DUPONT, Wash. – Kristen Schelling, of Mesa, Ariz., competed in her eighth and final U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links Championship this week at The Home Course. But while she was defeated, 1-up, in Wednesday’s first round of match play by Robynn Ree, of Redondo Beach, Calif., Schelling said she is grateful just to be competing again after all she has been through.
She underwent double hip surgery in April 2011 for torn labrums in her hip sockets after falling in the shower. The surgery landed her in a wheelchair for four months, followed by additional months of physical rehabilitation.
Then she sustained severe concussions in two different car accidents, enduring additional rehab, and was prescribed anti-seizure medication for her head injuries.
Following surgery, Schelling returned to the University of Nevada, Las Vegas in February 2012, where she completed her undergraduate degree in communications. She didn’t begin working on her golf game again until April and wasn’t able to compete again until that summer – and even then, only at “about 75 percent,” she said.
Schelling, 24, took more time off from golf to attend graduate school last year, where she studied sports management at Indiana University and earned a master’s degree in kinesiology this spring.
But with so much time away from golf, Schelling reset her focus on qualifying for the final WAPL. If her favorite championship was going to be retired by the USGA, she wanted to be in the field.
“I live for this tournament every year and I’m extremely sad to see it go,” she said. “I am a public golfer and I truly believe in the whole spirit of this event.”
Schelling played in her first WAPL at age 13 and has been a familiar face in the championship ever since.
“I played really well this week and I played good golf today, but I just lost to somebody who played a little better,” said Schelling.
“Even though I’m not moving on in the championship, I’m really happy with my performance. This was some of the best golf I’ve played in years.”
One of the things that has been important in Schelling’s return to the game has been to get her body physically healthy and strong again. As a kinesiology student, she learned about how the human body works and what rehab she needed to return to her pre-surgery, pre-accident form.
Now, she begins each day with stretching and mobility exercises. She has also incorporated cross training to strengthen her body.
“It’s an everyday thing for me,” she added. “My doctors told me after the surgery I would have to stay active every day for the rest of my life.”
Schelling has no immediate plans to turn professional, and has signed up to play in next month’s Arizona State Women’s Amateur Championship as well as some Arizona-based Cactus Tour events as an amateur.
She’s also interested in pursuing a job in the sports industry, perhaps some television work. But she’ll continue to work at a local golf course while pursuing her career interests.
“I’m in better shape than I was last year or the year before,” she said. “I had a blast out here this week and I don’t plan to stop playing golf anytime soon.”
Kennesaw’s International Flavor
The roster for the Kennesaw State University women’s golf team looks like a mini United Nations contingent with players from New Zealand, Colombia, Denmark, France, Thailand, England and one American from Georgia.
Two of those players, Kaew Preamchuen, of Thailand and Ines Lescudier, of France, advanced to match play this week.
Lescudier lost a tight battle in 19 holes to Leilanie Kim, while Preamchuen fell, 4 and 3, to Dana Finkelstein. But following their respective matches, the teammates and their Kennesaw coaches – both serving as caddies for their players this week – were able to share in the experience of playing in the WAPL.
“I played pretty consistently, but unfortunately my putts didn’t drop at all,” said Lescudier, 22, a senior and a former member of the French national team. “In match play, sometimes it’s just not your day.”
Added fellow senior Preamchuen, who was competing in her second WAPL: “I shot 1 under, but the other player was just too good today. She made every putt, every birdie.”
Preamchuen followed her sister, Ket, to Kennesaw to play for coach Rhyll Brinsmead, who took over the program eight years ago.
“Recruiting in the South, you’re up against colleges in the SEC, so it’s difficult to get American players,” said Brinsmead, a native of Australia. “Ket was really my first international player, so when she came, it opened up the flood gates and helped improve the program.”
Both Kaew and Ket helped Kennesaw State win its first Atlantic Sun Conference championship two years ago. And for the first time, the school qualified for NCAA regionals. Preamchuen qualified for regionals as an individual this spring.
Brinsmead caddied for Preamchuen, while assistant coach Nick Mackay caddied for Lescudier.
“We can’t carry the bag for them during the [college] year,” said Brinsmead. “It’s great because you see them from a different perspective as their caddie.”
The coaches have encouraged the international players to try to qualify for some of the top championships in the United States. The players know that competition against the top players here will make them better when they return to college golf this fall.
“After this, I know I will be ready for the season,” said Lescudier. “When it comes to golf, there is no better place than the U.S.”
Three University of Washington Huskies are playing on familiar turf at The Home Course this week and the Huskies went a perfect 3-0 in the first round.
No. 2 seed Soobin Kim defeated Marianne Li, 5 and 4, while teammates Eimi Koga and Jennifer Yang posted wins of 3 and 1 and 5 and 4, respectively.
“This is not one of our normal home courses, but I’m very familiar with this type of grass and I grew up on a links-style course, so this does feel like my home course,” said Kim, a rising senior.
Kim said it’s “nice to not have to travel so far” for this year’s WAPL, and it’s also comfortable to have familiar course and weather conditions.
“When you fly to New York, you have to get used to a lot of things,” said Kim, who lives in Vancouver, Canada.
And while she recognizes that there “are many rounds” left, Kim smiled when asked if she felt a home-course advantage this week.
“Yes, I think so,” she said. “It literally feels like home.”
Bob Dwyer, the son of former USGA Executive Committee member Robert F. Dwyer, was a special invited guest for Wednesday night’s WAPL Championship Committee Dinner. The elder Dwyer, who passed away in 1998, donated the WAPL trophy in 1977 when he realized the newly created championship was devoid of hardware. It is called the Robert F. Dwyer Trophy.
The younger Dwyer, who resides in Portland, Ore., made the 2½-hour drive to The Home Course. He, like his father, is a member at Waverly Country Club, which has hosted six USGA championships, including the 1993 U.S. Junior Amateur (Tiger Woods), the 1970 U.S. Amateur (Lanny Wadkins) and the 2000 U.S. Women’s Amateur (Marcy Newton).
“I’m very happy to be here [to represent the family],” said Dwyer, who turns 78 next week. “I’m thankful to the USGA for the invitation.”
Odds and Ends
Kyung Kim, a member of the victorious 2014 USA Curtis Cup Team who missed the match-play cut, suffered a wrist injury during stroke-play qualifying. The Chandler, Ariz., resident will be examined by her doctor this week to determine the extent of the injury. Her status for the upcoming U.S. Women’s Amateur at Nassau C.C. in Glen Cove, N.Y., Aug. 4-10 is unknown … Cindy Ha, who opened the championship with a 5-under 67 for the first-round lead in stroke-play qualifying, holed out a 97-yard shot for an eagle-2 at the par-4 ninth hole. Ha, of Demarest, N.J., rallied for a 2-up win over left-hander Lydia Gumm … Later in the day, Alexis Keating, of Elma, Wash., holed a 103-yard approach shot on No. 15 for an eagle-2. Keating lost in 20 holes to Fumie (Alice) Jo, of the People’s Republic of China … Annie Park wasn’t too distraught over her first-round defeat: “I’ve still got the [U.S.] Women’s Amateur [in two weeks]. I am just saving up the birdies for that.”… Eight of the 32 matches went extra holes … Robynn Ree won her opening-round match, 2 up, over Kristen Schelling, but her older brother, Ryann, lost his first-round match at the U.S. Amateur Public Links in Kansas by the same margin.
Lisa D. Mickey is a Florida-based freelance writer whose work has previously appeared on USGA websites. USGA senior staff writer David Shefter also contributed.