I’m still in shock. I still expect to wake up from a dream. —Kelsey Chugg
SALT LAKE CITY — A couple of years ago, I had the privilege of playing with the best woman golfer in Utah at Alpine Country Club in a media event prior to the Men’s State Amateur.
That summer morning, Kelsey Chugg showed up without her golf shoes because she simply forgot to put them in the trunk of her car. She went in the golf shop to purchase some shoes, but, after a few minutes, she took them back because they didn’t feel right.
So what did she do? What else, she played in her bare feet.
At first, she was a bit shaky, spraying some of her drives and not exactly playing like a three-time State Amateur champion. But she gradually settled down and started hitting crisp shots and sinking putts. She certainly kicked the butts of everyone in her foursome that day, despite going barefoot.
This past week in Houston, the 26-year-old former Weber State golfer did something similar at the Women’s Mid-Amateur Golf Championship at the Champions Golf Club where she beat the best women amateurs in the world over the age of 25.
No, she didn’t play in bare feet. But she started off the tournament shakily and gained steam until she was holding the championship trophy a few days later.
Chugg struggled with an opening-round 85 that put her in front of a handful of others in the 132-golfer field. She needed a great round the next day to make it into the 64-golfer match play and got it with an even-par 72.
Being the No. 50 seed wasn’t daunting to her in the least. She’s always been an excellent match-play golfer as she’s proved by winning four Utah Women’s State Am victories in the past six years, including this past August at Davis Park Golf Course.
She methodically went about her business, easily winning her first match 6 and 5 (six holes up with five to play) over the No. 15 seed, and following it up with a 4 and 2 win. Next up was 2015 champ Lauren Greenlief, one of the co-medalists and No. 2 seed, and Chugg dispatched her 3 and 2.
Chugg won her quarterfinal match handily 6 and 4, and then she faced another one of the co-medalists, Melissa Mar of San Francisco. She won that match 3 and 1, setting up a final match against Mary Jane Hiestand of Florida.
Wearing her customary light purple shirt (for Weber State) and white shorts like she had in the finals of her Utah Am victory in August, Chugg came back from an early deficit to win 3 and 1, meaning none of her six matches ever made it to the final hole.
“I’m still in shock,” she said this weekend from her home in Salt Lake City. “I still expect to wake up from a dream.”
Chugg works as the membership director for the Utah Golf Association and is as nice a person as you’ll ever want to meet, so her big accomplishment was very popular back home. When she returned to Salt Lake City Thursday night, Chugg was greeted by a large contingent of friends and family at the airport, holding signs that read, “Chuggernaut” and “U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur Champion” along with chants of “Chugg, Chugg, Chugg,” all of which brought her to tears.
“I had no idea,” she said about her reception at the airport. “That was almost as cool as winning the tournament.”
With her victory, Chugg became the just fifth golfer from Utah to win a USGA championship.
George Von Elm was the first as he won the U.S. Amateur in 1926 over the legendary Bobby Jones. Scott Hailes won the U.S. Junior Amateur in 1995, Annie Thurman was the U.S. Women’s Public Links champ in 2002, and Clay Ogden won the U.S. Men’s Public Links in 2005
After winning the State Am last summer, Chugg said, her goals were to qualify for the Women’s Mid-Amateur and eventually the LPGA Tour.
She accomplished the first and greatly exceeded it by winning the Mid-Am. Now she gets a chance to play in the U.S. Women’s Open next summer, which she calls “a lifelong dream.”
Knowing Kelsey, I have little doubt that she has what it takes to make it on the LPGA Tour someday. Especially if she keeps wearing her golf shoes.