March 26, 2015
By Brad Muller | More Features
Standing over a putt from ten feet away on the final hole with the tournament on the line isn't something that is likely to phase Sean Kelly. The redshirt junior on South Carolina's golf team is an honor roll student, a former competitive snow ski racer, has overcome an injury that caused him to miss a full year of competition and has been living with Type 1 diabetes since age five, but he doesn't allow that condition to define him.
"It's not about being known as the golfer who is a diabetic," Kelly said. "I'd like to use it for all the positive that I can. If I can help somebody that is struggling with it, then that's great. It doesn't make me uncomfortable to talk about it."
Originally from Staten Island, New York, Kelly moved to Florida when he was 15 to attend the David Leadbetter Golf Academy and was recruited to play at South Carolina. While he enjoys living in the South, there is still a lot of home in him.
"The weather is great and there is a lot of great golf here," Kelly said. "Saturdays during football season are a lot of fun here in Columbia too. I like to think of it as a gradual transition to living in the South. Florida is sort of the South, but not really. I'm a really proud New Yorker. I love telling people about that. Staten Island isn't like Manhattan, but there is always something going on. I still haven't said `y'all' once, but the people are really nice here, so it's great."
Type 1 diabetes is a chronic condition in which the pancreas produces little or no insulin. As a result, Kelly must constantly monitor his blood sugar.
"It's just something you have to deal with," Kelly said. "There are a lot of worse things out there. With the research nowadays, it's not so bad for me. I monitor my blood sugar five or six teams each day. I do a finger prick to check it. Whenever I eat, I have to monitor my level and try to keep my blood sugar stable. I stay away from real sugary stuff like soda and desserts."
Kelly spent much of his life using an insulin pump, but now he takes insulin injections when needed. Being out on the golf course for several hours at a time, Kelly must not only stay focused on his game, he also has to pay attention to his body.
"I'll check my blood sugar every few holes," Kelly said. "If it's really hot, your blood sugar can swing very quickly. Your blood sugar can go from 150 to 60 in 20 minutes, so you just have to stay on top of it. It's never gotten where I felt like I would pass out on the golf course. I always make sure I have Gatorade around and that sort of thing. If you don't pay attention, you can start to shake or have blurred vision. You can have trouble focusing. It's a weird feeling. I haven't had a really bad episode since I was very young, so I try to maintain it pretty well."
When I was very young, I wanted to be an Olympic skier, but as I progressed, I felt that there would be fewer knee injuries in golf. I thought there might be a better future with that. I had some pretty gnarly crashes skiing, but I walked away from all of them, fortunately.
Kelly also maintains a great work ethic in the classroom and has been named to the SEC Academic Honor Roll every year since coming to South Carolina. Golf is somewhat unique in intercollegiate athletics as there is a fall season and a spring season.
"Missing class is tough with all the travel," Kelly said. "We play a lot of Monday and Tuesday events. Time management is very important. Growing up, I was always pretty studious."
This certainly makes his parents proud, and there is definitely reciprocity there as Kelly's father, Tim, attends most of South Carolina's tournaments and serves as his role model.
"He's the best guy I know," Kelly said. "He was a fireman in New York. He retired just before 9/11, but he responded during the second search and rescue. After the initial response, they had lost so many firefighters, they rounded up a lot of the retirees and off-duty guys and they went in to do search and rescue. I was really young when that happened. He has a lot of stories. If you ask my team, they'll tell you I have a whole wardrobe that's either fire department, Yankees, or New York Rangers shirts."
When he's not playing golf, Kelly likes to head to the ice rink in nearby Irmo to play hockey, but it was another winter sport that was his passion early in his life.
"I used to skate all the time because it was good cross-training for ski racing," Kelly said. "I first got on skis when I was four years old. I was on the race team when I was five, and I did that until I was 15. My dad got me into that. That was a really fun experience. When I was very young, I wanted to be an Olympic skier, but as I progressed, I felt that there would be fewer knee injuries in golf. I thought there might be a better future with that. I had some pretty gnarly crashes skiing, but I walked away from all of them, fortunately."
While his golf coaches are probably pleased that he doesn't frequent the slopes right now, it was a golf-related injury that kept him out of competition last year.
"We were playing at the NCAA regional in Ohio during my sophomore year," Kelly recalled. "I picked up my club and out of the blue, I had this sharp pain in my wrist. I never had anything like that before. They treated it for a few months, and I had an MRI that didn't show anything. I went to a specialist, and they did some exploratory surgery and found I had a torn ligament."
After rehabilitating last year, it took a while for Kelly get back into the swing of things.
"It affected my game a pretty significant amount," Kelly said. "I'm just getting back to where I'm really comfortable and trusting everything and not expecting pain when I hit the ball. I'm a good ball striker. I always hit a lot of fairways and greens. I need to improve some of my short game, like chipping."
So far, so good for his 2014-2015 season. Kelly has played in seven tournaments for the Gamecocks this year with a 72.43 stroke average with four top twenty finishes, including one top ten finish. The Gamecocks are ranked in the top ten in the nation and at one point this year had won three consecutive tournaments.
"We want to win a national championship," Kelly said. "I know we have the talent, and I think we have the chemistry to do it this year. We have a great time. Our coaches are a lot of fun. We're serious when we need to be, and it's fun when it should be. It's a relaxed environment. We just try to get it done every week."
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