Four years ago Kelly Hellman didn’t know a putter from a five-iron.
Her mother Colleen brought home a set of clubs that belonged to Kelly’s grandfather, and decided to sign up for mother-daughter golf lessons.
The sport didn’t make a great first impression on Hellman.
“Initially I didn’t really want to golf,” she said. “I didn’t know anything about it. Then after a couple lessons I was like, ‘oh wow, I love this.’ From there it just never stopped.”
Golf has become an obsession for Hellman. The 17-year-old plays at Granite Pointe and flies to Surrey for training.
A busy schedule stuffed into a short time period paid off this fall with a rare offer from the University of British Columbia — four years of tuition fully paid and a spot on the school’s golf team.
Hellman, who is currently in Grade 12 at L.V. Rogers, won the Louane Holmes Rose Bowl at BC Golf’s Zone 1 Women’s Championship in June.
But it was her performance at the Canadian Junior Girls Championship, held in Shubenacadie, N.S., in August, that put her on UBC’s radar. Hellman made the cut and finished 29-over 317, good for 42nd place out of over 100 athletes.
“I think my mental game is pretty strong,” said Hellman. “I stay pretty focused. My decision making on the golf course is pretty good, I think that’s my main strength over people I compete against.”
Hellman had only been playing just a year when she started training with Matt Palsenbarg in Surrey.
Palsenbarg, the co-founder of Tour Performance Lab, doesn’t think his protégée’s quick rise is all that surprising given her dedication to golf.
“She just puts in more time,” said Palsenbarg. “She has to work harder, I think she feels she does because she’s from Nelson. She flies in, we get work done. She has to work a lot harder to come see me.
“She’s definitely gone about it in a pretty dedicated way in an almost unsocial environment because she has no peers to practise or work hard with, so she’s kind of doing it on her own in a lot of ways.”
Hellman won’t be on her own anymore next fall. UBC has had a golf program since 1927, and it’s an exclusive one — just 10 women and 10 men are invited to the team.
The Thunderbirds compete in the NAIA, which includes 246 member institutions. That means Hellman will compete in 10 to 12 tournaments in the United States each year as well as Canadian University/College Championship.
UBC has won the NAIA championship four times, the second most of any school since it was first held in 1995, and coach Chris MacDonald is excited to see Hellman’s game develop in the program.
“I think she’s in a really good position to be a really outstanding player,” said MacDonald. “She’s someone who hits the ball hard. She’s a really good athlete, she’s really committed to her golf. While she’s a little bit late to the game, she’s very determined to get to a really high place in the amateur world and who knows where it will go from there.”
That determination sometimes works against Hellman.
Going from beginner to varsity athlete in four years takes ambition. Hellman’s progress is only slowed by her frustration that she isn’t yet playing at the level she wants to reach.
“Sometimes I get ahead of myself and I’m always pushing forward, pushing forward, pushing forward,” she said.
“I’ll start complaining to my mom about something and she’ll be like, ‘Kelly, you’ve only been playing for four years.’ I’m like, oh, I guess so. I have a perfectionist personality. I keep thinking, ‘oh, I should be better.’
“I guess I just keep getting better without really realizing that it’s been a short amount of time. I’m always going forward and I never really pay attention too much I guess.”