Oct. 19, 2017
By Brad Muller | More Features
Katelyn Dambaugh doesn’t like flying on airplanes. Seeing how she can’t drive to other continents now that she is playing on the LPGA Tour, the former South Carolina golfer (2013-2017) will have to learn to take long naps on flights or find some good books to read.
“I don’t like traveling itself, but going to all the different places and seeing all the things I’ve never seen before is probably my favorite thing,” Dambaugh said. “I’m probably most looking forward to playing in Australia. I haven’t left the country before.”
“You have to fly there, Kate,” interjected South Carolina head women’s golf coach Kalen Anderson.
“I know. Don’t remind me,” Dambaugh sighed. “I’m just really terrified of airplanes. I don’t do well on flights.”
Dambaugh earned her LPGA Tour card for the 2018 season earlier this month after securing a top-10 finish on the 2017 Symetra Tour's money list.
“I still don’t think it’s sunk in completely,” Dambaugh said. “I just have a feeling of relief because it’s a really long process and it takes a lot of work. It takes a lot of patience, and to know that I’ve done it in my first year out of college is incredible.”
“She deserves every bit of it,” Anderson said. “She has worked very hard and has been very persistent. She came back to school [last year] when she had the opportunity to turn pro after her fall semester. She decided to come back and finish out her career. I’m glad it all worked out in her favor and in our favor. She is very loyal to the University of South Carolina and to our program. I’m glad that she went out and got it done.”
Getting it done is nothing new for Dambaugh. The Goose Creek, S.C., native graduated from South Carolina last May as one of the most decorated student-athletes in the history of the women’s golf program. She immediately began playing professionally on the Symetra Tour, which was already well into its season when she joined. Still, Dambaugh didn’t feel a lot of pressure to “catch up.”
“Going into it, I knew it would be difficult to get in to the top ten,” Dambaugh said. “I didn’t have many expectations going in there because of the late start. I think that’s what made me play so well.”
After playing in only 12 of the 22 Symetra Tour events, she finished inside the top-20 in nine tournaments with four top-five finishes. She went on to earn her LPGA Tour card earlier this month, and it was Anderson who let her know.
“She called before I even knew,” Dambaugh said. “I wasn’t watching the leader board. She was keeping up with it and following the tournament. I had no idea.
“Kalen and [Associate Head Coach] Puggy [Blackmon] were the first people I spoke to. Then a couple of teammates ‘Facetimed’ me, and that meant a lot to me. Then I just called my family. I have a great support system with my family, friends and golf coaches. It was a good experience to share with everybody. ”
Emotional maturity and belief in herself, that’s where she has really come into her own with her consistency.
Dambaugh is no stranger to success on the links. A five-time time All-American, she finished her time at South Carolina with the program's lowest career scoring average (72.67), earned All-SEC honors all four years, her 15 career top-five finishes rank second in school history, and her 21 top-10 showings rank third-best for the program. Despite that success, Dambaugh knew she would have to continue to improve her game at the next level, and she didn’t make the cut at her first professional tournament in early June at the Fuccillo Kia Classic of New York.
“That was a new experience for me,” Dambaugh said. “I wasn’t used to it. I didn’t have a lot of time to think about what this next stage of my life would be because I started so soon after nationals. It just took some time for me to get adjusted.
“I tried to never let doubt get into my head. I never want to get ahead of myself or get my hopes up. This last tournament was the first tournament that I put expectations on myself and that didn’t go too well.”
Despite not having her best outing the last tournament of the season, Dambaugh had caught fire down the stretch this summer and early fall with top-five finishes in four of her final six events. She placed third at the Sioux Falls Great Life Challenge (Aug. 31-Sept. 3) before grabbing runner-up honors at the Garden City Charity Classic (Sept. 8-10) and IOA Golf Classic (Sept. 29-Oct. 1).
“I think I’m still continuing to mature on the golf course and mentally, too,” Dambaugh said. “That was one of the biggest things for me at South Carolina; being mature mentally and growing on the golf course. Coach Anderson really helped me a lot in that aspect. I’m continuing to learn each and every time.
“When people ask what I learned [at South Carolina], it’s three words. I think I heard it 5,000 times. It’s ‘control the controllable.’ That’s something coach [Anderson] and Puggy always said. I’ve had those three words stuck in my head every round since then.”
“She has always been incredibly talented,” Anderson added. “Emotional maturity and belief in herself, that’s where she has really come into her own with her consistency. During her sophomore year, she really dedicated herself to her wedge play and really became an incredible wedge player. That’s where her scoring came down. As she started to see that consistency, I think she started to believe in her game, and she became that championship player where the consistency would shine through. She doesn’t have fear, and that’s great.”
Dambaugh noted that the biggest adjustment she has had to make is the realization that she is no longer part of a team.
“Out on the golf course, there is nobody out there with you watching,” Dambaugh said. “I don’t have Kalen beside me. I don’t have my team in front of me or behind me. It was really different to look ahead of you and behind you and not see people that you know. It’s my next step, so I just had to pray as much as I could to get that experience and get used to it.”
While earnings based on play and acquiring sponsorships are part of Dambaugh’s life now, she is telling herself to focus on her game.
“It is fun, but now that it’s my career and my way to make a living, it’s pretty stressful,” Dambaugh said. “Your income depends on how well you play. I try not to think about that because the more I think about it, the worse I’ll do.”
Maybe figuring out what to do on a transcontinental flight will give her something else to think about.
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