May 17, 2016
By Brad Muller | More Features
It’s a challenge for parents of college golf student-athletes to see their children compete when tournaments are played primarily on weekdays. For the parents of South Carolina women’s golf student-athletes Katelyn Dambaugh and Sarah Schmelzel, the sacrifices they make to attend as many tournaments as possible is more than worth it.
“Planning in advance always helps,” said Schmelzel’s mother Amy, who along with her husband, Dennis, frequently makes cross country trips from their home in Phoenix, Ariz. “We’ve enjoyed it. We have seen other parts of the country we wouldn’t have seen otherwise. We just love watching the girls play. Golf has been a significant part of Sarah’s life for a very long time. It’s a part of her future plans. It’s important for all parents to support their children as young adults as they get ready to move on to the next phase of their life. We just love watching her doing what she enjoys and getting to know the other members of the team as well.”
“It’s what I save my leave for,” said Dambaugh’s mother, Cindy, who lives in Goose Creek, S.C. with her husband, Eric.
“It’s tough,” added Eric Dambaugh. “It gets expensive. I’m in a job that requires me to be here 10 to 12 hours per day, so leaving on a more regular basis would not be good for my job security. I’ve made maybe half of the tournaments this spring. Cindy has made all but the tournament in Tucson (Ariz.).”
The Gamecocks have certainly made for some enjoyable trips. Junior Katelyn Dambaugh earned First Team All-SEC honors this spring, and her 71.60 stroke average this season is not only on pace to break the program record, but it also ranks second nationally. She is the current career average scoring leader in program history, and she won her first career individual title at the 2016 NCAA Baton Rouge Regional.
“My mom and my uncle were there,” Dambaugh said. “Unfortunately, my dad couldn’t get off work. I knew it would have meant a lot to him. It really meant a lot to have my mom and uncle there though.”
“For a little while there, I thought she was going to be the best college golfer to never win a tournament,” Cindy Dambaugh joked. “I believe in her that every time she steps on the course, she has the ability to go low and win everything she plays. It was pretty amazing to be there and see it. I told my husband that she has had three hole in ones that I never saw, so I’ll take seeing this win for you getting to see all those hole in ones. It was pretty unbelievable.”
Senior Sarah Schmelzel ranks fourth in program history in scoring average and won her first medalist honors in the final regular-season tournament of her career at the Bryan National Collegiate Tournament in Greensboro, N.C.
“My dad was there,” Schmelzel said. “That was really cool. I hadn’t won anything since my junior or senior year of high school. It was one of the coolest experiences to be able to share that with him. It was a picture-perfect moment.”
They have been a home away from home and a family away from family for her. We will never be able to thank them enough for what they have done for our daughter.
“The last day we are walking along, and I don’t really pay attention much to the score,” Dennis Schmelzel recalled. “I’m usually just observing and looking at the swing. So then my friend shows me she is leading the tournament. I had no idea. As it turned out, she played well down the stretch and got the victory. She works really hard at her game, and I was really happy to get the chance to share that time with her.
“I had told my wife before we left that I had a funny feeling about this tournament. As a freshman, she played the same course really well and finished second. I think we have always tried to approach this thing thinking that she wins a lot of tournaments even if she doesn’t finish first.”
“It’s been really fun to watch the team when they realize they are advancing from (NCAA) regionals to nationals, which has happened every year that Sarah has been there,” said Amy Schmelzel. “I remember recently, she had a really long, great putt on the 17th hole. She was really excited to make that birdie. That was a lot fun.”
While the fathers helped teach their daughters the game at a young age, they know they have to be supportive, yet reserved, spectators as they walk alongside them in tournaments.
“My first encounter was at the SECs during her first year,” Dennis Schmelzel said. “She was struggling a little bit with her swing. I helped a little bit, but a coach from another school said that I couldn’t do that. I didn’t know, so we learned to just stay away. So now it’s all about the utilization of what John Wooden would call ‘the kind word.’ Recently at LSU, she was struggling on day one. So when she walked by, I asked her if she was ever going to smile. I told her that she needs to show people how much she loves to play. I told her she needed to go out and have fun and smile. Those are the types of things we can do out there.”
“My dad is always the one to crack a joke,” Sarah Schmelzel said. “We have a good banter back and forth. With my mom, she is really calm.”
“She knows we’re there,” Eric Dambaugh said. “We walk right beside her. We always tell her ‘good luck’ and give her a hug before she starts her round. We really can’t talk with her in the middle of a round. So we’ll give a thumbs up and applaud a little bit. She gets the picture.”
“It means a lot to me to see how much they support me,” Katelyn Dambaugh said. “It’s great because I don’t get to see them that much during the year. Our coach gives us a parent’s night one night during the tournaments where we get to go out with them and eat with them or do whatever we want with our family.”
While traveling for tournaments isn’t always easy, both sets of parents are glad their daughters chose to take their talents to the University of South Carolina.
“(Head Coach) Kalen (Anderson) and (Associate Head Coach) Puggy (Blackmon) have really helped out Katelyn a whole bunch,” said Eric Dambaugh. “We wouldn’t change anything. They have been a home away from home and a family away from family for her. We will never be able to thank them enough for what they have done for our daughter."
“It’s been like a big family,” said Amy Schmelzel. “The coaches have been very supportive of Sarah and the whole team. They’ve been a big part of their development through their college years. It’s a wonderful opportunity for the student-athletes, and it’s a great experience for the families as well. We will miss everybody, and we will be watching the Gamecocks in years to come.”
“We feel like we are part of the family there even though we didn’t go to school there,” said Dennis Schmelzel. “It’s really been a great ride for us. The coaches have been fantastic, the program is great, and the education my daughter has received there has been second to none. It has set her on a course to be very successful in life, I believe.”
Both sets of parents have already made plans to head out to Eugene, Ore., for the 2016 NCAA Championships.
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