Q&A: Sean Kelly
New Yorker talks about advancing to Final Stage, dealing with diabetes, his Mackenzie Tour experience and more
November 22, 2017
By Brian Decker, PGATOUR.COM
- November 22, 2017
- Sean Kelly was the medalist at the First and Second Stage of Web.com Tour Qualiying (Kevin Light/PGA TOUR)
Staten Island, New York’s Sean Kelly produced a strong sophomore season on the Mackenzie Tour in 2017, with three top-10 finishes and a 24th place showing on the Order of Merit. After earning medalist honours at both the First and Second Stage of Web.com Tour Q-School, the University of South Carolina alum is poised to make the jump to the next level in 2018.
The 24-year old spent a few minutes with PGATOUR.COM this week to talk about his 2017 season, the progress he’s shown in his game and the challenges of playing with Type 1 Diabetes, which he has had his entire life.
What’s your approach to deal with the pressure of Second Stage?
It was nice because I got to Second Stage last year and didn’t get through, so I had a little bit of experience to fall back on. I didn’t approach it differently than any other week, I just stuck to my routine and focused on each shot and tried to make the best effort that I could. If you start to focus on too much big picture out there, that’s when you get in trouble. It’s about keeping your focus in the right place and not thinking that it’s bigger than it is. It just has to be a regular week where you go out and play well.
You played really well at Second Stage, shooting 13-under to tie for medalist honours. What was the key to your solid play?
I was the medalist at the First Stage as well, and I was just striking the ball really well. I’ve been working hard on my swing the last six or seven months, and I’ve learned to not hit it left. I think that’s huge, when you can take out one side of the golf course and know it’s not going to go in that direction. That’s a big comfort and gets your swinging aggressively and playing aggressively. The ballstriking was really good for First and Second Stage.The first few weeks when I came out of college, the first few Mackenzie Tour events I played I kind of got my butt kicked. I went back home and it really helped me identify what I needed to work on most in my game.
Are you working with a coach or is there anything specific you’ve been working on?
I’ve been working with Martin Hall, the guy from the Golf Channel, since about January. He’s done a fantastic job. We did two minor grip changes back in January and February, and that was really the main thing. I’ve been playing pretty well since I started working with him, so he’s definitely had a big effect on me.
Since you’ve completed your college career at the University of South Carolina, has your transition to becoming a professional gone the way you expected, or has it been different than you would have thought?
I’d say it was a little bit of both. The first few weeks when I came out of college, the first few Mackenzie Tour events I played I kind of got my butt kicked. I went back home and it really helped me identify what I needed to work on most in my game, and that was distance control and keeping it away from the left side. Playing in college with the golf course set-up and the length and all that, that was pretty standard, but the level of competition takes a big jump and the depth of the field... there’s so many good guys out on the Mackenzie Tour that can put up a great number any day. That was pretty eye-opening.
What did you do to start performing the way you could and to start seeing some better scores?
It wasn’t so much a round-to-round thing, but I really didn’t know how far I hit my clubs, when it came down to it. You’d think playing golf for almost 20 years, you would know something like that. But after those first few missed cuts, I came home and I really just tried to dial in my distances and know what my comfortable yardages were, and that had a huge impact on consistency and on scoring. Having a good idea of your distance control is huge out there.
You played on a really strong University of South Carolina team with some really good players like Matt NeSmith, Will Starke and Caleb Sturgeon, all of whom played the Mackenzie Tour too. Those guys all have a really good shot of making it to the Web.com Tour and PGA TOUR, but I think the fact that they haven’t yet says a lot about how difficult it is to get there. What have you learned about how hard it is to get from college to the next level?
A lot of it is about timing. If you look at Q-School, you could be a tremendous player, but you could have an off week and not get through. I think timing is an issue and you need to believe in the longevity of your game and keep grinding away at it all the time. If you miss a cut and go out and have a few bad days, you just have to keep believing in yourself that you can get it done. Whether you can or you can’t, you always have to think that you can.If it gets high or low, you can basically be useless out there. It’s another thing to deal with, and it has to be the top priority.
You deal with the unique challenge of being a professional athlete who happens to be diabetic. What are the day-to-day challenges that come with dealing with your Diabetes while making it in professional golf?
It’s just an added variable. You can only control so many things out there. You can’t control what kind of bounce you get or if the wind kicks up, but you can control how you eat and how you prep. Being diabetic’s no different from that, it’s just monitoring your blood sugar throughout the round, checking it every two or three holes to make sure it stays stable. If it gets high or low, you can basically be useless out there. It’s another thing to deal with, and it has to be the top priority, because if your blood sugar isn’t stable, there’s no point of even trying to play. You need to be 100 per cent healthy and focused out there all the time. There are much worse things to be dealing with, but it’s just a lot of time and energy to be making sure it doesn’t cost you a shot or your hands aren’t shaking over a putt. I think a lot of people don’t realize how much effort it takes out there to maintain it.
Are there any memories of playing the Mackenzie Tour the last couple of years that really stick out you, especially anything off the course or traveling with the guys across Canada?
In Calgary, Caleb Sturgeon and I went and did the Bobsled. That was a lot of fun. It was Friday afternoon and we both missed the cut, and we were like ‘Yeah, you know what? Screw it, let’s go bobsledding.’ That was amazing. That was a really cool experience.