The 16-year-old Payson High sophomore who paced the Longhorns in the Division III “state” tournament was destined to be a golfer.
It’s in his genes.
Both of Jeffrey Kelley’s parents, Kevin and Kim, are avid golfers with considerable links skills.
Jeffrey’s older brother Brandan starred four years for the Longhorns before earning a golf scholarship to Point Loma University in California. Currently Brandan is an assistant pro at Chaparral Pine Golf Club and in 2008 won the 84th Arizona Amateur Championship.
With all that golf moxie and experience in the family, it’s little wonder Jeffrey overcame the handicap of youth and inexperience to finish ninth among the 80 qualifiers — many of them juniors and seniors — at the state finals played May 13-14 at Antelope Hills near Prescott.
Over two days on the south course and north course at Antelope Hills, Kelley set a standard for stability, finishing 75 on the first round and 76 the second.
PHS coach Bret Morse lauded Kelley, saying, “Only four or five (golfers) posted a score lower than him on day two.”
Rendering his second day feat even more commendable is that most all the qualifiers, as well as coaches, considered the north course the most difficult at Antelope Hills.
Kelley remembers the round well, “I was angry because I was seven over (par) on the front nine the second day and I told myself ‘this is not going to be the day I shoot in the 80s’.”
Just as he pledged, Jeffrey rallied on the back nine to card a very respectable 76.
In fact, on the second day, scores in the 80s were common and some finished in the 90s.
Kelley attributes his rapid turnaround after a less than stellar showing on the front nine to a healthy dose of mental toughness.
“It’s amazing what the mind can do,” he said. “I just had to be determined.”
Kelley’s excellent showing at Antelope Hills might be partly attributed to his being familiar with the course.
“Every year since I was about five or six (years old) my dad, brother and I play in a father-son tournament there,” he said.
With the state tournament now in the rear view mirror and two years of high school eligibility remaining, Kelley is steering toward a summer agenda that has him playing in five AGA and seven JGAA tournaments.
Kelley says he hopes to use the experience gained in them to make an even better showing in next year’s high school state tournament.
As for what his golf career will be down the road, Kelley says he’s not trying to outdo, or even match, what Brandan did in high school and college.
Rather, he relishes any help and advice he receives from his older brother.
You see, golf is in the family genes.