Tallahassee golfer wins USA Games gold

The 2022 Special Olympics golf gold medal traveled from Orlando to Tallahassee around Ian Kelley’s neck.

Ian, a criminal justice alumnus of Chiles High and Tallahassee Community College, represented Team Florida at the Special Olympics June 5-11.

Adding to the excitement, Ian asked his father, Joe, to caddy on his way to winning a gold medal for Team Florida and Tallahassee.

Suffering from Asperger’s Syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder, Ian has been golfing since he was young and dreamed of playing professionally.

Reaching the Special Olympics medal stand was also a dream come true.

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Represent Tally

Ian Kelley traveled to the Orange County National Golf Center as Tallahassee’s sole representative for the Special Olympics USA in golf.

“Not many athletes have the opportunity to show their talents in front of the world,” said Ian. “For me, being chosen out of thousands to participate in the USA Games is an unforgettable experience.

“It was very important to me to represent Tallahassee with pride because I was the only person there for the golf. I had to make sure I did well, which was to finish in the Top 3 for me. “

In an 18-hole match on the wire, Ian was victorious. Leading by several strokes at the start of the final day, Ian had to remember to keep his composure to seal the deal on his best performance.

“I had five guys in my division and it all ended,” he said. “I was lucky to win the gold medal and make my family and my coaches proud.

Ian Kelley Wins Gold Medal at Special Olympics Orlando 2022

“I found out I was three strokes ahead and I told myself to stay focused, bring it home and not get ahead of myself. When I found out I had won the medal in however, many emotions invaded me… “

Ian got his start in golf as a child in Bradfordville, North Leon County. His expertise as a youngster caught the attention of coaches and eventually led him to perform on a big stage.

“He’s been playing since he was a kid at the Golden Eagle Country Club,” his father, Joe, said. “It was a great reward for him to show all those people who helped him along the way that he could continue to develop that skill.

“Bridget Hawk involved Ian in the Special Olympics and wanted him to compete in the American games. Her husband, David, is also one of her coaches. Whenever you do great things, you are surrounded by a village of great people and Ian was very lucky to have this.”

Learn a valuable lesson

While preparing for the Special Olympics, Ian Kelley received help from John Brown, who is one of 352 PGA Professionals and Apprentices in the United States.

Brown liked Ian’s natural talents, especially his strength.

“The day I went to see John Brown was supposed to be an hour lesson with him,” Ian said. “John was so nice and didn’t change much. He loved the power of my swing.”

“I intended to use him on the course. When you have a coach like that working with you, it stays with you all the time. I took what he gave me and what the Tallahassee coaches gave me and they were the reason I won the gold.”

Brown’s encouragement was a boost for Ian for Special Olympics.

“Ian is a first class gentleman and a hard worker,” Brown said. “He has the skills and is a grinder. I consider him the perfect student. You can’t ask for better than that from anyone. I had a ball with him and I wish I had him all day. year because I think he could be a very good player under tight management for a while.

“I was lucky to help a lot of good players. This kid had the moxie and the skill to win. I just wanted to make sure he knew it and of course he did it.”

Joe Kelley was a viewer of Ian’s session with Brown and watched his son’s confidence grow

“He came out of it with a little more confidence heading into the tournament after a PGA Pro Master told him he was good enough to win gold,” Joe said. “Ian told John his sand game needed help and they spent 30 minutes in the sand trap.

“On Ian’s last hole he was buried in the sand. That lesson came full circle for Ian and he hit a great shot out of the sand just as they were practicing.”

Ian is currently working on his PGA instructor certification and hopes to one day join Brown in Orlando to help children with disabilities.

“One of my goals is to become a golf instructor because I have always loved playing golf. I have always loved working with children with disabilities and giving them another perspective on life to play the game they love without worry.”

Joe (left) and Ian (right) Kelley at the 2022 Special Olympics in Orlando

Dad by his side: Father’s Day is coming early

Ian gave his father a gift for Father’s Day.

The elder Kelley walked alongside Ian for the duration of the US Games as a caddy.

“My dad was the reason I got involved in golf in the first place so having him by my side is the best feeling,” Ian said.

Working together allowed Ian to return to the Kelley household with gold around his neck. Joe cherished every moment of it.

“It’s the only time in my life that I’ve spent four days with him without arguing,” Joe joked. “I was extremely proud to think back to when Ian was three years old, learning to play golf and listening to his dreams of playing in the Olympics and being a professional golfer.

“Walking beside him as his caddy was surreal. We set ground rules to have a chat before he fired and give him a club suggestion – but I allowed him to cancel it. We’re got into this cool routine and looked up and thanked God for the opportunity.”

Ian Kelley poses with his gold medal from the Special Olympics 2022, June 14, 2022

Most memorable moment

Winning a gold medal at the USA Games with his father on his team is a strong memory for Ian.

With the Special Olympics behind him, Ian detailed his brightest memory when he then scored an eagle after his opponent carded one himself.

“I especially remember playing with a guy from Boston,” he said. “We were on a Par 5 on hole 15 and we were both hitting threes off the green until he came in 40 yards out for an eagle.

“Then I hit my chip and it came down the hill into the hole. As soon as my ball went into the hole, the crowd exploded.

“It was a surreal moment that I will never forget.”

Gerald Thomas III covers FAMU athletics for the Tallahassee Democrat. Contact him by email at gdthomas@gannett.com or on Twitter @3peatgee.

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