Life came rushing toward an unsuspecting Kristen Gillman like a tidal wave after she won her first U.S. Women’s Amateur title in 2014. Among the perks of winning the most prestigious amateur title in the world are invitations to LPGA majors. Asked if she’d ever competed in a major championship before, 16-year-old Gillman replied, “Does the Girls’ Junior count?”
Gillman competed against the best in the world the next month at the Evian Championship, where she missed the cut. Similar results followed in 2015 at the U.S. Women’s Open and British Open.
In the midst of all these incredible opportunities, Gillman couldn’t shake a wrist injury suffered in the second round of match play at the 2014 Women’s Amateur. She went to five different hand specialists, ultimately ending up in a cast for six weeks. For most of 2015, Gillman did minimal practicing, doing the best she could to take advantage of doors that had opened.
“I think the hardest part was not knowing if I would be able to play again,” said Gillman of the forced break, “or even be able to be the player I was.”
Gillman, now 20, learned the value of rest and stayed her course, enrolling at the University of Alabama, in the fall of 2016. She had missed out on the 2016 Curtis Cup after plummeting down the World Amateur Golf Rankings. It would drive her to a 5-0 showing in ’18 for Team USA at Quaker Ridge.
The tears that streamed down Gillman’s face after winning the Women’s Amateur a second time last Sunday spoke to the journey it took to get back there.
It would be easy to assume watching Gillman’s putting clinic at Golf Club of Tennessee that she came by that naturally when actually, it was the product of old-fashioned hard work.
“Whenever I got to Alabama, I was really struggling with putting, and even at the beginning of this year, it was really bad,” said Gillman. “Just my confidence level was like an all-time low in putting. I was able to sit down with (head coach Mic Potter) and come up with a drill, we call it this railroad track drill that I’ve been doing every single day for the last year and a half. … I think path is so important, and so I think if you have a solid and repetitive stroke, then it really allows you to be able to make putts.”
On Gillman’s first day of conditioning in Tuscaloosa, Potter wasn’t sure if she’d even be able to stay her feet. In her two years at Alabama, Potter said, Gillman has drastically improved her stability and gained 15 yards that will prove valuable at the next level.
And the 4.0 student, who plans to graduate in three years, has also enjoyed a life outside of golf while away at school.
“She has a nice social group and can actually get away from this a little bit and have fun,” said Potter while out watching at the Curtis Cup in June. “I think that’s something not everybody thinks about – it’s the best time of your life too.”
Gillman hoisted the stunning Robert Cox Trophy for a second time without the braces and slight feeling of shock. She worked her way back from injury, from doubt, from a slump on the greens. Stepping stones that will prove invaluable at the next level.
Gillman found success early but didn’t rush, learning quickly that titles don’t come with guarantees.