College golfers head back to school in the next week and there is a new coach in charge of the Clemson women’s golf program.
Clemson is hoping Kelley Hester can do the same things for the Tiger’s women’s golf team that she was able to do at Furman.
Hester was named to replace J.T. Horton as the head women’s coach. Horton was dismissed after starting the program from scratch and leading the team into the NCAA Tournament two of the past three years.
“Throughout her career, her student-athletes have achieved the highest levels of success on the course and in the classroom,” said Clemson Athletics Director Dan Radakovich. “ We feel her commitment to maintaining that standard is second to none, making her a perfect fit to lead a program we strongly believe can compete for championships in the near future,” he said.
What kind of a program is at Clemson, is very much up in the air. By the end of the season, injuries, public dissension, players’ parental concerns and a transfer have dramatically changed the team Hester will inherit from the one that played in the NCAA Tournament.
By many accounts the players, parents, coach and athletic department’s administrative staff all contributed to the turmoil going on inside the team. Almost everyone associated with the team last year shares the blame, probably the best thing for all concerned was a divorce and a fresh start.
“First thing we have got to do is get our roster in order,” said Hester. “I don’t know how many players I’m going to have and who is healthy or not,” she said.
Several players had threatened to either graduate early or not play under the former coach, so the roster of nine players at the end of the season could be as few as five to start the new year.
“We may be somewhat limited at first, but we can put together a strong nucleus. We will have to get a feel for what’s going on and maybe have to bring in a transfer. Right now there are a lot of questions and not a lot of answers,” said the new Clemson coach.
Hester was quick to note that she had never taken a transfer player from a school she coached when she moved.
Former Furman coach Mic Potter took two golfers with him when he moved on to Alabama leaving the Lady Paladin program in some difficulty for Jen Hanna, the coach Hester succeeded at Furman.
“I don’t want to do that, I hope they all stay. Jeff Hull (new Furman coach) is an excellent coach and he has been a big part of what we accomplished. I think there are even better things ahead for the team,” she said.
Hester has been in some difficult coaching situations before and brought success to those programs.
After an outstanding All-SEC playing career at Georgia, some time on the Futures Tour and coaching at Mercer and as an assistant at Georgia, she started the women’s golf program at UNLV.
After a year she went to Arkansas and got the Razorbacks to the NCAA finals for the first time in school history. She also coached future LPGA star and 2007 NCAA individual champion Stacy Lewis.
She returned to Georgia after the women’s coach resigned because of sexual harassment charges and had to put that program back together.
Her five years at Georgia produced five trips to the NCAA’s and a pair of top-20 finishes in the national tournament.
After rebuilding the program and getting it out of the shadow of controversy Georgia decided to go in a different direction for women’s golf.
Hester lost her job at Georgia, but was quickly brought on to coach the Lady Paladins. Again it was a reclamation project of a once prominent program.
In four years Hester got Furman back on top of the Southern Conference with a pair of championships and into the NCAA finals for the first time since 2008.
“In the beginning it was challenging, but we made progress and we were having fun. At the end, these kids were having fun and winning championships,” said Hester.
She was named coach of the year twice and her recruits earned All-SoCon player of the year honors, freshmen of the year honors and All-Academic honors.
“Furman was great to me and I loved the school. I continue to feel that they have the purest form of college athletes who go to school and play their sport. They are wonderful student athletes,” she said.
The opportunity to return to a Power-5 conference with a bigger budget and a higher ceiling was too much to pass up even though she was very happy at Furman.
Within 24 hours of being named the new coach, Hester was on the road recruiting. The new Tigers coach barely had time to get some Clemson gear.
“Pretty much everybody at this level has the resources and facilities to compete. I know from recruiting against them, a lot of golfers want to go to Clemson. I can see why. It is a great place,” she concluded.
Video Interview with new Clemson Women’s Golf Coach Kelley Hester