In less time than it took Happy Gilmore to join the PGA Tour, the Georgetown women’s golf team has progressed from non-existence to one of the top 100 programs in the nation.
In the five years since its inaugural season in 2001, the program has grown under steady leadership with dedicated athletes, but the face of the program is about to change.
Former Head Coach Leland Keyser announced her resignation last week, citing medical issues. Keyser, who had medical troubles last year, had been on continued medical leave for the entire 2005-06 season. In her place, Acting Head Coach Connie Isler (MSB ’05) will take over the reins of the program.
“It is with a heavy heart that I leave Georgetown. My health issues give me no choice,” Keyser said in a press release. “Working with such talented, spirited intelligent and determined young women has been one of the greatest experiences of my life. Georgetown and the members of the truly dynamic women’s golf program will remain in my heart forever.”
Keyser was involved with the program even before any women made their way onto a golf course. The efforts of John Keyser, who has since married the departing head coach, helped to initiate the program in 2001, and Leland Keyser was named the first head of the fledgling program.
“We were all really excited to be a part of a starting program, just to build tradition and culture.
And we were all very determined to have it be very successful,” Isler said. A freshman recruit on the inaugural Hoya team, she played for four years, graduated from Georgetown last spring and returned to coach the team this fall.
Keyser is originally from the area, attending high school in Bethesda, Md. She graduated from the University of Virginia in 1988, and before landing a coaching position at Georgetown she was a professional golfer, playing on the Futures Golf Tour from 1990-92. In 1993, she became the vice president of DIVOT, Inc., helping to organize charity golf events in the D.C. area.
Keyser began playing amateur golf again in 1996, and in 1999 the Golfweek/Sangarin Amateur Ranking System awarded her a national ranking of No. 3. She continued to golf and played in five U.S. id-Amateur Championships, where she was a finalist in 1999, as well as five U.S. Amateur Championships and the 2000 U.S. Open.
At Georgetown, Keyser had a vision for the program from the start, Isler said. She wanted the program to be top-notch academically and athletically, promoting the Jesuit way of education and encouraging her athletes to aim for the level of top-tier programs such as Stanford and Duke.
“As a leader she definitely wanted us to focus on many different aspects of our life, not only golf,” senior Nicole Hayashi said. “I think that was very helpful for the past four years.”
Keyser was creative as a coach, coming up with drills to help the athletes be imaginative, Isler said. Hayashi mentioned that Keyser drew on her own golfing experience to help her as a student-athlete compete on different golf courses.
“She always wanted to point us in the right direction,” senior Christy Larrimore said. “I always felt that I could go and talk to her about numerous things outside of playing golf.”
According to the athletes, Keyser helped them with more than just the mechanical aspect of the game.
“She helped me with my mental game, and that was a key aspect of my performance over the last four years,” Hayashi said. “She was really there for me a lot.”
“Leland was good at keeping you positive on the course,” Isler said of Keyser’s leadership over the years. “She impacted everybody differently, in their own way.”
The athletes also mentioned Keyser’s talent for recruiting new women and helping them adjust to the team dynamic, so that the team was always a cohesive unit. “She really set up a nice team chemistry,” Larrimore said.
Under Keyser’s leadership, the team has competed in every Big East Championship after the tournament’s inception in 2003. The team placed fourth out of four teams during the first two years of competition, but last spring the Hoyas placed second among a field of four, with Isler tying Notre Dame’s Karen Lotta for top honors. Keyser was named Big East Women’s Golf Coach of the Year in 2003 after two seasons of coaching Georgetown varsity.
“She definitely made it evolve from a team that’s main focus was to play golf in more of a novice point of view, all the way to what it is now,” Hayashi said, “which is more along the lines of an advanced team.”
This fall the team has continued its level of play, even without Keyser’s presence. The women opened with a third-place finish in a field of 17 at the Notre Dame Invitational in August, yet their most recent finish was 13th out of 18 at the Shootout at the Legends in Franklin, Ind. The team also earned its highest-ever ranking last week when Golfstat placed the Hoyas at No. 84 in the nation.
Though Leland’s absence may be missed, Isler will continue as head coach, and the women will finish out their fall season at the Penn State Tournament Saturday and Sunday.
“We’re having the best season so far, and we know she only wishes us to continue on the track,” Isler said. “What she has done in the past is definitely reflected on how we are now.”