Chippewa Valley senior proves herself in boys golf

By: Brad D. Bates | Fraser - Clinton Township Chronicle | Published May 25, 2011

 Clinton Township Chippewa Valley senior Kelly Hartigan will further her golf career at Grand Valley State University next fall.

Clinton Township Chippewa Valley senior Kelly Hartigan will further her golf career at Grand Valley State University next fall.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes


The most spectacular part of Clinton Township Chippewa Valley senior Kelly Hartigan playing for the boys golf team is how seemingly unspectacular she’s made it.

It’s not that Hartigan’s game isn’t spectacular — she’ll continue her career with the Grand Valley State University golf team next fall — it’s how seamlessly she’s assimilated to competing in the boys golf season.

“It was a lot of fun, and the guys were very welcoming and had a good time,” Hartigan said of her impressions from her first year with the Big Reds’ boys squad in the spring of her junior year.

“It seemed like they were welcoming right from the beginning, and I never felt like there was ever anything different about me being a part of the team.”

While Hartigan credits her teammates with welcoming her transition to the boys squad, coach Brandon Pitcher said her ease in joining the squad had a lot to do with what makes her so formidable on the links.

“It was easy to see that she was going to be one of our top four,” Pitcher said of his prospects for Hartigan when she joined the team.

“She’s played in tournaments for years, and she’s a golf-only athlete, so she knows what it’s like to compete at a high level. She’s not intimidated by any of the guys, but she respects everyone she faces and the rules of the game.”

Pitcher said it’s Hartigan’s competitive nature and focus on the course that allows her to look beyond the fact hat she’s playing against boys, and oftentimes, it turns to her favor rather than detriment.

“She doesn’t get rattled, and it’s an advantage for us sometimes,” Pitchers said. “She goes out there, and you can see the guys she’s playing start to press because they don’t want to lose to her.”

It’s Hartigan’s skill on the course that causes her opponents to feel nervous, and it’s what might keep any would-be intimidators at bay.

“She understands that anytime someone says or does something, it’s because they’re frustrated that she’s beating them,” Pitcher said.

“And she understands they’re trying to put her off her game when they do say something, and she stays the course and beats them. It’s hard to talk bad about someone when they’re beating you by four strokes after three holes.”

While Hartigan’s opponents are intimidated, her teammates are emboldened by her presence.

“Usually, no one expects how good she is. She’s been cranking out 38s, and it’s demoralizing to lose to her,” Chippewa Valley senior Paul Zlojutro said.

Hartigan’s commitment to the boys golf team was made clearer this season, as the Big Reds reinstituted their girls golf program in the fall.

Hartigan had the opportunity to play for the girls, but after being part of the Big Reds’ 2010 Macomb Area Conference White Division championship and carding a team-low 80 during their Division 1 district title, she felt she had to come back to the boys for her senior season.

“Winning the district last year was my favorite memory so far,” Hartigan said. “I parred the last five holes to score 80. We only won by a few strokes, so I felt like I contributed to that.”

Playing for a championship team her first year with the boys helped Hartigan move past any mental roadblocks that may have popped up.

“I always knew I was under pressure because we had a good team,” Hartigan said. “I didn’t think about anything else, really, because the pressure was on to go out and shoot low scores. We were always so focused because we knew we had potential.”

A year ago, Hartigan and Zlojutro were juniors behind seniors Nick Julian and Robby Kish in the Big Reds’ lineup. This year, they are the seniors, and it’s been a role they’ve flourished in.

“It was different because I was a leader, but I wasn’t nervous,” Hartigan said. “It was just kind of natural coming back this year.”

“We had to fill some big shoes, and Kelly is really doing her part,” Zlojutro said. “I was shooting some 34s and 37s early (and) then started to shoot a little higher, but Kelly has been great, shooting her 38s consistently.

“She brings leadership,” Zlojutro added. “We joke about bringing in pars, but she’s always telling me I better shoot good. And by that, she expects us to be at least 40.”

What has helped Hartigan maintain such consistency on the course is the same thing that allows her to look beyond the physical differences between her and her opponents.

“Her focus is amazing,” Pitcher said. “She keeps the ball straight, hardly ever takes a penalty stroke, is accurate with all her clubs, and any time she has a chance to get up and down, she fires it right at the pin. She’s aggressive on the course, but accurate.”

Hartigan said playing with the boys has helped further her game and get her ready for her collegiate career, as it has forced her to work more on her intermediate shots from 160 to 180 yards out.

Which is good, since she already has the mental part of her game down pat.

“I know anything can happen,” Hartigan said when asked where her focus comes from. “You can hit a bad shot and get upset about it, or you can just move on. You can either birdie or put up a high number. I don’t make many high numbers.”