Media Profile: Golf is more than a game for this ambitious young television reporter. In fact, it’s won her quite a few accomplishments outside the newsroom.
Kelsie Passolt loves her work as a broadcast journalist. About the only thing she loves more is the game of golf. While most viewers recognize her as a reporter and news anchor for Rockford’s 13 WREX, few know much about her golfing talents, and she’s quick to deflect any talk about her success on the course. But the numbers don’t lie; she’s good.
In high school, the Hayward, Wis., native was a four-time regional champion, letter winner, team captain and team most valuable player. She won 61 of 64 tournaments. She finished third at the Wisconsin state meet as a freshman, and she earned All-State honors as a sophomore, junior and senior, before getting a full scholarship to play golf at Northern Illinois University (NIU).
“Golf is a game in which you can never settle,” Passolt says. “You can always improve your game. You have to grind and make adjustments. You can play your game, but if your driver stinks, you have to rely on another club that day. That’s the challenge I’ve always enjoyed. And I thrive on competition.”
While most golfers can only dream of getting a hole-in-one, Passolt has five. Not too shabby for someone who just turned 24. Away from the glare of TV lights, she’s relaxed and surprisingly animated, especially when she struggles to recall all five of her aces. “I know I’m going to botch this up,” she says, laughing. “I know the first one was during a summer tournament, when I was in high school. I used my favorite club, an eight-iron, on a par 3. I can’t even describe the feeling. It was so cool.”
Passolt was born in Minneapolis but grew up in Hayward, a tourist town of 2,000, where her mother, Rhonda, operates a computer store and her father, John, owns rental property. In the early 2000s, the family owned a golf course, Black Bear Golf & Tennis, in nearby Minong, Wis., where Passolt spent most days playing golf until sunset. She isn’t the only athletic member of her family. Her younger brother, Josh, is an elite hockey player, who attends high school in Minneapolis and will soon move to Canada to pursue a pro career.
Growing up, Passolt stayed plenty busy with school-related activities. She played flute in the school band, served as student council president, participated in the speech club, and was a member of the school’s cross-country ski team. She volunteered for community service groups and was the voice of radio commercials for her mother’s business. “I’ve been a ham my entire life,” she says. In high school, Passolt got her first taste of the news business when she wrote articles for the student newspaper. Her uncle, Jeff Passolt, is a longtime news anchor at a Fox affiliate in Minneapolis, a fact which further fanned the flames of her interest.
Passolt developed a knack for golf from her dad. John saw something in his young daughter and got her started in competitive play at an early age. She won her first tournament, the Hayward Women’s Open, at age 10.
“With Kelsie, the bigger the venue, the better she plays,” says John. “Most 10-year-old girls wouldn’t have even finished the tournament, but Kelsie played 36 holes in two days. She was always down the middle and never in trouble. When she’s hot, she’s hotter than a pistol. Kelsie has a competitive fire, and she works on her game relentlessly.”
“My dad says when I play in tournaments, my face looks like I’m ready to storm the beaches at Normandy,” Passolt says. “I like that. It shows that I care.”
At first, college golf at NIU was a difficult adjustment for Passolt, who struggled with playing courses that were 1,000 yards longer than the ones she played in high school. “I think I fell into crutches and made excuses, like I was homesick and the courses were too tough,” she says. “As student athletes we had plenty of free time, but I didn’t take it upon myself to practice more. I would love to do it all over again.”
Overall, Passolt’s college experience was a success. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in broadcast journalism, a grade point average of 3.97, and many accolades as a member of the golf team: two-year team captain; a four-time member of the All-American NCAA Division 1 National Golf Scholar Team; Most Valuable Player; and Sports Woman of the Year, among others. “One thing I’m proud of from my college career is that I led in other ways,” she says. “I tried to be an outstanding student, and I was involved in community service. I feel like I was a good representative for the school.”
The feeling is mutual. Last year, when NIU opened the Chessick Practice Center, a new 87,000-square-foot indoor practice facility used by all athletic teams, it unveiled large banners, with one player representing each athletic team, on display for the public to see. Passolt was selected to represent women’s golf. “That was amazing,” she says. “To have a picture of me in that beautiful new facility is quite an honor.”
Passolt interned at 13 WREX during college, which led to a full-time position at the station following graduation. It took her some time to adjust to her new job, but then she settled into it. “I like telling stories that people can relate to,” she says. “I enjoy doing features on people, and I like doing hard news as well. I feel like I’m helping viewers when I report on stories like property tax or downtown construction that’s going to affect your life.”
Passolt approaches her reporting and anchor roles much as she does golf – with meticulous care and a willingness to put in extra effort. “I’m working my butt off to get better,” she says. “I feel like I’m gaining more confidence in my reporting, but I still have a ways to go. My greatest strength is my work ethic. I stay until the work is done.”
Others have noticed both Passolt’s growth and potential in the news business.
“Kelsie already has big-market talent, especially when it comes to writing,” says news director Josh Morgan. “She’s one of our best writers in the newsroom, and it makes a difference in her storytelling. She’s very talented and has a great personality. She’s quiet and focused, but she can flip a switch that you wouldn’t see on the air. Where she really shines is on the golf course. She represents the station at many charity golf events. She’s lively and really has a good time.”
Viewers will see more of Passolt’s bubbly personality now that she’s hosting 13’s golf tips segment. Every week, she demonstrates an on-air tip with assistance from a Rockford Park District golf pro. It’s the perfect scenario for this young journalist. She gets to mesh her love for reporting with her enthusiasm for golf.
For Passolt, it doesn’t get any better than that.