It was 96 degrees on the first Wednesday of October, and the sun beamed down on Independence Golf Club as Calle Nielson playfully scolded her team for not putting on sunscreen.
Nielson is in her first season as the head coach of the University of Richmond women’s golf team. Before starting her position at UR, she was the assistant women’s golf coach for the University of Virginia, her alma mater.
In Nielson’s five seasons coaching at UVA, the team made it to the NCAA tournament four times and secured its first Atlantic Coast Conference title.
During her collegiate golf career at UVA, Nielson was a three-time individual medalist for the Cavaliers in various tournaments.
Nielson played professionally for a few years with the LPGA Symetra Tour, a tour designed to prepare young women golfers for the LPGA Tour, and had planned to move on to the LPGA when she received an offer to be a coach for UVA, she said in her intro video for the Spiders’ women’s golf webpage.
Nielson decided to become a coach because she had a fulfilling college experience and wanted to create that same experience for young women golfers and give back to the sport, she said.
Nielson said she understood how difficult college could be for students and recognized it as an exploratory, growing experience. She wants to be a positive influence on her players during this time, she said.
During practices, Nielson easily switches between correcting her players on their form and talking to them about school, family and new cafes, and making them laugh.
“I really think if you work hard and everybody works hard and we’re all nice to each other then we’ll be successful on and off the golf course,” Nielson said.
Collegiate golf tournaments normally span over entire weekends, sometimes extending to Mondays. Nielson often finds the student-athletes doing homework on the bus going back and forth between Richmond and tournaments, and in their hotel rooms in between tournaments.
First-year Muskan Uppal said Nielson understood that the team members could not prioritize either golf or schoolwork over the other, but that they had to devote time to both equally.
“You have to have patience, I think that’s a big one,” Nielson said as she discussed what was needed to be a good coach. “I think you also have to be disciplined and lead by example… I think you’ve got to be lovable, some tough love.”
When the team members get nervous before a game, Nielson does her best to calm them down, she said.
During one tournament, Uppal said she had been especially anxious because her family and friends had been watching. This caused her to not do as well as normal on the first day of the tournament.
Nielson took Uppal on a walk before her next round the following day and gave her a pep talk, telling her that she was capable of doing well but was allowing her mind to get the best of her, Uppal said.
After their talk, Uppal shot her first under par of her college career.
“I tell them … ‘just be good enough,’” Nielson said. “If you’re just good enough, you can be successful. It doesn’t have to be perfect and in golf there’s a lot of perfection, we’re all perfectionists. So just be good enough, it’s okay.”
Junior Lizzie Reedy said Nielson’s structuring of practice kept her and her teammates present and engaged. She places their drill score on a big scoreboard and gives them incentives such as taking them to get ice cream if they score under par as a team.
“I just love her energy,” Uppal said. “She just is … a naturally bubbly, competitive, excited, motivating person, and I think that rubs off on all of us.”
Nielson said her next goal for the team was to send a player to a national championship to play individually. After that, she said she planned to continue to get more players to the national competition until the entire team could play.
“With the girls that we have right now, and their mentality, they’re ready to be successful and continue on their journey of winning,” Nielson said.
Contact contributor Jada Frazier at firstname.lastname@example.org.