Nelson’s Kelly Hellman Making Up For Late Start With Lots Of Practice

UBC Freshman Kelly Hellman Helped Lead The Thunderbirds To A First-round Lead At The Canadian University/College Championships In Chilliwack - Image Credit Brad Ziemer/BC Golf

By Brad Ziemer, British Columbia Golf

CHILLIWACK -- Compared to most of the young women competing at this week’s Canadian University/College Championship, Kelly Hellman started golf late. It wasn’t until the summer of her Grade 9 year that Hellman swung her first golf club. Her grandfather could no longer play and she inherited his clubs. Her mom took her for a golf lesson and that was it. Hellman was hooked.

“I was a bit skeptical (about golf) but after the first lesson I just absolutely fell in love with the sport and every day I was out at the course,” the 19-year-old Hellman said after she opened with an even-par 72 that helped her UBC Thunderbirds grab the women’s team division lead at Chilliwack Golf Club.

Hellman has been making up for lost time since that ‘late start’ to her golf career. She practises every day. Longtime UBC coach Chris Macdonald hasn’t seen anyone work harder on her game. “She just has that spirit for the game,” Macdonald said of Hellman, a native of Nelson, BC. “She just loves to play. She just wants to be out there all the time. The thing we have to be careful about with Kelly is that she doesn’t tinker too much.”

Macdonald was tipped about Hellman by Matt Palsenbarg, who coaches lots of good junior golfers at Northview Golf Club in Surrey. “He called me and said this young lady is pretty special, she’s outworking everybody,” Macdonald said. 

Hellman jokes that she practices so much now because she couldn’t practise at all during the winter in Nelson. “I never got to practise in the winter because the course was closed,” Hellman said. “This is the first winter I got to practise. So that was another bonus.” Hellman is part of what is a very young and talented UBC team. She is joined this week by fellow freshmen Cecile Kwon and Shania Remandaban and junior Avril Li.

Li matched Hellman’s even-par round Tuesday. Remandaban shot a 77, while Kwon fired an 81. The three best scores each day count toward the official team score. UBC finished the first round at five-over par 221. That was two shots better than the University of Montreal. The University of Victoria was third at 10-over.

Li and Hellman head into today’s second round of the 72-hole event tied for the individual lead. The UBC women arrived at Chilliwack coming off a seventh-place finish at last week’s NAIA Championships in West Palm Beach, Fla. “We didn’t play great, but it I think that golf course (PGA National) helped prepare us for this week,” Hellman said. “Your approach shots had to really be on point there and this is also an approach-shot course.”

image credit Golf Canada/ Facebook

UBC Thunderbirds Ladies Golf Squad From L-R: Kelly Hellman, Shania Remandaban, Cecile Kwon And Avril Li

Hellman has played every event this year for UBC and in March won the Battle of Primm tourney in California. She said her first year at UBC has been everything she had hoped for and more. “It has been really good,” said Hellman, who is majoring in kinesiology. “The team is awesome, UBC is awesome, we get to practise at Shaughnessy. That is awesome. That is a huge perk. It has been a good year. I have played every event this year, so it has been nice.”

Hellman has also been granted membership status at Marine Drive Golf Club. Thirteen-time B.C. Amateur champion Doug Roxburgh, a Marine Drive member who is working this tournament as a scorer, said he has been impressed by Hellman’s work ethic. “I've never seen anything like it,” he said. “She works so hard. She is always out at our club working on her game.”

UBC has won the women’s division at the Canadian University/College Championship in 12 of the 15 years it has been held. The UBC women say they aren’t feeling any extra pressure to try and further improve upon that impressive record. “Actually, yesterday our trainer said something really important,” Li said after her round. “She said the UBC women’s golf team has won this tournament a lot of times, but this team hasn’t. This team, us four girls, haven’t. So we have to go out there and give it our best. That was really important to hear that, especially with three rookies, so that they can understand that we have to try very hard.”

Macdonald thinks his women’s program has a bright future, not only because of how young the players are, but how they have come together as a team. “They have great chemistry,” Macdonald said. “They travel so well because of it. Tonight, they are making dinner together, they cook together, they like to have fun together on and off the golf course.

“It makes it a joy to coach them because as a coach you spend a lot more time talking about golf with them and not dealing with dramatic incidents that go on off the golf course. I think they learned a lot about golf this year and have become very good friends.”

Li, the veteran of the bunch, echoed her coach’s comments. She said the great team chemistry has been a key to their success this year. “I think it is really important because we play from September to June, so that's a really long time,” Li said. “And during the school year we see each other every single day. If we're not practising, we are in the gym, so we see each other all the time, but we just get along really well. We are very considerate of each other and supportive, so that is really good.”

On the men’s side, the host University of the Fraser Valley Cascades opened up a 13-shot lead with an impressive first round. Four of the top five individual scores count for each team’s score on the men’s side of the draw and the Cascades combined for a team score of 10-under par 278.

Laval University sits second at three-over par, one shot better than third-place University of Guelph. The Cascades were led by Zach Olson, who opened with a four-under 68. That left Olson in a three-way tie for the individual lead with Adam Graham of Brock University and Wyatt Brook of Vancouver Island University.

The tournament, which features 12 women’s teams and 20 men’s teams continues through Friday.

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