Age: 29 Current Residence: Birmingham, Ala. Home Course: Greystone Country Club College: Samford University Profession: Professional Golfer
“Never give up on your passion.”
That is one of the first things you will hear from Kelly Villarreal, both on and off the golf course. Her passion for golf has endured more twists and turns in her life than a Six Flags roller coaster.
Growing up in Birmingham, Ala., sports provided that platform to bond with her parents. Her father introduced her to golf at age 12, when she fell in love with the sport immediately. Her mother introduced her to basketball also at a young age, and was her coach in middle school.
Deep down, however, she knew that she wanted to be a professional golfer. During her junior year of high school, her father asked her where her true passion lies. She smiled, and said “both.”
Following that conversation, she looked at her career path and decided she needed to dedicate herself to just one sport. The idea of becoming a professional golfer took shape. She focused on golf her final two years of high school, earning a scholarship to Samford University.
“My dad has always taught me no matter what I do in life do it with a passion,” said Villarreal. “I will never forget the first time he told me that. It puts a smile on my face today, even after everything I have been through.”
Villarreal excelled at Samford her first two years. Her final two years of college, however, were different.
She battled through an eating disorder that consumed her life for more than five years, beginning her junior year.
“I was so broken. Everything in my life was turned upside down,” explained Villarreal. “I barely got through my final two years of college, and did not perform up to my potential on the golf course. I just became this totally different person. I lost myself.”
She also distanced herself from her family in the process.
“Here I had this most supporting family and I just kept pushing them away,” said Villarreal. “I kept telling them, ‘I know what I’m doing.’”
After graduation, Villarreal’s dream of being a professional golfer was a distant memory. She wanted nothing to do with tournament golf. Her one place of comfort, however, was on the golf course. Not tournament golf, but recreational golf.
“Going through everything at that time, the golf course was very therapeutic for me. It was the only thing I could do to get away from everyone. It was playing golf without a score and without all the pressure. Being out there reminded me of my early days with my dad, and it helped me to get back on the right track.”
For the next few years, Villarreal tried to right the ship. She successfully overcame her eating disorder, ended a bad relationship and took a career in the medical services field. She was becoming happy and healthy. She also accepted what she called at the time, her ‘dream job.’
Her father, however, thought otherwise. In 2010, he wrote his daughter a letter that she will keep and cherish for the rest of her life. It is a letter that is still difficult for Villarreal to discuss publicly, but one that she took to heart and took immediate action. In so many words, he told her that she had a dream and a passion for something in life, to never give up and to not have any regrets.
Fast forward to 2012. She is speaking out about her past and is starting a foundation – Pro-Healing –to help athletes with nutrition and self image. She got married in November 2011. She is just starting her professional golf career, having turned professional just prior to filming ofBig Break Atlantis, where she will test herself on the golf course.
With her passion for tournament golf renewed,Big Break Atlantiscould be that big first step in Villarreal’s golf career.