Changing course: East junior switched to golf after injuring knee

Although she grew up playing volleyball and basketball, knee surgery effectively ended Lily Shelp’s career in those sports.

So Shelp picked up golf, and played it as a freshman at Columbus East. But she was still having trouble with the knee and was limited in what she could do.

Now as a junior, though, Shelp’s knee is fine, and her golf game has blossomed. She’s been the Olympians’ No. 1 golfer for most of the season.

“She’s playing exceptional golf,” East coach Troy Buntin said. “There’s still a lot of inconsistencies. She’s still learning how to play the game, and when you factor in this is only her second year of real competition, she’s made a lot of improvement. Every day is a learning experience for her, and every day, I think she gets a little bit better.”

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Today, Shelp will lead the Olympians into their final home match of the season, a battle with fourth-ranked Columbus North at Otter Creek. East will visit Greensburg on Thursday, then return to Greensburg Country Club for the sectional on Saturday.

Shelp has been playing in the No. 1 spot for the the Olympians this season after playing No. 5 last year.

“I like it because I feel like I get to carry my team and encourage everyone to do better,” Shelp said. “It’s more pressure, but I like that leadership role.”

Shelp originally injured her knee playing basketball in fifth grade. She played volleyball for her mother, Julie Nichols-Shelp, at St. Bartholomew, before having to undergo the surgery before her eighth-grade year.

She sat on the bench with the team that year, but couldn’t play.

“After that, it was hard to get back into volleyball because I was behind from missing the club season,” Shelp said. “So I wanted to try something new.”

That next spring in her eighth-grade year, Shelp played golf for Buntin at Northside Middle School. She began working with swing coach Jeff Smith twice a week the next year at Otter Creek, and he redid her swing.

“It was all messed up, and I kept hitting it to the left,” Smith said. “He totally redid my swing and taught me how to snap my wrists. Now, everything goes well for the most part.”

After posting a low score of 52 for nine holes as a freshman, Shelp had a nine-hole best of 50 last season. But she shot better than that on both nines when she carded a 93 for 18 holes.

This season, Shelp has been in the 40s every match. She has twice won medalist honors with 42s at Otter Creek, and shot an 18-hole best of 87 at Cascades.

“I’ve had my ups and downs, but overall, I’ve had more good matches than bad,” Shelp said. “They haven’t all gone like I’d like them to go, but I had my personal best this season, and I’ve improved a lot.”

With no seniors on the East squad, Shelp has had to be a leader both on and off the course, along with fellow junior Autumn Fateley. Shelp and Fateley are the only two returning varsity players from last season.

Despite their youth and inexperience, the Olympians finished third in the Hoosier Hills Conference Tournament. They have an excellent chance to advance to regional with a top-three finish in Saturday’s sectional.

“I’m really proud of our team,” Shelp said. “Everyone has their matches that they don’t do the best, but everyone had had at least one really good round this season. At the beginning of the season, we weren’t totally sure if we could (advance out of sectional) or not, but I think with the way everyone has improved, we definitely have a chance.”

Unless she makes another big jump next year and starts getting scholarship offers, next year likely will be Shelp’s final season of competitive golf. She is looking at possibly attending Butler University and wants to be a physician’s assistant for an orthopedic surgeon or OBGYN.

While she has another season of golf left at East, she is hoping this is not the final week of her junior season.

“My goal is to beat my personal best and shoot low 80s (at sectional), which I know I’m perfectly capable of if I can play my best,” Shelp said.

Lily Shelp

Name: Lily Shelp

School: Columbus East

Year: Junior

Sports: Golf, swimming

Favorite sport: golf

Favorite athlete: Jordan Spieth

Other school activities: National Honor Society, Spanish National Honor Society

Author photo
Ted Schultz is sports editor for The Republic. He can be reached at tschultz@therepublic.com or 812-379-5628.