Oregon women’s golf sophomore Kelsey Ulep never used to enjoy practice.
But after a lower body injury sidelined her for two months, Ulep considers herself lucky to play golf now.
“I have a different perspective now,” Ulep said. “I’ve never had my sport taken away from me. So having those two months without being able to fully practice was kind of a game changer because now I appreciate it that much more.”
Ulep said she was “miserable” not being able to fully practice. She could only work on aspects of her short game but even that was limited. That’s when she realized how much she missed her sport.
“I realized that I should never complain about practice because I’m lucky that I’m even able to do it,” Ulep said.
The Ducks had an impressive spring, even with the absence of Ulep. They had four top-five finishes, including a first place finish at the Westbrook Invitational.
But her return in March could not have been timed any better. Despite the Ducks’ spring success, they were still playing shorthanded.
Before Ulep went down, Oregon’s rotation was about five deep. They had lost sophomore Megan Conder to injury months before, New Zealand freshman transfer Brooke Hamilton had not yet joined the team, and junior Brenna Murphy hadn’t logged significant time since the fall.
Ulep is back now, though. And her return gives Oregon some much-needed depth as NCAA Regionals approach.
“It was a big concern for us when we only had five people that were able to play 18 holes on an eight- or nine-person roster,” Oregon head coach Ria Scott said. “To be able to have a sixth person who is healthy is huge for us.”
Ulep will not travel to Baton Rouge when the Ducks begin regionals May 4. Scott and her staff decided on junior Marcella Pranovia over Ulep, based on how Pranovia has performed on Bermuda grass — what the Ducks will play on in Baton Rouge — this spring.
“I honestly didn’t think she would be able to come back, but I’m really happy that she did,” junior Cathleen Santoso said about Ulep’s return. “It’s sad that she won’t be traveling with us next week but everything comes down to the coaches’ decision.”
She’s working hard and I’m glad that she’s back in the game.”
Ulep could still play in the NCAA tournament at Eugene Country Club next month, but the Ducks have to get there first. They need to place sixth or better out of the 16 team field in regionals.
Oregon will have a huge advantage if it does advance though. The Ducks practice at ECC three times a week, so having a healthy roster will better their chances at placing high in the field.
Having Ulep back certainly gives Scott more of a sense of security and certainty heading forward. Now, they have a backup option if anyone else suffers an injury.
“It is incredible to know that there is a strong player knocking on the door of the lineup,” Scott said. “She will continue to push the top five at practice, and she is going to be ready to step in if needed.”
Follow Gus Morris on Twitter @JustGusMorris