Shining ‘In’ the Big West
“It was literally one shot.”
Playing at the LA City Tournament in Griffith Park, high school junior Kaley In found herself facing the wind in the middle of the fairway at an uphill slope on a par 4. Whereas most junior players her age would have swung in an attempt to get the ball as close to the green as possible, In opted for a different approach. Utilizing a punch shot, In produced a lower trajectory shot that combatted the winds and landed her on the green.
For UC Irvine’s head coach Julie Brooks who was scouting the tournament for potential recruits, this move was all she needed to see.
“It wasn’t something that you would normally see from a junior player. She clearly thought about what she needed to do to make a good score on the hole and part of that was hitting a punch shot and so I continued to watch,” Brooks said.
Fast forward a year later to November 20, 2012 and Kaley In would be signing her National Letter of Intent for the women’s golf program at UC Irvine.
For the Bakersfield native, her road to Irvine is a validation of all the hard work and dedication she has devoted over the years to golf.
Whereas most collegiate players began playing from as young as three or four years of age, In is a relatively latecomer to the sport of golf, picking up her first club in 8th grade.
Introduced to the sport by her father, In’s initial foray in golf wasn’t a positive one. In fact, she flat out hated playing. It took up too much of her time, and she struggled mightily with her strokes. However, before long, In would begin improving gradually in the sport and come to love it by her sophomore year of high school.
Despite picking up the sport at a later age, In more than made up for her inexperience through the endless hours that she spent practicing golf during her high school years.
“I was just at the course every single day from right after I got out of school till when the sun went down,” In said.
Even the weekends weren’t opportunities for the young golfer to rest and recharge; on the contrary she used them to hone her skills even more, getting up at seven in the morning and practicing until the sunset.
Her work would immediately pay dividends as she rose to become the top golfer in Bakersfield during her four years in high school; winning every high school tournament she competed in except for one, earning accolades as a three-time All Area choice and the Stockdale High Player of the Year in 2013.
Although she dominated her competition throughout high school, In remained driven and continuously strove to push herself and improve her game.
“What kept driving me was the fact that I still had college and wanted to be able to perform in college and play really well and play for UC Irvine and be the best I can be. I continuously want to get better,” she said. Since coming to Irvine, In has found a second family amongst the women’s golf team. “My favorite things [about Irvine] are my teammates and my coach. It’s like the best relationship. We are all really close, and so there are five seniors; they’re my closest friends,” she said
Stopping midsentence and thinking about the times she shared with the team, it’s evident that Irvine’s graduating class of 2014 has had an immeasurable impact in her time on the time.
“She got lucky with the group that was here before. I’ve always had kids that have always been very receptive to the incoming classes and I think this particular year has been exceptional in [taking them under their wings],” Coach Brooks said.
In says that she is also lucky to have a coach as understanding as Brooks, who understands that college is a time of learning and fun for her players.
“I think a lot of coaches tend to forget that they’re not the ones in college anymore, their players are, and so they make it more about them than their players… I’m there to guide them and mentor them, not put them in their room and ground them first for weeks on end,” Brooks said.
“I realize how lucky I am to have her,” In said.
Parallel to her high school career, In began her time playing at the collegiate level with a minor disadvantage to her peers, this time in the form of a back injury a month before school started. Initially In had to pull out of her first qualifier because of the pain, but it wouldn’t keep her from competing in later tournaments as her back gradually healed.
“I think she played through more of the pain than she let on, and so clearly we needed to get some level of treatment that would allow her to at least compete, which at the start of the spring, those scores started going down, those places started to get better and she started to feel better but definitely in the fall she played through the pain and played really well,” Brooks said.
Kaley only continues to improve with each tournament that she plays in, placing 60 at the Peg Barnard Invitational, but earning 36th, 29th, and 17th place respectively in subsequent tournament. Her freshman year performance would culminate in a 7th place finish at the Big West Conference Championship with a career best score of 225 over a three day total.
“Considering the circumstance, what she has done this year is very impressive and it’s probably a good thing that she wasn’t practicing more because who knows the effect that could’ve been the effect on her back for one,” Brooks said.
With a fully healthy back and a year’s worth of experience under her belt, along with the support of her coach, one can be assured that In’s best years at Irvine are still ahead of her.