“As a sophomore at state I felt like a little person and was just out there and not really competing,” Kelley said. “But last year having only a few people ahead of me made me realize that I can win this tournament, and that was a big confidence boost. So, my goal absolutely is to win it this year.”
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Tod Clarey is in his 12th year as Memorial’s head coach after four seasons at the freshman/junior varsity levels. He said Kelley definitely has the potential to challenge for the top spot this June.
“Last year was a breakout year for Kolton … his 77 average was the second-best in my career here,” Clarey said. “His low was a 71 and I believe he had only two scores in the 80s, his highest an 84, so consistency was the key. He was much better at eliminating the big holes. Last year a big difference was better command and maturation of his short game, his shots from 100 yards and in.”
Kelley agreed that improving his mental approach has done wonders for the physical aspects of the game.
“The mental part of my game is as solid as it’s ever been, and I’ve improved my short game and I’m keeping my drives in the fairway,” he said. “I’m better at shaking off the bad shots and turning bogey-bogey into bogey-birdie. I’ve improved my lag putting … by that I mean keeping three-putts off my (score) card.”
Kelley opened the season with a 76 during a Big Eight triangular at Krueger-Haskell and won medalist honors at the Monona Grove Invite with a 1-over-par 72 on April 17.
Clarey is excited about his star pupil’s prospects.
“He is stronger, so he’s hitting his irons a little farther, which means he is re-learning his distances and how far he hits certain clubs,” Clarey said of the growing pains. “But Kolton is such a passionate golfer, and he used to hold onto things and beat himself up over a bad shot. But he’s learned you need to have a thick skin in this game. He is much more confident and instead of knowing he can shoot low scores, he believes he can.
“Last year he showed that going to state as a sophomore wasn’t a fluke,” Clarey added. “And it reinforced his confidence being one of the best in the state. He was in good shape and then suffered a setback on day two. He still shot a 78, but he took it hard. I could see as we were walking to the parking lot … he is out to redeem himself this year.”
Kelley’s effort led the Purple Knights to a 10th-place finish in the state team standings after he won the regional title and shared the sectional crown, earning honorable mention All-State status.
The Purple Knights must replace the graduated Connor Day and David Wandell and T.J. Polglaze, who is playing in the North American Prospects Hockey League.
Kelley said Memorial should be a contender when the postseason rolls around.
“Connor is a big loss as our No. 2 (golfer) … he could score in the mid to high 70s, and T.J. played big in regionals and sectionals with back-to-back 81s,” Kelley said. “I’ve played with Sam (Klobucar) a lot and he and John Polglaze are capable of shooting in the 70s, and we’ve got Jack Eldred and John West.”