Caroline Inglis: Former Junior Golfer Embraces LPGA Rookie Season
Part I in a Series of Feature Stories on Former Oregon Junior Golfers
by Ron Bellamy
To begin the year, her first as a member of the LPGA Tour, Caroline Inglis played tournaments in the Bahamas and Australia and won a little money in both places.
Then she played the Founders Cup in Phoenix in mid-March and won quite a bit, just over $25,000, her biggest pro payday after finishing tied for 11th at 11-under over four rounds. She followed that with another par-breaking performance in the Kia Classic, 6-under to finish tied for 33rd and earn another $11,000.
“I feel like every round out there is such a learning experience,” she said. “I just have to keep building on it.”
A three-time state champion for Eugene’s Churchill High School, a Pac-12 champion and four-year star at the University of Oregon who capped her college career with a strong performance in the NCAA championships at Eugene Country Club two years ago, the 24-year-old Inglis is embracing this next-level challenge.
“I love it,” she said. “It’s so fun. Honestly, since I started golf, it’s literally a dream come true to take everything in and experience it all.”
Interestingly, she started to say “since childhood,” then caught herself. In a sport in which so many top golfers were competing by age 7 or 8, Inglis was a relative late-comer, almost a teen-ager.
“I was probably 12,” she said. “I started very late. I hated golf until then.”
Not that she lacked encouragement, or role models. Her father, Bill, loved the game passionately and was good at it; her brother, Colin, five years older, is the assistant professional at Emerald Valley Golf & Resort in Creswell. Father and brother would play together, but Caroline, preferring other sports, wanted no part.
“I thought it was a boring sport,” she said “I would go to the driving range, but I didn’t take it seriously.”
Then her family joined Springfield Country Club, and when she was 12, Bill and Laurie Inglis enrolled their daughter in the junior golf summer program there.
“I remember not wanting to go and getting out there and realizing ‘Oh my gosh, I’m actually really good at this, I’m better than all the other girls,’” she recalled. “It came as naturally as golf can come. I got better pretty quickly.
“I liked it. I think the competitiveness in me liked that I could beat other people and keep improving so fast. I was kind of hooked after that summer, and then I started playing in Oregon Junior Golf tournaments, and my dad was the pusher of that, and signed me up for those.
“That’s how it started.”
She remembers her first tournament, an event at Sandpines Golf Links in Florence. She was so raw that she didn’t realize she had to putt everything out, reaching to pick up a 6-incher she thought was a gimme. “I shot 92 or something,” she said. “I was so bad.”
Her rise in the game was somewhat meteoric; from her first official tournaments at 13, she started her string of state Class 5A prep championships as a freshman at 15. In Oregon Junior Golf, she would make two Junior America’s Cup teams and qualify for U.S. Girls' Junior and U.S. Junior Ams. At 17, she advanced to match play in the 2011 U.S. Girls' Junior after tying for 28th in stroke play. Among other achievements, she recorded medalist honors in the Oregon Amateur, placed third in the Oregon Junior Stroke Play championship and finished second in the Oregon Women's Stroke Play championship.
In retrospect, Inglis said, she was fortunate to be challenged by a strong group of Oregon competitors, including Morgan Thompson, Gigi Stoll, Kendall Prince and eventual 2017 NCAA champion Monica Vaughn of Reedsport who defeated her, 2-and-1, in the finals of the Oregon Junior Amateur in 2010.
“We had so many good players,” she said. “It made me want to get better. And I think that’s why I never burned out; I started later, and I wasn’t tired of it by the time I got to college.”
Her father, a physical therapist, was her first coach.
“I think he was a happy medium between the type of parent that I’ve seen a lot with kids, that is so overbearing and they push their kids too much,” Inglis said. “He definitely wasn’t like that. But he was there, and he was pushing me to practice, and he always wanted to go out to the course with me and play together. He was really helpful because he was a good golfer himself.”
When Inglis reached high school, her father knew it was time to step aside as her coach.
“Once we saw that ‘Ok, I’m actually good at this,’ we realized that I needed a swing coach,” she said. “That was probably hard for him, to not be so involved, and watch me get lessons from somebody else, but he knew it was time for me to get an actual swing instructor.
“My Dad was awesome. He was so helpful. He would come to me with Bob Rotella books, and he’d made all these marks in them. I mean, he was just a total golf nerd. He was super into that. And when golf was on TV he’d be ‘oh, Caroline, look at this person,’ and he would know all these facts about every player in history.
“But he wasn’t overbearing, or crazy over-involved.”
Her swing coach, from high school through college, was former University of Oregon golfer Justin St. Clair, a Eugene-area assistant pro; they worked together until a year ago, when St. Clair left golf for the business world.
“Justin is a friend, a mentor,” she said. “He made my golf game into what it is. I can’t say enough about him. He’s such a great guy. ... I still talk to him all the time.”
The summer before Caroline’s junior year in high school, her father was diagnosed with leukemia. Eventually he underwent stem-cell transplant and his cancer went into remission, and he was able to watch tournaments. He traveled with the Ducks to the NCAA championships in 2013, at the end of Caroline’s freshman year; en route home, he developed a clot, and was forced to be hospitalized in Phoenix.
There he developed an infection that led to multiple systems failure; within two days Bill Inglis died, at age 60, and Caroline lost the person she’s described as her “best friend.”
What would Dad think now?
“Oh my gosh, he would be so happy for me,” she said. “And not shocked, but ‘Oh my gosh, she’s actually on the LPGA.’
“And I think he would probably be giving me all these different technique things to work on after the round. And (advice about) being present in the moment, one shot at a time, not getting ahead of myself. And telling me that I do belong out there. ... He would always say to me ‘they put their pants on one leg at a time, just like you do Caroline.’ He said that all the time to me.
“I think he would be so happy, and would love to be traveling all around the world to watch me play.”
While at the UO, Inglis was active in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Her faith remains a cornerstone of her life. Last year, she took part in a Bible study group while playing on the Symetra Tour, and she expects to be involved in a similar fellowship during the domestic portion of the LPGA season.
“I think that is really important,” she said. “I struggled with this when I turned pro, that my identity is not in golf, my identity is in Christ. Golf is what I do, it’s not who I am. I think it’s really helpful.
“If I’ve had a bad day, it’s OK, it’s not the end of the world, it’s not what really matters. It’s about living out the gifts that God has given me and in loving people around me. I think it definitely helps in giving me perspective.”
Inglis now lives in the Portland area, where she’s joined Columbia Edgewater Country Club; her new swing coach is Travis Weza, formerly of The Reserve and now based in Scottsdale, Ariz. She played two LPGA events last year, but she admits to feeling “like a rookie” when this season started.
“At the beginning of the year it was tough,” she said. “But I do feel like I belong. There’s nothing that special about the girls at the top of the leaderboard, unless it’s Lexi Thompson hitting it 300 yards. It’s still golf, it’s still hitting fairways and greens and making putts, and I really do feel I can make a career out of it if I keep learning and improving and having fun doing it. So yeah, I do feel I belong."
“I love golf. I love the competitiveness of it. It is lonely (on the Tour) in that I miss my boyfriend and my mom and my family, but I’ve made so many friends. I’ve really, really enjoyed it so far. It’s so awesome to be surrounded by these amazing players who I’ve been watching on TV for 10 years.”
Ron Bellamy is the former sports editor and columnist for The Register-Guard in Eugene. For past golf writings, visit ronbwriter.com.