Distance is no obstacle for coach Kalen Anderson in her quest to find and recruit the best players for her South Carolina women’s golf team.
She has discovered outstanding talent in France, Denmark and Spain, brought in a native of China, and ranged from Orlando to Phoenix in the U.S. to fill the roster that opens play Thursday in the NCAA East Regional in Raleigh, N.C.
She found one of her best players much closer to home, about 100 miles down the road in Goose Creek.
Katelyn Dambaugh owns the school record for career scoring -- in the waning days of her sophomore season.
“She has the ability to go really low,” Anderson said. “She’s an exciting player.”
Dambaugh showed her “go low” potential in her past two tournaments, firing a 6-under-par 66 en route to a fifth-place finish in the Ping ASU Invitational and matching the school record with a 7-under 65 on her way to sharing fourth with senior teammate Justine Dreher in the SEC Championships.
“My game has started to come around,” she said before the Gamecocks, No. 2 in the national rankings, headed to the regional. “I’ve worked hard and everything has finally clicked. I didn’t worry about my score in Arizona; I just focused on each shot. In the 65, I felt pretty confident.”
Dambaugh has earned a trophy case of awards. She comes from an athletic family -- dad Eric had baseball aspirations before tearing a rotator cuff and plays a strong game of golf; mom Cindy played softball and volleyball; and two uncles played professional baseball.
“I’ve been around athletics all my life,” she said, and her passion for golf emerged on family outings. “Just hitting a few balls,” she said of her start at age 6.
She starred in basketball and golf at Pinewood Prep in Summerville and showed that golf would be her sport by finishing second in the 2010 U.S. Junior Girls Amateur at the Country Club of North Carolina. She won more than her share of junior tourneys and qualified for the 2013 U.S. Women’s Amateur before starting college.
She calls her tee shots -- 255-270 yards and “I don’t miss many fairways” -- the strength of her game , but the mental aspects are critical. The coaches preach patience, but that’s sometimes easier said than done.
“I love the aspect of the team game,” Dambaugh said. “In the end, golf is an individual sport, but I feel pressure to help the team win. We are winning, and that’s really cool, being part of that.”
Dambaugh, who works with Bulls Bay pro Greg Boyette, told her during her junior golf days that she could do special things in golf “if I stuck to it. I was told I could do it if I believed in myself, and I do, especially after the last two tournaments.”
Her career average, probably elevated a bit by tendinitis this season, is 73.54, about one-half stroke a round better than Dreher’s. But Dreher’s average of 72.28 this season is about a stroke better than Dambaugh’s.
That translates into quality depth at the top of the lineup, Anderson said. “I have a really good feeling about the way we’re playing right now, and I’m happy with where we are.”
The Gamecocks had to overcome the mid-season loss of freshman star Nanna Madsen, who turned professional after one semester. The change sent brief shock waves through the team, but the players adapted.
“We just had to keep on doing the things we had been doing,” Dambaugh said. “Once we understood that we could be good (without Madsen), that relieved the pressure we put on ourselves and everything has fallen into place.”
The college game is a stepping stone to Dambaugh’s long-term goal -- the LPGA Tour -- but, she said, one thing at a time, and the focus is on this week’s regional and, hopefully, the NCAA Championship later this month in Bradenton, Fla.
“That’s the goal we set for ourselves at the start of the year in September,” she said. “Winning that first tournament (the ANNIKA Intercollegiate featuring the top teams in women’s college golf) meant a lot in terms of confidence, and we have that same feeling now. We just need to keep on being patient and play like we can.”
What: NCAA Women’s East Regional
Where: Lonnie Poole Golf Course, Raleigh, N.C.
Format: Top six (of 18) advance to NCAA Championship May 22-27
Top Seeds: 1. USC 2. LSU 3. Miss. State 4. Northwestern 5. Florida.
USC lineup: Justine Dreher, Katelyn Dambaugh, Sarah Schmelzel, Mary Fran Hillow and Jia Xin Yang
KATELYN DAMBAUGH BIO
Sophomore, Goose Creek
Honors: Second-team All-SEC and first-team SEC All-freshman team in 2013-14. Second-team All-SEC in 2014-15.
Achievements: Tied school record and set the SEC Tournament record with a 7-under-par 65. Has lowest career scoring average at USC at 73.54 (minimum 55 rounds). Her 73.30 scoring average this season is the fourth best in USC history.