15-Year-Old McKenna Nelson Overcomes Heart Condition To Become First-Ever DCP Champion From Wisconsin

The day was August 9, 2023, and 15-year-old McKenna Nelson was on the range, practicing for her freshman debut on the Beaver Dam/Wayland Academy girls’ golf team the next day. 

She was coming off her best season as a junior golfer. After finishing tied for 5th at the Hurricane Cup in January 2023, she followed up with a runner-up finish at Cantigny Junior Open in April. Then, she really dialed it up, rifling off three wins in a row on the Hurricane Junior Golf Tour from April to July before the incident happened. 

In addition, the Beaver Dam, WI native had become the youngest-ever winner of the Wisconsin Women’s State Match Play Championship earlier that summer. Two more strong outings following her record performance earned Nelson enough points to earn Wisconsin State Golf Association Women’s Player of the Year honors. It’s safe to say McKenna was on the rise heading into her first year of high school.

A Day McKenna Nelson Will Always Remember

When she was hitting shots at the driving range on that August day, she felt something that had come and gone in the past. Her heart had begun to beat really fast, but this time, the sensation felt different and it didn’t seem to be going away. 

“I knew this feeling,” Nelson told Wisconsin.Golf in an interview last month. “I knew what it was, but this time I went into panic mode. I called my mom and said, ‘You need to come.’ My heart was at like 230 (beats per minute).”

A trip to urgent care quickly escalated to an emergency room situation, as McKenna and her mother sat in fear waiting for the results from her tests. Nelson was diagnosed with supraventricular tachycardia (SVT), an irregularly fast or erratic heartbeat that occurs when faulty electrical signaling sets off a series of early beats in the upper chambers of the heart.

The good news is that SVT is rarely life-threatening. The bad news was that even though they were able to monitor her condition, the episodes continued to occur sporadically. The recurring health scares took a mental and emotional toll on Nelson and began to take away from her love for the game. 

McKenna Nelson Battles Adversity To Regain Her Passion For Golf

Despite dealing with her newly diagnosed condition, Nelson had a terrific freshman season. She is nothing if not perseverant. In fact, the day after visiting the emergency room in August 2023, she competed in her first high school tournament. She went on to win her sectional and placed tied for third at the WIAA Division I state tournament that season, which was enough to finish ranked No. 1 in the Class of 2027 player rankings by Wisconsin.Golf. 

Unfortunately, the episodes continued after the season was over. One, in particular, happened while she was at a Jonas Brothers concert with her friends. Ultimately, Nelson decided she “didn’t want to live like this.”

She scheduled a corrective procedure called an ablation, where doctors would freeze a small section of her heart, and the scarring would help break up the electrical signals that cause the irregular heartbeat.

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Almost immediately after the procedure, McKenna rediscovered her love for golf. 

“I kept on having episodes, which came to me with a lot of anxiety.” Nelson told us. “I really lost my love to practice and even to be out on a golf course. I decided I didn’t want to live with fear constantly in my head, so I got the correction procedure in February. I am now free from all anxiety and love to be out on a golf course again.”

McKenna Nelson Becomes First Wisconsinite To Win DCP Nationals

Nelson qualified for the 10th Annual Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals that took place April 7, 2024, at the prestigious Augusta National Golf Club the week before the 88th Masters Tournament. There were 80 competitors aged 7-15, and McKenna was competing in the Girls 14-15 division. 

She went on to become one of just eight junior golfers to claim the top spot in their respective division and the very first from the state of Wisconsin to do so. 

“It means a lot,” Nelson said of her experience at Augusta. “I started Drive, Chip, and Putt when I was 6 years old and getting to go to Augusta was always the dream to me and winning is just a bonus.”

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What an incredible story from an incredible person who just happens to be good at a sport we love. 

McKenna Nelson Represents A Wave Of Elite Girl Junior Golfers From Wisconsin

Nelson has competed in 21 HJGT events over the last few years, and she has dominated every division she’s played in. She has finished Top-5 in 18 of 21 tournaments and won seven of them. 

A pair of 18-year-old twins out of Kenosha, Wisconsin, recently competed in our Chicagoland Junior Open at Pine Meadow in Mundelein, Illinois, during the weekend of May 4-5, 2024. Kylie and Katelyn Walker both attend Westosha Central High School, where they won two state titles and came up just shy of winning a third-straight in 2023. 

Kylie Walker won the Girls 16-18 division, while her sister Katelyn finished seventh. The twins have an interesting story themselves. They seem to be spitting images of one another; however, one happens to be left-handed, while the other is right-handed. Despite getting interest from several Division-I universities like Drake, Creighton and Cincinnati, both twins have verbally agreed to play golf at Division-II Ferris State University in Michigan. They both want to study to become pharmacists, which is a particularly difficult major to pursue with a rigorous D-I athletic schedule. After various conversations with coaches, they determined that Ferris State was the place for them to continue their love for golf, while putting an emphasis on their academics at the same time. 

Meanwhile, 18-year-old Treva Dodd attends IMG Academy in Florida, where she has put together quite an impressive resume. She is originally out of Brookfield, Wisconsin, and has competed in three HJGT tournaments this season, finishing in the top-5 each time, including a runner-up finish at the Fort Myers Junior Open at Verandah last weekend. Dodd has committed to play college golf at Butler University in Indiana. 

Fellow Brookfield, WI native Payton Haugen is also putting together quite the resume. The 16-year-old has competed in five Hurricane Tour events in 2024 so far. She’s finished in the top-3 four times, with three wins in the Girls 14-18 division. She kicked off the year with a first-place finish at the 2024 Hurricane Cup in January. Last weekend, she finished runner-up at the Chicagoland Junior Open, just one stroke behind the afore-mentioned Kylie Walker. 

Last but not least, 13-year-old Aubrey Molaison is dominating her division on the Hurricane Tour this season. The Waukesha, WI native has competed in four HJGT events in 2024, finishing top-3 three times and winning twice. Most recently, she claimed the top spot at the Major Championship at Bunker Hill during the weekend of April 26-27. 


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