Position: Head Coach
Kelley Hester is in her seventh season as the head coach of Clemson’s women’s golf program. Her program has reached the NCAA Tournament each year the event has been held over her first six seasons.
When you look at her career it is no surprise she has brought the Clemson program to consistent success. She has been successful everywhere she has coached over her 22 seasons and 211 tournaments as a head coach.
Nothing documents her success more than the fact that she is the only coach in NCAA Division I history to take four different programs to the NCAA National tournament and record at least one top 20 finish at four different schools.
Over her career, Hester has 18 wins, 35 top two finishes and 97 top fives. She has taken teams to 17 NCAA regionals, had six top 20 national finishes, coached 33 all-conference players and 17 All-Americans.
Hester has had a remarkable first six years as Clemson head coach. In addition to a perfect attendance record in the NCAA Tournament, the program has gained its first three tournament victories, had 24 top five finishes and reached the NCAA national tournament for the first time. This has been achieved against a schedule that has been consistently ranked in the top 25 nationally.
The 2021-22 season included a five-shot victory at the Clover Cup, a 17-team tournament in Arizona that included nine top 50 teams. Clemson had four of the top 20 players in that tournament. Clemson finished the year with four top five finishes and an 86-58-2 record against the field in its 10 tournaments. Clemson golfers had 49 rounds at par or better, just one off the school record of 50 set in 2017-18.
Players have flourished under Hester’s leadership as Clemson has had six first-team All-ACC selections and three medalist honors. Alice Hewson, who closed out her career as the first four-time All-ACC player in Clemson history in 2019, was also named an All-American and was a four-time selection to the All-ACC Academic team.
Another highlight was Hewson’s top 10 finish at the inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur in April of 2019. Hewson is now a professional on the European tour and already has a victory, and a top 20 finish at the Women’s Open Championship on her resume.
Savannah Grewal, a senior in 2022-23, also played in the Augusta National Women’s Amateur in 2022. Three current or former Hester players at Clemson have now played in the event.
Hester’s teams have also been outstanding in the classroom. All six years she has guided the program, Clemson has had a perfect 1,000 APR score. In her first six years the program has had 13 selections to the WCGA Academic Scholars team, and 11 selections to the Academic All-ACC team.
For the second consecutive year, Clemson played an abbreviated schedule in 2021 due to COVID restrictions. The Tigers had four top four finishes in national tournaments, which led to a strong 60-33 head-to-head record and a top 8 NCAA regional seed.
Ivy Shepherd earned first-team All-ACC honors in leading the Tigers in stroke average, and Savannah Grewal was second in stroke average and had the first hole-in-one in Clemson history. Freshman Annabelle Pancake tied the Clemson round record with a 65 at the Clover Cup, and graduate Alexandra Swayne became the first Clemson women’s golfer to qualify for the US Open and the US Amateur in the same year.
At the conclusion of the season Hester was named Southeast Section Coach of the Year by the LPGA, the fourth time in her coaching career she has won the award. She earlier was selected in 2009, 2016 and 2017.
The abbreviated 2019-20 season saw the Tigers record a second-place and third-place finishes in two tournaments with national fields. The Tigers played the #22 schedule in the nation according to Golfweek/Sagarin, the third straight year Clemson played a top 25 slate. Ana Paula Valdes completed her four-year career as one of the programs most successful players on and off the course. In 2020 she became the first Clemson women’s golfer to win the ACC’s Weaver-James-Corrigan Scholarship.
Hewson became the second Clemson golfer to win medalist honors in 2018-19 when she took the Icon Invitational in Houston by three shots against another national field. The native of the United Kingdom left Clemson with 46 school records.
Hester started four freshman over the course of the 2018-19 season and the group was led by freshman Ivy Shepherd, who finished as a first-team All-ACC player. Shepherd showed her potential with an 11th place finish at the Ruth Chris Tar Heel Invitational where she beat eventual National Champion Maria Fassi by two shots and Augusta National Amateur Champion Jennifer Kupcho by six shots.
In 2017-18, Clemson won the Houston-Dickson Tournament in Houston, Texas. The Tigers also finished second at the Schooner Classic in Oklahoma, third at the Clemson Invitational and third at the ACC Tournament in Greensboro. That is the best finish for the Clemson program at the league event. Clemson finished sixth out of 18 teams at the NCAA Regional in Tallahassee, losing in a playoff for the final national spot to Wake Forest.
While Clemson did not make the national tournament, Hester’s Tigers were ranked 24th in the final Golfstat national rankings and finished 26th according to the Golfweek rankings. Hewson won the Clemson Invitational in dramatic fashion with birdies on the last two holes, as she set a school season record for stroke average at 72.10.
Hester’s first Clemson team won the UCF Challenge in Orlando, Fla. in February of 2017, the first team win in school history. In April, the team finished fifth at the ACC Tournament.
Three weeks later, Clemson finished a program best fifth-place at the NCAA Regional in Athens, Georgia. That was an emotional accomplishment for Hester because she played her college golf on the very same University of Georgia Golf Course.
The Tigers were seeded 10th entering that 2017 regional, but a second-round score of six-under-par 282, improved Clemson from 11th place to fourth in one day. A final round 298 led to the fifth-place finish and the first invitation to the National Tournament in Clemson history.
The performance at the regional made Hester the first coach in NCAA Division I golf history to take four different programs to the NCAA National Tournament. She had also accomplished the feat at Arkansas, Georgia and Furman.
Hester became just the 13th coach in any sport to take a Clemson team to the NCAA tournament in the first year of a coaching tenure, and the first to take a women’s program to a top 20 final ranking in a rookie season since 2001. All this was accomplished with a team that did not have a senior in its lineup in postseason play.
Ranked 39th nationally by Golfstat entering the 2017 NCAA Regional, the Tigers finished the season with a tie for 20th at the NCAA National Tournament at Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove, Illinois. The Tigers tied fifth-ranked Florida State on the challenging course, giving the program its first top 20 final ranking. It meant Hester had led two different programs to top 20 national finishes in consecutive years, as she had led Furman to a No. 20 finish at the 2016 NCAA Championships in Oregon.
Each year she was named Southeast Regional Coach of the Year by the LPGA.
Throughout her 22-year head coaching career, Hester has recruited and developed some of the top talent in today’s game. From 2005-08, Hester coached Stacy Lewis at the University of Arkansas where she was the 2005 SEC Freshman of the Year, 2007 National Champion and 2008 SEC Championship Individual Medalist and Player of the Year.
Breaking onto the LPGA Tour in 2009, Lewis has won over $14 million, 13 LPGA events, including two majors. She has been ranked number-one in the world on two different occasions, including for 21 weeks in 2014.
Hester was named the Southern Conference Coach of the Year each of her last two seasons at Furman after claiming SoCon Championships in 2015 and 2016. Under her leadership, Furman produced the SoCon Player of the Year her last two seasons and the SoCon Freshman of the Year the last three.
In 2016, Hester guided Furman to a 20th place finish at the NCAA Championship after finishing fourth at the NCAA Bryan (Texas) Regional. One of Hester’s first recruits at Furman, Taylor Totland, placed 20th among the nation’s individuals in 2016 after qualifying for the NCAA Championships the year before.
Hester was named the 2016 Southeast Coach of the Year by the LPGA and was one of six finalists for the National Coach of the Year honor by the same organization. She obviously left the Furman program in great shape as the Paladins finished in the top 12 in the nation each of the first two seasons after she left the program. Her last recruiting class included Natalie Srinivasan, who was named the WBCA National Player of the Year in 2020.
While claiming her first SoCon Championship in 2015, five of Hester’s student-athletes were honored on the All-SoCon Team, while three of her newcomers were named to the SoCon All-Freshman Team. Prior to the 2015 season, Hester led Furman to consecutive second-place finishes at the SoCon Championships.
Before joining Furman, Hester was the head coach of her alma mater at the University of Georgia for five seasons after five years at Arkansas and one year of starting the program at UNLV.
In her time at Georgia, the Bulldogs made five-straight NCAA Regional appearances and went on to place 10th and 15th at the 2008 and 2009 NCAA Championships, respectively. In 2009, Hester was named the LPGA National Coach of the Year. Along with her team’s consistent success, Hester recruited, coached and developed Marta Silva Zamora, who was named National Player of the Year in 2011.
Hester was a four-year letter-winner and three-time All-Southeastern Conference selection for Georgia from 1993-96. She was a member of Georgia teams that placed fourth at the 1993 NCAAs and captured the 1993 and 1994 SEC championships. Individually, she recorded 21 top-20 finishes in 40 tournaments during her four-year career.
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