July 19, 2017
By Brad Muller | More Features
Image courtesy of LPGA
With the great history of the South Carolina women's golf program, Katelyn Dambaugh certainly deserves to be mentioned among the best to have ever played. After graduating in May, the No. 5 ranked amateur in the world immediately started her professional career on the Symetra Tour, and with five tournaments under her belt, she is learning quickly about how to transition from student-athlete to professional life.
"It's hard doing all the traveling and driving around the country by yourself, and you don't have your coaches or your team to keep you company" Dambaugh said. "It is really exciting, and I'm looking forward to the rest of the season. It's a work in progress. It's going to get better as I go. I feel like I'm real close to breaking through. Patience is what I have to focus on."
Dambaugh earned a spot on the Symetra Tour after a good showing at the 2016 LPGA Qualifying Tournament last October. The Symetra Tour is the official development tour for the LPGA, with membership open to professional women's golfers and qualified amateurs. A four-time All-American, Dambaugh rewrote South Carolina's record book as the Goose Creek, S.C., native owns the program's lowest career stroke average (72.67) and holds the best 18- and 54-hole marks in school history. Those numbers didn't mean she would automatically shine as a professional as Dambaugh didn't make the cut at her first tournament in early June at the Fuccillo Kia Classic of New York.
"That was all mental for me," Dambaugh said. "I wasn't playing terrible. At one point I was one shot off the lead in the first round. They have leaderboards, and I didn't know where I was. Then I looked and saw the leaderboard and saw I was up near the top. I started thinking `is this really happening?' I got ahead of myself and got real nervous. But I learned from that. You keep learning every week.
"It's a lot different here. It's was hard to get adjusted because I went straight from NCAA Nationals right to my first pro event. I didn't really have too much time to adjust to move into it slowly. The more I keep playing, the more I'll start feeling comfortable. I'm already starting to feel a little more comfortable now."
To be able to provide for yourself, you have to play well. In the end, it's all just golf, and if you think that, you'll be better off.
Dambaugh finished tied for 15th a week later at the Four Winds Invitational in Indiana, and cracked the top ten and was tied for eighth at the Decatur-Forsyth Classic in Georgia thanks to a second round six-under 66 the week after that. She recorded a pair of top 20 finishes in her next two tournaments as well.
"With the golf part, you go week after week, non-stop," Dambaugh said. "I played as much as we did in the entire fall semester in college in just four weeks in a row as professional. At school, if you have a bad tournament, you have some time to work on some things. Here, you have to go play with what you have. You don't have as much time to work on everything. You have to roll with what you've got and be tough."
Dambaugh added that the mental aspect of the game comes more into play now.
"This is a job now," Dambaugh said. "I'm doing this for a living. I'm a little stressed right now, so I have to work on that. I'm making paychecks. I'm not playing my best yet, so I'm not where I want to be. It's a struggle. To be able to provide for yourself, you have to play well. In the end, it's all just golf, and if you think that, you'll be better off. I'm still working on that."
Dambaugh said that the lessons she learned at South Carolina from head coach Kalen Anderson and Director of Golf Puggy Blackmon helped her get to where she is now, and she still leans on her former coaches at times.
"I've talked with Puggy a few times, and I talk with Kalen," Dambaugh said. "We'll have 30-minute phone calls. I just felt like I've always had a great relationship with her, and she'll always be a part of my life. I know she's someone I can always go to for advice, and that's what I do. She is someone who will always be close to me.
"I learned a lot from Kalen, and I learned a lot from Puggy on the mental side as well. With how much Coach walked with me and was there while I was playing, she really helped me a lot and helped me figure out the mindset to play."
The Symetra Tour continues into the early fall, and Dambaugh's goal is to make as many cuts as possible and then go back to qualifying school to set herself up for the next tour. With the stress of playing golf for a living, Dambaugh is also trying to remind herself to enjoy the process.
"I didn't really know a lot of people out here at first," Dambaugh said. "I'm starting to make more friends. It's like being a freshman in high school all over again. You don't know anybody. There are people that I played against from other teams in college here, so I'm building a lot of friendships with them.
"It's still golf. That's what my coaches [at South Carolina] taught me. It's just a game. Even when we were at nationals or something like that. Every week, I'm having a little more fun."
Dambaugh plays at the Danielle Downey Credit Union Classic beginning in Rochester, N.Y., July 20-23.
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