U.S. SENIOR WOMEN'S AMATEUR
After Time Away From Competition, Nittoli Savors Every Shot
October 8, 2018 | Vero Beach, Fla.
By Lisa D. Mickey
Like many women in this week’s U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur Championship, Kelley Nittoli is taking her second swing at competition.
And like many women in her age group, Nittoli, 55, of San Antonio, Texas, took time off from golf to work, marry and rear a family before circling back to a game she loves with a new view of competition.
“To realize the other players in this championship are just like me is a little more calming, unlike at the U.S. Senior Women’s Open, with people like Juli Inkster and Laura Davies in the field,” said Nittoli, who also qualified for the USGA’s inaugural Senior Women’s Open this summer at Chicago Golf Club, where she missed the cut.
“It makes me a little less nervous this week and offers more of a comfort zone,” added Nittoli, who is married with two children in college. “I think I can compete.”
Nittoli advanced into Monday’s Round of 64 with scores of 75-79 for a 36-hole stroke-play total of 10-over-par 154 at Orchid Island Golf & Beach Club. She qualified as the No. 28 seed and will take on 2010 U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur champion Mina Hardin at 11 a.m. It’s exactly where the player-turned-mom-turned-player/mom wants to be in her circuitous route back to competitive golf.
From 1994 to 2012, competition was on a back burner while Nittoli went through the paces of launching her life after college, including a brief stint in professional golf.
But golf was always there, flickering as a reminder that someday, she would circle back with clubs in hand.
Nittoli, a native of Victoria, Texas, whose maiden name is Kelley Markette, graduated from Houston Baptist University in 1985 with degrees in accounting and finance. She transitioned from college golf onto the LPGA Tour, where she had conditional status in 1987. She also competed on the Futures Tour, Ladies European Tour and the Ladies Asian Golf Tour.
She eventually moved from life as a touring pro to work as a club professional. She worked at Houston Country Club before heading to the Northeast and the Metropolitan PGA Section, where she taught in 1992 at Leewood Golf Club in Eastchester, N.Y., then for two years at Sunningdale Country Club in Scarsdale, N.Y.
“It was great because I taught lessons and did the books for the pro at Sunningdale,” she said. “I could play a lot on a really nice course and I played in some stroke-play and match-play tournaments in the area just to have a little competition.”
During the second of her three years in the Metro New York area, she met her future husband, Jim Nittoli. The two met in May 1993, were married in March 1994, and both eventually landed club-pro jobs in the Houston area.
Following the 1995 golf season, the couple made their way back to Texas for the winter months. Kelley called her former boss, Dick Harmon, who was the pro at River Oaks Country Club in Houston, and asked if they could stop by to visit and play golf.
“Dick said he needed an assistant pro and that it was a ‘tap-in’ for Jim if he wanted the job,” she said. “We also visited Paul Marchand, who was looking for a woman professional at Houston Country Club.”
So the couple moved to Houston, and Kelly worked for about a year and a half for Marchand as an assistant pro until their son, James, was born in 1996. About a year and half later, daughter Julie was born.
When Jim was hired as the club professional at Longmeadow Country Club in 1998, he packed up the family for a move to Massachusetts, where they remained for 11 years.
“I didn’t play much golf when we were there,” said Kelley. “I was busy with our family.”
That changed in 2009, when the couple headed back to Texas after Jim took the job as director of golf at San Antonio Country Club.
Even with their kids in school and thinking about college, Kelley was in a place where year-round golf was possible again. She could squeeze in some practice and think about playing some rounds.
“I missed it a little bit and played golf here and there,” she said.
Nittoli got that chance to practice and compete again in 2012 when the USGA staged a championship in San Antonio. She qualified for the U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur Championship at Briggs Ranch Golf Club and advanced to the Round of 16.
“I turned 50 right after the Women’s Mid-Am, so I started playing in some of the senior tournaments, such as the 2014 Women’s Southern [Golf Association Senior Championship, which she won],” she said.
She has also represented the Texas South Team at the Women’s Texas Cup and won the 2014 and 2016 Greater San Antonio Senior Women’s Golf Championship. In 2014, Nittoli was honored as the San Antonio Senior Women’s Player of the Year.
It was fun for her children to see their mom in competition, especially as Julia was thinking about playing college golf.
Now, their son James, is a sophomore pitcher for the Trinity University baseball team in San Antonio, while Julia is a junior on the women’s golf team at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn.
Nittoli took a job last year as the assistant women’s golf coach at the University of Texas San Antonio. It was her first time working in college sports.
“I was supposed to be helping the team with course management, but I think I was the one who actually learned a lot,” she added with a chuckle. “They just never gave up, so I’m trying to keep that attitude, too.”
She enjoyed working with the student-athletes, but rarely got to play golf. After the 2017-2018 school year, she resigned to focus more on her own game for the first time in many years.
Her first goal was to qualify for the 2018 U.S. Senior Women’s Open, so she and her son practiced together to get ready. She qualified in Nashville, Tenn., which gave her a chance to visit with her daughter.
To get ready for this week’s U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur, she competed in the Texas Women’s State Amateur Championship in July, hosted by her home course, San Antonio County Club.
“It’s cool that I played and qualified as an alternate in the inaugural U.S. Senior Women’s Open in Chicago and in the Senior Women’s Am,” she added. “To play in two USGA events in a year is amazing since I’ve only played in four.”
Nittoli plans to stick with senior championships. Playing in the Senior Women’s Open made her want to compete more in an effort to qualify for other events.
And this week in her first U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur, Nittoli said she’s trying to “stay positive” as she enters match play.
“I’m trying to see if this old body can still do what it needs to do,” she said. “It’s a lot different than it was years ago.”
When asked if there is anything she’s still trying to get comfortable with, Nittoli just smiled.
“Every shot,” she said. “If I could win a couple of matches, I’d be very happy.”
Lisa D. Mickey is a Florida-based freelance writer whose work has frequently appeared on USGA digital channels.