Kaycee Conrad vividly recalls a softball accident that briefly debilitated her from participating in the sport she excels in: golf.
Conrad was concussed after getting hit in the back of her head with a softball. Shortly after the incident, Conrad knew something was wrong.
“We were playing softball and we had a substitute teacher,” Conrad said. “She let the kids play hard. I was not playing with a helmet and running to third base. Someone threw the ball and it hit the back of my neck. They hit (my head) instead and I went down. The teacher, who was texting on her phone, took me to the office and I had to go to the hospital.”
After her trip to the hospital, Conrad, who is a seasonal resident of Polson, said relief wasn’t instantaneous.
“The first time I went in and I found out I had a concussion, they just gave me some medicine or Advil or something and I fell backwards in the bathroom,” Conrad said. “I hit my head very hard against the bar of the bathroom and every ten seconds I would vomit. Then I spent the night at my cousin’s graduation and that is when I went back to the hospital.”
Conrad’s road to recovery and return to golf would be a process.
“We went to three different hospitals and I was super scared,” Conrad said. “I wasn’t able to think about anything and I couldn’t even talk because I was getting sick so much. I just fell asleep and when I woke up it, would be the same thing. I was super scared and worried about it, and I couldn’t think of anything at all.”
According to Conrad, the concussion affected her memory to the point she couldn’t remember how to play the sport she spent so many summers working and practicing with Polson resident and veteran golf coach Roger Wallace at Polson Bay Golf Course.
Conrad struggled with her first attempt at her return the greens.
“When I swung, I missed the ball every time and I didn’t even make contact with the ball,” Conrad said. “Even when I did return to the golf course, I couldn’t remember I played in tournaments the previous season. One of my friends said ‘we are going to Buffalo in conference,’ and I would say ‘we never played Buffalo in my entire life. That spring right after my conclusion, I had memory loss and loss in my mobility functions.’”
Eventually, medical professionals ruled her concussion as “severe.”
“My motor skills were completely off and my behavior was different,” Conrad said. “I was an outgoing and happy person and (after the concussion), I would have mood swings like crazy and insomnia. I couldn’t sleep and that would make my personality kind of missing for a while. I got super frustrated and super upset that I couldn’t remember how to do certain things with my golf swing. I got pretty angry and (despite my frustration) I just kept pushing. I hoped that I would come back and I just kept working.”
Conrad said she started to get in the “swing of things” when she came up to Polson in the summer though she said she didn’t even recall visiting Montana despite doing so every single summer.
“One of my coaches helped with every little thing I needed and if I didn’t want any help, he would let me have some time to think about everything,” Conrad said. “He was super helpful thoroughly my recovery process. I kind of got in the swing of things that summer. Every summer I would come up to Montana and I don’t even ever remember coming up here.”
During her sophomore high school season Conrad said she “struggled.”
“I was super bad my sophomore season when I started,” Conrad said. “My freshman season wasn’t very good. I was still shooting in the 100s and I didn’t want to be in last place anymore. I was eventually able to get back on my feet and starting getting lower and lower scores, just because of practicing. I eventually placed 8th in the conference. In the state, I guess I just really pushed hard to be back on top where I was.”
Conrad also overcome dyslexia and earned a golf scholarship to William Penn University in Iowa.
“I have dyslexia and I get super confused all of the time,” Conrad said. “I am not sure how to explain it but when I am reading, the words get pretty confusing. For me, I never opted to take any classes that aided me in that. I just worked through it.”
Conrad credits Polson coach Roger Wallace for helping her become the accomplished golfer that she is.
“He helped me immensely and started me out with the basics,” Conrad said. “I just keep growing and going from there. He talked to me about what I could do with my future and what I was capable of doing. He was super helpful with everything.”
Swinging for the fences
In addition to excelling in high school after overcoming being concussed, Conrad was developing her ability to long drive in golf.
“I’ve always been a long hitter and I think it was sophomore year at state when I entered in a long drive competition,” Conrad said. “I was competing against all of the other girls and I was the No. 1 girl in the state (at long drive). I was intimidated competing against some of the other girls because they were shooting in the 70s and I was just a little sophomore. I saw the expression on the line judge’s face when I shot a 284. I was told that was pretty good for a girl that was this young. My mom made some calls and entered me in the Mesquite Showdown in Nevada. I got first in the juniors and third out of four girls that were women’s pros.”
In the 2016 world long drive in Thackerville, Okla., sponsored by GOLF Channel, NBC Universal, Conrad placed 13th in the world competition beating out world class long drive veterans to move up in her world ranking standings. In that competition Conrad 13th in the world competition beating out world class long drive veterans to move up in her world ranking standings.
Conrad also competed in the Rockwell Blast in Bountiful, Utah. She placed in the top-7 in the women’s division, including competitors from south Africa.
“When I (competing in these competitions) I was super nervous,” Conrad said. I was meeting several world champions and the ladies (at that competition) were hitting the ball farther than most men. I was kind of nervous.” According to Wallace, who instructed Conrad for several seasons in Polson, she was always a “natural athlete.”
“Probably since her early middle school years she’s been a tremendously hard worker and tremendously driven,” Wallace said. “To excel in golf you have to put in long hours by yourself and not have any teammates around to hang with. She hits the range and practice facility and plays lots of golf without being in the company of others. She’s very driven to succeed.”
Conrad will compete in three to four long-drive events around the country in spring and summer of 2017 with the goal to qualify for world championship in the fall. Conrad will begin her college golf career this Aug. at William Penn University.
Wallace admitted he didn’t know what Conrad had overcome but he said it “doesn’t surprise him.”
“That really speaks to someone that is driven like that, makes no excuses and just keeps her nose to the grindstone,” Wallace said. “She overcame what she needed to overcome and that really doesn’t surprise me. I am very proud of her accomplishments.”
Wallace said she has always had a knack for hitting the ball.
“She’s always had the athletic ability and good hand-eye coordination,” Wallace said. “I kept simple (at first) and let her refine her mechanics as she gained more experience. It can’t just be one shot out of 20 is good. It’s a combination of her athletic ability, work ethic, and coaching that helped her along the way. Not every person that has that kind of athletic ability decides to go into golf. They might play softball or basketball. I don’t see every person with that kind of athletic ability that comes to the course, and certainly Kaycee has been blessed with more than her fair share.”
With the concussion, Conrad said she still has good days and bad.
“My memory is still super bad and I still have insomnia,” Conrad said. “I am super excited to play for William Penn. When I started talking to them a while ago, I had this gut feeling that I was going to go there and it was meant to be. I went to visit with them three times and I didn’t even meet the coach in person. I just knew from the site of things that it was going to be where I played my college golf.”
Conrad said she is still driven to be one of the best golfers in the world.
“You just keep practicing hard, and we are going up to Kalispell to have a golf simulator and work on the driver’s 18-holes every day in the summer,” Conrad said. “I just need to stay on top of it. The concussion is not a downfall.”