May 9, 2016
By Brad Muller | More Features
It’s no secret that some athletes are superstitious. While he may not be obsessive in certain routines that have nothing do to with his golf game, South Carolina fifth-year senior Sean Kelly isn’t about to change anything while he is striking the ball well and finding the bottom of the cup. Hence the well-groomed mustache he proudly sports and is not likely to shave off any time soon.
“Nobody has mustaches anymore,” Kelly said with his usual jovial grin. “So I thought it would make me stand out. The mustache has been a big part of my success, I believe. Really, I’m not superstitious by nature, but this may change my opinion. I think even if I don’t have a great round, I’m still going to keep it. I’m really enjoying it. It just feels right. Maybe it will land me an endorsement deal later.”
“Golfers are as superstitious as any other lot that is out there,” South Carolina golf coach Bill McDonald said. “Going back to when I played, I had to carry a quarter, a dime, and a nickel, and they always had to be heads up. The quarter had to be my birth date year. If I wasn’t making putts, I’d have to flip it to tails.
“We don’t get a lot of exposure for that, but golfers are really weird about it.”
McDonald has no problem getting the Gamecocks to work hard and to take their craft seriously, but he knows that having fun is all part of the experience, and superstitions or traditions are a part of it as well.
“I’m pretty tough on the kids in some ways,” McDonald said. “When it comes to superstitions, if you can back it up, and it’s within the boundaries of what is acceptable, I’m fine with it.
“Keenan Huskey had his mullet this spring. He was playing great, so I wasn’t going to tell him to cut it, but it looked terrible. Same with Sean. He comes out one morning with that mustache. I told him he looked terrible, and that he looked like Pablo Escobar. But he has played well. I’m not going to tell him to shave it. It’s hilarious to me.”
Styles come and go, and Kelly is the first to admit that his facial fur is more reminiscent of the 1970s or early 1980s, but he doesn’t mind being a trend-setter and notes that a great mustache can look good any time.
“Tom Selleck has an unbelievable mustache,” Kelly said. “My dad had a great mustache when he was in the fire department. Adam Morrison, when he was playing basketball at Gonzaga (2003-2006), had a good one.
“It’s been an incredible month actually. I was at the Canadian Tour Q-school (Qualifying School) and I made it through. I had shaved it into the mustache after the first round and played great ever since then. After that, we had an event in Charleston, and I finished in the top 10. Then I just finished tenth at the SECs a couple of weeks ago. So it’s mustache-mania.”
“That mustache is unbelievable,” senior Will Starke said. “If you know Sean, it just fits him. It looks terrible, but that’s Sean.”
We win, but we don’t take ourselves too seriously. We like to have fun.
Kelly’s tongue-in-cheek sense of humor is as good as his golf game, as well as his soon-to-be-famous “lip rug.” Some superstitions and traditions from the Gamecock golfers are a little more subtle.
“I put a different color line on my ball to mark it,” Starke said. “I never wear the same shoes two days in row. I saw one team that had dyed their hair blonde, which was awful. One team shaved all of their heads, and that looked bad. You better play well if you do that one. I don’t think they did.”
“Some guys say if you have a good round and then go to sleep that night, it’s all changed, and it could be different,” Kelly said. “I would always mark my ball with a shamrock. I’m an Irish guy, so I like to honor my heritage.”
Another team tradition/superstition, known as “Billy Macking,” in which players and coaches won’t look at the camera during group photos was actually started by McDonald. It originated when McDonald was younger and became annoyed posing for family pictures.
“It’s been going on for about 25 years of my life, so whenever I’m at a wedding or something, I’m doing that,” McDonald laughed. “We started doing that at a tournament a couple of years ago, and this lady was trying to take pictures of us, and we all started looking away. She got mad and walked off. We started laughing, so it sort of took off from there.”
“That’s just our personality,” Starke said. “We win, but we don’t take ourselves too seriously. We like to have fun.”
As the postseason approaches, none of Kelly’s teammates have copied him yet, but if his stroke average continues to improve, it is uncertain whether you will see more lip upholstery adorning the Gamecocks on the links.
“I don’t think anyone else can come close to growing that great of a mustache,” Starke said.
“I don’t think they can hang with it,” Kelly chuckled. “You never know. We might get some playoff beards going.”
Kelly, his mustache, and the Gamecocks will be in the NCAA Regional Tournament beginning on May 16.
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