In the winner’s interview after the U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur in November, Salt Lake City’s Kelsey Chugg cited LPGA Tour star Stacy Lewis as her favorite golfer.
Not long afterward, the message arrived in her in-box. Lewis was inviting her to play a practice round during the U.S. Women’s Open in May. Chugg had forgotten that Lewis’ husband, Gerrod Chadwell, coached her for a year in junior college.
That’s just another sign of how everything came together perfectly for Chugg during her week in Houston, with the latest United States Golf Association championship for a Utah golfer creating all kinds of possibilities for her in 2018. Chugg’s schedule of major events starts Saturday in the South American Amateur in Argentina, as one of four players representing the USGA.
It will be a year filled with big-time golf for Chugg, 26, who works as the Utah Golf Association’s membership director. Her USGA victory created those opportunities, with performance that stemmed from her experience in Utah golf.
As a four-time winner of the Utah Women’s State Amateur, Chugg becomes “like a different person” in match play, said Lynsey Myers, her coach. “I’d put her up against anyone.”
The summary of the Women’s Mid-Am, for golfers 25 and older, is how Chugg dominated her six opponents in match play. The back story is even better – how she opened the stroke-play portion of the tournament with an 85, cried in the parking lot, then practiced for a while and drove to the home where the tournament provided her housing.
The host family? Absent, while asking the visiting golfer to watch their cat.
In that setting, Chugg regrouped. She posted an even-par 72 in the second round and thrived in match play, never having to play the 18th hole of Champions Golf Club in Houston in those six matches.
Utah’s history of USGA winners now covers 91 years, dating to George Von Elm’s defeat of Bobby Jones in the 1926 U.S. Amateur. Other victories for Utah-born golfers have come more recently. In the 1995 U.S. Junior Amateur in North Dakota, West Bountiful’s Scott Hailes defeated future PGA Tour winner James Driscoll in the finals. Annie Thurman Young of Alpine, then an Oklahoma State golfer, claimed the 2002 U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links title. And in 2005, former Davis High School golfer Clay Ogden defeated Michelle Wie in the quarterfinals on his way to victory in the U.S. Amateur Public Links in Ohio.
Chugg is a self-described “blue-collar person” and “golf nerd.” Raised by a mother who moved frequently, she grew up mainly in California and Arizona and spent summers with her grandparents in the Ogden area. Merlin Judkins, a relative, would take her to Davis Park Golf Course and Schneiter’s Riverside. “That’s how we sort of bonded,” Judkins said. “You could tell she was athletic; you could tell she loved the game.”
Judkins is one of many strong influences in Chugg’s golf development. She worked at a semi-private course in Arizona, where noted instructor Kene Bensel took an interest in her. She became a junior college star at Redlands, becoming even more devoted to the game, and thrived for two years in Weber State’s program, coached by the late Jeff Smith.
People like to help her. In Houston, where Myers counseled her by phone after that poor opening round, Chugg benefitted from having Don Goldberg, the husband of Utah golfer Annette Gaiotti, caddy for her in the second round. As the father of an Olympic skier, “He knows a lot about the mental game,” Chugg said. “He definitely kept me calm.”
She responded well, and now a big 2018 is coming into view. The U.S. Women’s Open is the event she always wanted to experience. “I’ve told people I don’t care if I finish dead last,” she said, with this clarification: “Hopefully, I don’t.”
National and international tournaments in 2018 for Salt Lake City’s Kelsey Chugg, stemming from her 2017 U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur victory:
South American Amateur – Saturday-Tuesday, Martindale Country Club, Buenos Aires, Argentina.
U.S. Women’s Open – May 31-June 3, Shoal Creek Country Club, Shoal Creek, Ala.
U.S. Open (exhibition of USGA champions) – June 12, Shinnecock Hills Golf Club, Southampton, N.Y.
U.S. Women’s Amateur – Aug. 6-12, The Golf Club of Tennessee, Kingston Springs, Tenn.
U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur – Sept. 22-27, Norwood Hills Country Club, St. Louis, Mo.