June 29, 2016
By Brad Muller | More Features
They're not exactly Oscar and Felix from a Neil Simon play, but South Carolina women's golf coach Kalen Anderson and associate head coach Puggy Blackmon have been called The Odd Couple on occasion. Anderson, a former All-American at Duke and 2015 SEC Coach of the Year, and Blackmon, a member of the Golf Coaches' Association of America Hall of Fame, should more appropriately be called a "power couple" for the work they've done to elevate the Gamecock program.
"I think it's very rare when you are going to find a young head coach that is going to allow an old [coach] like me, to come in and be a part of something," Blackmon said. "I've had so much fun. It rejuvenated my coaching energy."
"He is a partner with me in what we do, but he has also been a major mentor for me in my career," Anderson said. "Other people keep asking for our `formula.' "
The formula has made South Carolina consistently one of the best programs in the country with four NCAA Regional wins since 2010 and a top 8 finish this season.
"It's so much fun because they are so different, but they get along so well," said rising senior Katelyn Dambaugh. "It's just a blast having both of them."
The 37 year old Anderson and 65 year old Blackmon aren't about to change what's working well.
"As long as we are getting better, and Kalen feels like I am a positive for the program, we'll keep doing it," Blackmon said. "It'll be her call. Unless I'm like 75 and can't move. And as long as I don't start losing the van."
"If we have to keep him going in one those little scooters, we can keep him going," Anderson quipped.
When he stepped away from coaching in 2010, the original plan was for Blackmon to stay on board as the Director of Golf for both of the South Carolina golf programs. When a vacancy presented itself for the assistant coach's position with the women's team, Blackmon agreed to help out for what he originally thought would be a temporary gig.
"After that first spring, I had a blast," Blackmon said. "From that point on, I wanted to continue. It's delightful for me, at 65, to enjoy what I'm doing this much. I applaud her for trying it."
"I thought it was great," Anderson added. "His passion for the game and helping young people get better is second to none. That's what struck me first and foremost. He is an incredible teacher and developer. With his knowledge, it was another opportunity for me to grow, too."
The rest is history. Anderson took over the women's program nine years ago and has brought the Gamecocks to the NCAA Championships seven straight years.
"Kalen knows how to keep us focused," Dambaugh said. "Puggy is a really big jokester. He keeps it fun and entertaining for all of us. They have everything we need to help us get to the next level."
Blackmon was already a member of the Golf Coaches' Association of America Hall of Fame for his remarkable work as the men's golf coach at South Carolina (1995-2007) and Georgia Tech (1983-95). After stepping down as the men's head coach of the Gamecocks, Blackmon embraced his new role.
"After being with the women's program for the last seven years, and going to three LPGA majors last year, it suddenly struck me that the women are playing the game that the guys played when I coached the men 10 or 15 years ago," Blackmon said. "That's why Westchester and places like Sahalee and all of these courses that were great men's major courses are now perfect for the women because of the distance. Women are hitting the ball about as far as the guys were with persimmon clubs. So it's really been easy for me to transition over. In fact I think it's been easier to transition to the women's game than it would have been to continue with the guys."
I think Kalen is the best in the country. I think our personalities work well together, and it just meshes well.
While Anderson was glad to have an assistant coach with such great credentials, she didn't feel intimidated about having Blackmon on staff.
"In terms of being threatened by having him there, absolutely not," Anderson said. "My feeling on it was that he wanted to take more of a back seat position to it, and I think we figured out that we both have our strengths and passions in terms of what we do with the team and recruiting and other things. They really balance each other out."
"I'm a little bit impulsive," Blackmon said. "There are sometimes when I get going a little too fast, and I have to tell myself to back off, but it's never really been a problem. I think we have a consistent plan now."
The two coaches have developed a chemistry where ideas can be shared without feeling like they are stepping on the other's toes.
"I don't think we've ever said `I disagree with what you are doing,' " Blackmon said. "The beauty is, Kalen will ask what I think about something. Then I tell her. Then she will make the decision. I think Kalen is the best in the country. I think our personalities work well together, and it just meshes well."
"He has always given me the space to grow as a head coach and have that responsibility to make decisions," Anderson said. "He has never impeded on that, which is something I really respect."
The coaches may be from two different generations, but they both have enjoyed the opportunity to learn from each other to make the program better.
"Most of what I have learned from him is on the developmental side," Anderson said. "His ability to teach the mental game has been huge for us. I've learned a wealth of knowledge from him. His strengths are his experience and ability as an instructor. He knows a golf swing."
"I learn something every day," Blackmon said. "It's mutual. We have both learned over a period of time to sort of downplay the importance of the competition and understand that working extremely hard in the preparation is what it is all about. I enjoy watching her go out of character sometimes to loosen these kids up."
Competing for national championships, developing players and preparing student-athletes to play professionally are consistent hallmarks of the South Carolina women's golf program. Although Blackmon is no longer "driving the train" as a head coach, he's not above driving the team van on road trips.
"He won't let me drive, which is fine because I like to sleep." Anderson said.
"I've heard all the movies that the girls play in the back, but I've never seen them," Blackmon said. "I can recite every line to Pitch Perfect, but I've never seen it. I'm really enjoying this."
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