Friday is a busy day for former Georgia golfer Jillian Hollis.
Early in the morning, Hollis was scheduled to participate in an LPGA qualifying tour event in the Atlanta area.
Immediately after her round, Hollis will leave to make it to her college graduation at 7 p.m. in Athens, Ga.
Although Hollis decided to forego her senior golf season at UGA to pursue a professional golf career, graduating from the place that gave her a foundation to pursue her dreams remained very important to her.
“I spent three years being the student-athlete here, so I thought it would be so great if I could have the closure here by being able to walk in graduation,” Hollis said.
The Symetra Tour is the official qualifying tour for the LPGA, with the goal of developing women golfers from around the world for professional careers in golf. Hollis and Bailey Tardy both left UGA early and are competing on the tour in hopes of qualifying for the LPGA Tour.
Neither took the decision to leave UGA lightly. It all came down to timing and the unique opportunity to join the Symetra Tour and get professional experience at a young age.
Their former head coach from UGA, Josh Brewer, is very supportive of his golfers who choose to go pursue pro careers. Having his golfers qualify for the Symetra Tour not only looks great for the UGA golf program but also is an opportunity that he realizes is hard to turn down, he said.
“It’s like a job interview,” Brewer said. “If our dream is to work for Apple or Amazon, and they offer you the job, you have to take (it).”
Both Tardy and Hollis wanted to ensure that graduating with their respective degrees in family financial planning and communication studies would still be an option even after going pro. The UGA academic advising office has worked with both of them so they could finish their classes online and get everything in line for graduation, such as ordering caps and gowns and collecting their cords.
This was also very important to Brewer, who has never had a player not graduate or take more than four years to graduate.
“It’s very unique here,” Brewer said. “We will still support you to get your diploma even if you go pro. Once you become a Bulldog, you are really a Bulldog for life.”
Tardy has had to balance taking 12 hours of classes per semester with her Symetra Tour schedule. She also had to overcome a wrist injury that put her out of golf for three and a half months and made her question if she would be able to play at the same level she was used to ever again.
“After all of that, graduating will probably be one of my top five triumphs ever,” Tardy said.
Tardy’s current coach, Chan Reeves, who has been with her since she was 10, has been instrumental in helping Tardy come back from injury and balance the workload of school and golf.
“She enjoys the game and keeps a good attitude about working on the game,” Reeves said. “She has been consistent with playing the game and not turning it into ‘work’ by putting more pressure in herself than needed.”
Hollis posted her first Symetra Tour win on March 29 at the IOA Championship. She also made the cut for the 2018 U.S. Open in her first pro tournament, which was a good confidence boost entering her new career. Brewer got to be by her side as her caddy during her professional debut.
“Making the cut for the U.S. Open taught me that I can compete with some of the best girls in the world,” said Hollis. “But winning my first tournament was such a great feeling, just knowing that all my hard work was paying off.”
Even though Hollis has a crazy travel and practice schedule, she makes an effort to keep up with how her former teammates are doing. Rinko Mitsunaga, the only senior on UGA the golf team, has been very motivated this season by the support from Hollis.
“It’s cool to see who you end up keeping up with after everyone leaves,” Mitsunaga said. “Jillian will text me things like ‘Hey great round today,’ so I know she’s constantly keeping up with the team.”
Although both former Bulldogs are travelling and pursuing their dreams, they will always have a place at UGA. Brewer keeps their lockers in the clubhouse and encourages the girls to use the UGA facilities whenever they are in town and need to practice.
“I have the rest of the year planned out, but I definitely have to take one tournament at a time, otherwise it’s easy to get overwhelmed,” Hollis said. “I’m so lucky that I get to do what I’m doing every day. This is the best job in the world.”
On Friday, as she’s celebrating with her fellow UGA graduates, she already will know she loves what comes next.
This story was written by Emma Erbs of the Grady Sports Bureau, part of the sports media program at the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication.