By Beaux Yenchik, UGA Intern
To play in the U.S. Women’s Open would “be the coolest thing ever” and the 2017 U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur winner did just that.
The moment Kelsey Chugg, Utah Golf Association’s membership director, stepped onto the grounds at Shoal Creek Country Club, she knew the week in front of her would be life changing. There she was – facing the course that would be the host to the 73rd playing of this event – taking in the magnitude of the moment. Grandstands stood tall; the course looked immaculate with flawless greens; and entourages followed their respected professional. She had finally made it, and nothing, no matter the outcome, would ruin this once in a lifetime opportunity.
(Kelsey Chugg hitting balls on the range next to LPGA Star, Paula Creamer)
“It was incredible,” Chugg said. “I felt like I was kind of in dreamland."
After attempting to qualify for the U.S. Women’s Open on numerous occasions, Chugg finally fulfilled her lifetime dream of making it to possibly the highest regarded women’s tournament in the world. Upon winning the Mid-Amateur last November, Chugg became the first exempt U.S. Women's Mid-Amateur to make it into the field at Shoal Creek by winning the United States Golf Association’s tournament for women-amateur golfers over the age of 25.
“I’ve played in five or six USGA championships now,” Chugg stated. “Just the scale and the size of the Women’s Open compared to those other USGA championships is unbelievable … I’ve never been to anything compared to that.”
Having no idea how she would fair for the week, the only thing Chugg could do was set realistic expectations for herself – the main one being to make cut.
Having arrived the weekend prior to the start of the tournament, Chugg enjoyed two unofficial practice rounds on the 6,696-yard layout on Saturday and Sunday, May 26-27 – all prior to the massive influx of spectators coming that following Monday morning.
“I was pretty relaxed,” Chugg said. “I felt pretty good those days.”
For 99 percent of the sports fans around the world, the opportunity to interact and socialize with their sporting hero is non-existent. For Chugg, she became part of the 1 percent. Having idolized LPGA Tour star Stacy Lewis for some time now – partially because Chugg’s game is often compared to the Mizuno-sponsored pro – Chugg was given the opportunity to play with Lewis during her second official practice round, the day before the tournament began. (Lewis, following Chugg’s victory at the Mid-Amateur, reached out to congratulate her on her victory via video).
“I was just trying to soak everything up, soak everything in,” she said. “Definitely nervous the first hole playing with [Lewis], but she was really nice.”
Chugg said it was just “real cool to play with her.” Lewis had gone out of her way to help Chugg by giving her tips about how the USGA sets up the tee markers for tournaments. Something Chugg said Lewis did not have to do. (Lewis’ husband, Gerrod Chadwell, was one of Chugg’s golf coaches at Redlands Community College).
(Kelsey Chugg on the 10th tee box at Shoal Creek CC with Stacy Lewis, Karrie Webb and caddies)
Lewis, as well as other tour pros like Karrie Webb, Sarah Jane Smith and Katrina Matthews, wished Chugg good luck and told her to enjoy the experience – words of wisdom Chugg will always try to remember.
“Everyone was really nice and said have a great time,” Chugg said.
Suppressing her nerves on the tee shot, Chugg began her 2018 U.S. Open debut with a piped drive down the middle of the fairway. Chugg, however, would struggle the remaining of her opening round. On a day where she said she “didn’t hit it well and didn’t putt well,” Chugg struggled to gain any momentum on the wet track that was playing unbelievably soft after the downpour of rain earlier in the week.
Following her opening round of 83 (+11), Chugg regrouped with the help of her coach, Lynsey Myers, and played her second round, which was split into play on Friday and Saturday due to rain, at only 4 over par – posting a score of 76. Though Chugg missed the cut by 11 shots by finishing at 15 over par, it was a week she will never forget.
Now having had the time to process her experiences at Shoal Creek CC, nearly a month later, Chugg explained she had learned some very valuable lessons during her time there and they are:
-Practicing too much. For Chugg, as well as most golfers, too many hours are spent at the range and putting/chipping green in attempt to master the swing – constantly setting up each shot to have the perfect lie. No two lies on the golf course are ever the same, so the need to practice more than play is something Chugg wants to change. One can learn better if challenged when opportunities to grow are present, not constant.
-She’s got the game. Upon coming home, it was evident to Chugg that she could keep up with the best players in the world. She can hit the ball as far as most of them, except Ariya Jutanugarn who she said “is a different specimen.” Her ability to hit the shots and make the putts are there. The desire is evident. She practices and plays nearly every day following a full day in the office. Plus, Chugg has a deep love for the game that only few can match.
-She is not alone. In every athlete’s journey, support is needed as difficulty is bound to present itself at multiple occasions. For Chugg, she had Myers on the bag, as well her friend, Alexander. She also had quite the little posse follow her around during her two-round stint – people who had traveled across the country to watch her. The group constantly cheered Chugg no matter the situation she found herself in – yelling things such as, “You got this. Let’s go!” Chugg was also blessed with support from many people back home. She said she received text messages and phone calls from her friends, old college teammates and opponents, and coworkers.
Upon conclusion of her attendance at the U.S. Women’s Open, Chugg was granted the opportunity to participate in the Celebration of Champions – a four-hole scramble held at Shinnecock Hills the week of the U.S. Open.
Chugg was paired with Doc Redman, 2017 U.S. Amateur Champion. The two played their four-hole round at 4 over par.
Describing her experience, Chugg talked about how she had more nerves hitting her first shot at the event than playing in the U.S. Women’s Open. She confirmed what many witnessed via television of the brutality Shinnecock Hills had in its blood.
Chugg jokingly said, “I wouldn’t want to play a tournament here. It would just eat [my] lunch.”
Having said all this, Chugg now faces some difficult decisions that lie ahead. As she has in the past, the choice to go pro looms over her daily thoughts. Having tried before, she is aware of how tough the process can be. Yet, for someone, who may arguably be one of the best if not the best women’s golfer in Utah history, the choice will come when she is ready. With the U.S. Women’s Amateur, U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur, Utah Women’s State Amateur, etc. just around the corner, Chugg is using this year as a reflection period for her future.