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USGA Mid-Amateur champion Kelsey Chugg: A story of persistence

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It was February 2009, and I was sitting at my desk at the University of Kentucky, browsing through incoming emails. My modus operandi at the time centered around finding and critiquing recruits’ technique, often labeling them with the simple term “LOFT: Lack of F-ing Talent,” and sending a form letter back saying we had filled our spots. Sad, but true.

About eight emails into one of these sessions, I came to a rambling soliloquy from a girl in Arizona who was supposed to go somewhere, but her plans had changed. Yadda, yadda, yadda… where’s the video? Scrolling down I came to a YouTube link, clicked and…wait, what?! This girl was good. No, not correct. This young lady had one of the best golf swings I had ever seen; it was dynamic, athletic and powerful. I was impressed (which rarely happened) and started to scramble through the email trying to figure out the story of this girl… one Kelsey Chugg from Arizona.

I found a phone number, quickly dialed and started to find out the back story, which basically involved a kid from a tough family life who fell in love with golf and was set on playing at a local community college. Unfortunately, the deal fell apart and now desperate, she was trying to find an option. About 20 minutes into the conversation it was obvious; Kelsey was a great kid, loved golf and deserved a lot of help.

When there was a break in the back story, I explained that I had good news and bad news. The bad news was that at the University of Kentucky for the following year, we had allotted all of our scholarships and would not be in a financial situation to make an offer. However, I did think I had some options for her. “What do you think of Oklahoma?” I asked. Really long silence. Hmm, maybe she didn’t hear me. As I went to ask again, Kelsey responds with something to the effect of, “I would appreciate any help you would give me.”

The next year, Kelsey enrolled in Redlands Community College. No, Redlands is not in California, it’s in El Reno, Oklahoma. Home to a little more than 18,000 people, it has a prison, a Walmart, a manmade lake, a couple stop lights, a terrible golf course and the nastiest weather for golf ever from middle of November to middle of April. Despite the hardships, the team had a unique kinship and was led by Gerrod Chadwell, a dynamic local with a strong teaching background. It wasn’t Stanford, but Kelsey was grateful for the opportunity and worked really hard.

“I probably wouldn’t have been able to attend school without Gerrod giving me a chance. My family wanted me to go to college, but financially it wasn’t possible for me to attend without the opportunity at Redlands. My time in El Reno was beneficial because I learned how to play in tough conditions. I never had experienced wind like it blows there and I had to learn to be creative with my club choices,” says Chugg when reflecting about her experience.

Upon finishing at Redlands, Kelsey enrolled at Division 1 Weber State to finish her last two years under Coach Jeffery Smith. Weber was an ideal choice for Kelsey because it was close to her grandparents, who became a stabilizing force in her life during college by always providing encouragement and support.

After college, Kelsey continued with golf and eventually went on to win four Utah State Amateurs. Pretty good, eh? At this point, you may be wondering about this story. You may think Kelsey seems great, but what’s the big deal? Here’s your answer: recently, Kelsey Chugg, in her first USGA mid-amateur appearance, won and earned an exemption into 2018 U.S. Women’s Open.

Upon winning, at the press conference, she was asked about her plans for the U.S. Open and expressed her dream to play with her idol; Stacy Lewis. Soon after, Kelsey received a video message from Stacy congratulating her. Here is that message:

Funny enough, Stacy happens to be the wife of Kelsey’s college coach, Gerrod Chadwell!

So cool! However, to me the coolest thing about the story is Kelsey; a blue-collar kid who loved golf enough to follow it down a path which included El Reno, Oklahoma, and Utah because she simply loved the game. For her to be a USGA champion is simply an amazing story and I am so proud to know her and get the opportunity to share it with you. Keep dreaming big and happy golfing friends!

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Brendan Ryan is a golf researcher, writer, coach and entrepreneur. Golf has given him so much in his life -- a career, amazing travels, great experiences and an eclectic group of friends -- and he's excited to share his unique experience through his writing on GolfWRX. He hopes you enjoy!

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1 Comment

  1. NevinW

    Dec 20, 2017 at 2:48 pm

    Very good story.

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Paul Wood, VP of Engineering at Ping, joins our 19th Hole to discuss the new G400 Max driver, which the company calls the “straightest driver ever.” Also, listen for a special discount code on a new laser rangefinder.

Listen to this episode on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes.

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WATCH: How to Pull a Shaft from a Composite Club Head

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Composite club heads are increasing in popularity with golfers thanks to their technological and material advantages. For that reason, it’s important to know how to pull shafts from composite club heads without damaging them. This video is a quick step-by-step guide that explains how to safely pull a shaft from a composite club head.

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10 Years Later: Why the assistant coach has made college golf better

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It’s been 10 years since the NCCA Legislation began allowing assistant golf coaches to perform on-course coaching in college events. Today, 94 percent of the top-100 men’s golf teams have assistant coaches, and the coaching pool is stronger than ever, with individuals such as Jean Paul Hebert (Texas), Jake Amos (South Carolina), Ryan Jamieson (Florida), Robert Duck (Florida State), Donnie Darr (Oklahoma State), John Mills (Kent State), Garrett Runion (LSU), Zach Barlow (Illinois), Bob Heinz (Duke), and 2017 Assistant Coach of the Year from Baylor, Ryan Blagg. The list includes a guy with 20+ PGA Tour experience (Bob Heinz), several former college standouts and some National Championship wins (Jean Paul Hebert – 1, Runion – 2, Amos – 2).

In the 10 years since the expanded role of the assistant golf coach, the National Championship has still been dominated by major conference schools, with only three non-major conference schools earning a spot in match play (Kent State 2012, and Augusta State in 2010, 2011). Of course, Augusta State went on to win both of its appearances in match play, earning back-to-back national championships under Coach Josh Gregory.

One of best examples of the success of assistant golf coaches is Chris Malloy at Ole Miss. Malloy, a graduate of Ole Miss, began his coaching career as the women’s assistant golf coach at Florida State. Shortly after, he was working with both programs and had an immediate impact, which included helping the men win their first ever ACC championship. Shortly after, Chris took over as the men’s golf coach at University of South Florida, transforming the team into a National Contender and a top-30 ranking. Today, at Ole Miss, Chris has done the same thing, transforming a team and a culture in three years, earning a spot in the 2017 NCAA National Championship at Rich Harvest Farms.

Another great example is Sooner coach Ryan Hybl, who in 2017 lead his team to the NCAA National Championship. Hybl, an outstanding player at Georgia, then was an assistant with the program from 2005-2009. The system continues to work as three notable assistants made moves this summer; Jim Garden from OU to Coastal Carolina, John Handrigan from UF to Notre Dame and Dusty Smith from Vanderbilt to Mississippi State.

Although to date, mid-major teams have not fared consistently on the national level. The system of assistant coaches has proven to be an excellent tool in broadening the pool of candidates. Last year’s National Championship featured six mid-major schools with half being wily veterans, and half being a product of the assistant coach route; Michael Beard of Pepperdine served as the assistant at Arizona State; Bryce Waller of University of Central Florida served as the assistant at the University of Tennessee; Bryant Odem of Kennesaw State served as the assistant at the University of Wisconsin. It will also feature teams like Oklahoma State, Baylor, Virginia, Oklahoma, Vanderbilt, Ole Miss and Purdue, which have coaches who have benefited from their experience as assistant coaches in their roles with these programs.

Practice Facility at the University of Central Florida

Practice Facility at the University of Central Florida

The pool of candidates for coaching positions today is deeper than ever. Athletic Directors are blessed to be able to interview several good candidates for almost each job. The result for the players are fully engaged coaches who bring passion and desire to improve each of their programs.

Bowen Sargent, the current head coach at University of Virginia and former assistant coach at the University of Tennessee under Jim Kelson, started coaching when the rules only allowed one coach. In the 10 years since the rule change, Bowen believes “it’s a positive change for sure. Having two coaches allows for a better student-athlete experience and for them to have more access to their coaches.”

Coach Bowen Sargent of UVA, along with former players Denny McCarthy and Derek Bard at the US Open

Coach Bowen Sargent of UVA, along with former players Denny McCarthy and Derek Bard at the U.S. Open

The diversity among coaches is also greater. Today’s juniors have the option to play for a skillful player such as a Mike Small at Illinois or Casey Martin at Oregon, or Doug Martin at Cincinnati, or even a world class instructor like Bryce Waller at UCF, Ben Pellicani at Limpscomb or Casey Van Dame at South Dakota State. Waller, an excellent instructor himself, has lead UCF to three National Championship appearance in 7 years. Likewise, Ben, a Golf Digest top-40 under-40 instructor who spent several years learning from Mike Bender has been instrumental in transforming Limpscomb into a national contender, participating in their first ever National Championship in 2017. Lastly, Casey who spent several years under Jim Mclean, then as the assistant at University of Tennessee, has transformed South Dakota State Men’s and Women’s Golf, with both teams currently ranked in the top-100 in the country.

Ben Pellicanni of Limpscomb University helping to read a putt

Ben Pellicanni of Limpscomb University helping to read a putt

Athletic Directors are also starting to put more funding towards golf resources. The result has been an explosion of golf-specific training facilities across the scope of college golf. Many mid-major schools have top-notch practice facilities, including places such as University of North Texas, University of Richmond, University of Central Arkansas and Illinois State to name a few.

Golf facility at the University of Central Arkansas

Golf facility at the University of Central Arkansas

The tremendous pool of coaching candidates has also benefited other levels of golf. For example, 2014 Assistant Coach of the Year Chris Hill is now the head men’s and women’s golf coach at Concordia University, a Division 3 School near Austin, Texas. In his two years as coach, he has already lead the program to seven tournament titles.

As time passed, I believe that we will see a change at the NCAA Championship and it will include a growing trend towards mid-major universities not only earning spots at the National Championships, but having success like Augusta State. The person at the head of one of those programs is likely to have come from the assistant coach ranks and should be thankful for the rule change, which lead to these opportunities.

Please note: As of writing this article, only 6 men’s teams in D1 do not have assistant coaches. They are UTEP (51), McNeese (84), Nevada (88), Richmond (89), Cincinnati (92) and Tennessee at Chattanooga (96).

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