From overlooked to overachiever
Kelly Hartigan earns GVSU school-record 12th career victory, and does it her way
Kelly Hartigan tees off during the NCAA Division II National Preview at The Meadows.
As Grand Valley State University senior Kelly Hartigan traversed the back nine of The Meadows golf course during the NCAA Division II National Preview on Saturday afternoon, she carried her own bag; if her mind wandered across any subject other than the next hole on her way to 20 pars – tied for the 11th-most of anyone in the 132-player field, and five birdies, which was good for second – she didn't show it.
With a six-over score of 150 through 36 holes, Hartigan earned medalist honors to collect the 12th individual victory of her career at the event, passing Laker legends Sarah Hoffman and Melissa Sneller to move into first on the GVSU school-record board. Although even after three full seasons of varsity golf as a Laker, Hartigan rarely pulls the blinders off. In a serendipitous fashion, it's how she found her way up to GVSU in the first place.
“With the scores I shot, I didn't really realize that was going to be enough for a win, but as tough as the pins were, the conditions were great and I just focused in on what I needed to do,” Hartigan said. “It was something I didn't expect to do and as much as I knew I wanted to work hard and win some tournaments when I first came to GVSU, I've already achieved more than I ever thought I could.
“It was something I couldn't have predicted, but getting the 12th win was a proud moment.”
When GVSU women’s golf coach Rebecca Mailloux made the trip down to the Michigan Girls Junior Amateur tournament in the summer of 2010, it wasn't to watch Hartigan, then a junior in high school, play. In fact, she wasn't even a blip on the radar.
Instead, current GVSU junior and then high school sophomore Gabrielle Shipley was the apple of coach Mailloux’s recruiting affections, who as chance would have it, was paired with Hartigan for the afternoon.
“While I was watching Gabrielle – who for the record played very well – I said ‘who the heck is this Hartigan kid?’,” Mailloux said. “Typically, if a parent or coach is watching, I can just talk to them, but they weren't – she played on the boys team in high school and her dad was her caddy – and I wasn't allowed to talk to her directly until the tournament ended; there was no other way for me to find out her plans after high school.
“It's match-play format tournament, and she just keeps winning so I follow her around for three days, and the whole time I'm thinking this kid has to be committed to a Division I team – there's no way nobody has found her at this point.
“She finally lost in the finals, I finally get a chance to talk with her and her dad and the conversation went something like this: ‘You're the first coach to be interested in her. We haven't had much involvement from anyone else.’ I say you have got to be kidding me. Instantly, I thought to myself this is a home run for us. I saw the talent right away, and I knew if I could get this kid, it'd be huge for us."
Coach Mailloux was right, but even then, she couldn't have understood the full impact her timely, on-the-spot and somewhat prophetic signing would have on the GVSU program.
Neither did Hartigan, not at first; or if she did, it was to be her game and not her mouth that would proclaim it. A quality of stoic confidence and a competitive focus that are still trademarks of Hartigan's game years later, both strictly trained and harnessed through prep play.
Chippewa Valley High School, Hartigan's Alma matter, didn't have a girls golf team, so Hartigan made due with the next best thing. It wasn't always easy playing with the boys – especially playing routinely as a No. 1 or No. 2 seed – but what Hartigan didn't always enjoy made her – as well as her burgeoning golf prowess – even more formidable.
“I took a lot of heat in high school for playing with the boys, and we didn't exactly have a strong team dynamic,” Hartigan said. “It was hard and I wasn't really accepted as a girl on a boys team, it made the recruiting process more challenging, but you take the good with the bad and grow.
“I only made one visit – it was to GVSU – and I loved it; I can't imagine myself anywhere else. It was tricky at the time, but I played from longer distances in high school which helped the transition to the next level. I've always been very competitive – which usually helps more than it hurts – but the experience, as well as my experiences since being in college, have helped me mature both as a golfer and person."
From overlooked to can't possibly overstate, Hartigan has made her mark on GVSU golf in more way than one. From her 75.72 scoring average last season, which ranked as the second-best mark in program history and ranked 16th nationally, to her GVSU single-season record of seven victories, the three-time All-GLIAC First Team plaudit and two-time GLIAC Women’s Golf Athlete of the Year (the only repeat recipient) has made collecting accolades look as easy as Ty Webb knocking in putts.
She's not done yet, either, especially with the Division II National Championship – a rare feat that has not been added to her resume' – to be hosted at The Meadows before her Laker career concludes. It's a drive she shares with course counterpart Shipley as they power the team forward in their own ways, one drive, one chip, one putt, one hole at a time.
“Looking back, I'm very grateful that we got paired together back in that tournament in high school and I'm very grateful that we have gotten the opportunity to play on the same team together,” Shipley said. “There's always that person you're striving to compete against, we're both very competitive people and we both push each other.
“Even though we're different people and have different styles – she's more of a field player and I'm more technical – I know I wouldn't be the player I am without her. We're excited to see what we can accomplish the rest of the way.”