the energy."
As an adolescent, Troutman had success athletically as a middle-distance runner but did not find it rewarding. She took up golf at age 14 and found her sports passion. She picked UMES for college to get out of her comfort zone in Dayton, Ohio.
Troutman applied as an underclassman for an internship at the Des Moines Golf & Country Club, one of the Midwest's premier golf venues, but was unsuccessful.
Fellow golf management student James Robinson, however, did do an internship in Des Moines and encouraged Troutman to submit a second application.
"He did a phenomenal job and had a really positive experience," Troutman said.
"I guess they did a double-take when they saw someone else from UMES was interested," Troutman said. After some preliminary paperwork and a phone interview, the club called her on her mother's birthday, Nov. 15, and offered her a long-term internship she needs to complete as a graduation requirement.
Troutman lives in a cottage on the grounds of the Des Moines course and except for summer-season student help, is the lone long-term intern.
She's responsible for managing the private club's "bag room," where she keeps close track of some 1,000 sets of members' clubs, ensures they are clean and in good shape, and properly cataloged.
She also works in the club's pro shop and this summer gave lessons and conducted clinics for junior golfers. Teaching golf is the career path she's hoping to take when she completes her degree requirements in 2018.
During the cup competition, Troutman rose before dawn to ensure the driving range was prepped for the pros who showed up to practice well before before starting their rounds.
"It was very interesting," she said. "The Europeans have a much different way of explaining strategies and planning. Even their instructors and caddies were right there."
Since a mixture of French, German, Spanish and Swedish was spoken, Troutman had difficulty grasping the nuances of what was being said while observing practice on the range.
On the American side, Troutman found herself drawn to watching Kerr, whom she described as "intense" on the practice range. "She sort of just shuts people out when she was working on certain aspects of her game."
Troutman marveled at the players' concentration and attention to perfecting shots, sometimes hitting 50 or more balls with one club "until they got it right."
Because she was an employee of the tournament host, she was expected to maintain a professional distance and refrain from approaching golfers for pictures or autographs.
Troutman did have a brief exchange with American Danielle Kang, who noticed the two were dressed virtually alike on a practice day. On Saturday, Kang spotted Troutman in the gallery and joked they were "not (wearing) matching (attire) that day."
"That was kind of cool," she said, "that she recognized me and remembered me."