Amateur comes full circle

Published February 11, 2006

Golf started as a way for Kelly Gosse to pass the time in a bean and corn farming town in central Illinois.

He was 9 when his mother introduced him to the sport at Nichols Park Course in Jacksonville, Ill. It was a nine-hole course at the time, but the game captivated Gosse, who went on to be the Florida State Golf Association 2005 Amateur of the Year.

"There were 30-40 kids that were my age and we all played golf," said Gosse, 42, who now lives in Inverness.

"Back then a membership was only $60 for a child so you'd get out there a lot and it was the only place in town. But that was 30 years ago. It's definitely changed."

After graduating from Routt Catholic High School Gosse tried a semester of college but "it didn't agree with" him, he said.

That's when Gosse's uncle called. "I've found you a job in the (Florida) Keys," his uncle said. "You need to be there in two weeks. Do you want it?"

Gosse packed his dark brown Mercury Montego and drove more than 1,400 miles to the Sombrero Country Club on Marathon to be the assistant golf professional. He was 19.

"It was quite a shock to be surrounded by water. It's a different world," said Gosse, who worked there from 1982-84. "After you've been there a while (you) either fish or drink."

Learning the ropes

Six days a week, Gosse worked. He said his game suffered, going from a 1 or 2 handicap to a 4 or 5, because of long hours. Gosse was the only assistant.

"I knew it was going to be a challenge to stick it out," Gosse said. "When I was first was there it was learning how to treat people, how to interact with people.

"The problem with people who belong to country clubs that are membership owned is that everybody is your boss, and everybody wants to be the boss and everybody thinks they are the boss. They're not, but you've got to make everybody happy. It's a tough juggling act."

The experience helped Gosse hone his mentoring skills.

"Learning how to recognize different flaws is what teachers do," Gosse said. "Recognizing the subtleties and correcting those, makes you a good player and a good teacher."

Gosse then worked as an assistant pro at Kings Bays Yacht & Country Club in Miami from 1984-86. His game gradually improved and he said he had a chance to share the course with celebrities, including Jimmy Johnson, Dan Marino, and Muhammad Ali.

"I had to figure out how to get a happy medium," Gosse said, "between playing and teaching."

Gosse refined his stroke and improved his short game. He moved to Citrus County in 1987 and worked as teaching pro at Seven Rivers Golf & Country Club. He also played on the Space Coast Tour, a top minitour, from the late 1980s through the early '90s and posted four top-five finishes.

He worked at Citrus Hills Golf & Country Club in 1990, and missed the cut in an attempt to qualify for the PGA Tour in 1991. He continued at Citrus Hills through '94 and played with Ted Williams.

"I played 10-15 rounds of golf with him," Gosse said. "It was great if you liked to hear a lot of cussing. He was a nice person and we just had a good time."

After a while, Gosse developed tendinitis in his elbow.

"And my game went to hell," Gosse said. "I couldn't move my elbow more than 90 degrees. I didn't see any end in sight for my arm to get better."

For a year and a half, Gosse stopped playing. He moved back to Illinois, where he met his second wife, Karen, whom he has been married to for 11 years. In 1998 he regained his amateur golf status.

Despite long hours at Apria Healthcare, where he works as a logistics supervisor, Gosse has slowly worked his game back. Gosse jokes that he doesn't sneak off from work to play, and would be lucky if he played 75 rounds last year.

But his experience on the course comes through.

"I have a very natural golf swing because my golf game was developing just playing golf instead of going to the driving range standing in front of a teaching pro.

"My mental game is exceptional. I don't talk about it too much, because people would laugh and make jokes about it, but there is nothing I feel I can't do. It doesn't mean I always do it, but I expect to play at a certain level."

Savvy and confidence key

The biggest thing Gosse said he has learned is to play within himself.

"Kelly is savvy," said Jack Pultorak, USGA Director of Rules and Competitions. "He isn't a power player. He's not a big tall strong guy that hits it a mile, but he knows how to manage the course."

Staying out of trouble and playing a strong short game has been Gosse's mantra.

It paid off in 2005 when he earned FSGA Amateur Player of the Year after topping the standings with 985 points.

He won the Match Play Championship, tied for third in the Public Links Championship and tied for ninth in the Mid-Senior Championship. He was also selected to represent Florida in the USGA State Team Championship. In 2004, Gosse and partner Ken Godwin won the Mid-Amateur four-ball North and Mid-Senior four-ball North championships.

"The key is not being afraid to do well," Gosse said. "A lot of times when people are playing well they have a tendency to protect what they are doing. You have to hit one shot at a time; once a hole is over you have to forget about it and go for it."

--Dawn Reiss can be reached at 352 860-7303 or dreiss@sptimes.com