Once the glory comes, the underdogs are nowhere to be found. Competitors shed their cloaks of humility for more magnificent crowns of achievement.
Kelsey Vines will forever be the underdog in her own mind.
The 22-year-old Austin, Texas, native had a slow start in golf, but she has turned it into a stellar college career. As that career nears its end, Vines stays true to her roots.
“If you were to tell me in my freshman year of college that I’m going to be where I am today, I would have laughed and said no way,” Vines said. “I wasn’t anything special out of high school. I wasn’t an All-American girl.”
She is quick to find fault in her early years as a golfer, critical of her awareness at a young age and speaking about the past with an air of frustration. It’s clear that some dissatisfaction has lingered.
“When I got to high school I took a few steps back,” she said. “When you’re young, you just go out there and hit the ball to play for fun. You never really think about all the pressure. You don’t have college coaches watching you.”
At the time, golf truly was about having fun. Her parents made her and her two siblings choose one sport and stick with it through high school. Her brother and sister picked golf, so she tagged along, happy to be with family while playing a game she learned to love.
“I didn’t really have a choice,” she said laughing. “My parents would pick us up after school, drop us off at the country club and that’s where we were for the rest of the day. My dad was really good at guiding us and he taught us the fundamentals before deciding we needed an instructor.”
She was content, but unassuming. She started her golf career like every other kid, as an underdog.
Freshman year of college found her at Brigham Young University, 20 hours from home and far from her comfort zone. As the new kid on the block, she was the underdog once again.
But two years of competition without family by her side taught her a lot, and the lessons she learned poured over onto the golf course. Vines nailed down six top 10 finishes, including a win her sophomore season at the UNLV Spring Invitational.
Big things were brewing for the little known Texas girl with a powerful drive and a sweet stroke. Vines had switched to a new swing coach in her junior year of high school, employing the help of Greg LaBelle, the Butch Harmon product from Las Vegas.
LaBelle took Vines’ training deeper. He not only showed her what was wrong with her swing, but he also taught her to look for the problems on her own and fix them.
“Kelsey knows what to do and how to get it done,” LaBelle said. “The big thing is that she is very consistent. She has enough length to be able to put low numbers out there, and she has always been focused to make it happen.”
After two years at BYU, Vines was recruited by Alan Bratton and Courtney Jones, Oklahoma State’s new coaching tandem.
The relationship between Vines and her coaches quickly flourished. She credits Bratton for recognizing where she needed to improve and helping her make the proper adjustments. In her first year as a Cowgirl, she was named Big 12 Conference Newcomer of the Year and Player of the Year, and was named a second team All-American.
Despite the success, she still sees herself as outsider.
“I look at some of the other girls that I play against and they get a little more notoriety,” Vines said. “I don’t get that much, compared to other girls at other schools. It makes me want to beat them and be the best I can be so that I can prove them wrong. If they don’t think I can do that, I’m going to show them that I can.”
Perpetually the underdog, Vines has been on fire this season, often coming from the middle of the pack in the final round to get her name at the top of the leaderboard.
This year at the Hurricane Invitational in early February, Vines posted a four-stroke victory over a highly competitive field, shooting 70-68-71 and signing off as the only golfer to go under par through 54 holes.
How long can she stay a secret? Vines now has three collegiate wins and has held the top ranking in the country for a week. It’s safe to say that the secret is out.
“It’s changing,” Bratton said. “Whether she is trying to, she has garnered more respect around the country for her level of play … there are a lot more people who recognize what she is doing.”
Vines is 552-25 over the field this season. Put simply, she beats 95 percent of the country every day. That would make her to outright favorite for any tournament, right?
Not in her mind.
“No, that’s what fuels my fire, being the underdog,” Vines said. “People don’t see me coming. Out here (OSU) you walk down the hallway and you see all the All-American plaques. You see everyone before you that was so great and it makes you want to do that.”
On Tuesday, the Cowgirls will finish up the Bruin Invitational in sunny California and there will be two events left before the Big 12 and National Championships.
It will be Vines’ last shot at postseason redemption. A team or individual title in her senior season would provide invaluable experience as she prepares to begin her professional career in the fall.
But for now, she’ll have to keep her foot on the grinder.
“I always try to think about what the other girls are doing,” she said. “I try to outwork them and do as good as I can. I know there are people who are trying to accomplish the same things I am going after.”
UP NEXT: OSU at the Bruin Wave Invitational
Where: Tarzana, Calif.
When: March 5
Time: All Day