Jim Kelson joined the Volunteers in June of 1998 and is now entering his 19th season (2016-17) at the helm of the Tennessee Men’s Golf program. With many achievements during his tenure, Kelson looks to reinvigorate and expand on the program’s success to once again guide Tennessee to national prominence.
In 18 seasons under Kelson, Tennessee has captured 16 NCAA Regional appearances and seven (three consecutive 2009-11) NCAA Championship berths. Kelson has guided the Volunteers to 21 team wins including the most notable 2007 SEC Championship, which was Tennessee’s first league crown in 17 years. At the event, UT finished with three players in the top-10, including two tied for second making it one of the most successful season of Kelson’s tenure. As a result of the team’s performance, Kelson was honored as the SEC Coach of the Year. Kelson has developed 16 Vols into professional golfers during his head-coaching career on Rocky Top and his efforts to increase this total remain strong.
During the 2015-16 campaign, Kelson led the Vols to nine top-10 finishes, with their best finish of runner-up posted at the Kingsmill Intercollegiate. Kelson coached the Vols to the NCAA Stillwater Regional where they placed in the top-25 for the 16th time under Kelson’s guidance.
The previous season (2014-15) was highlighted with a wire-to-wire tournament victory at the Colleton River Collegiate where Kelson coached three players – Jack Smith, Chad Merzbacher and Michael Nagy – into the top-10.
The Vols won back-to-back tournament championships (Davidson Invitational, Bobby Nichols Intercollegiate) during the 2013-14 season, which was the first time since 2007. During this season, Kelson spent time developing Oliver Goss who set the UT career scoring average with a low 71.88. In this season, the men’s golf program earned its 15th consecutive trip to the NCAA Regional and capped the season with an 11th place finish at the NCAA Eugene Regional.
The program surged in the second half of the 2012-13 season to win a pair of team championships and five individual titles. Kelson produced Rick Lamb to back-to-back victories (SeaBest/C&F Bank Intercollegiate) and introduced Goss to the lineup. Goss provided a key spark to the Tennessee roster as he and Lamb became the duo that led the Vols to an impressive NCAA run, highlighted by a fourth-place finish at the Baton Rouge Regional and a 19th place showing at the finals.
The 2011-12 campaign was led by Garrick Porteous as he averaged a low 72.25 scoring average and competed in a team-high of 32 rounds. Kelson coached the Vols to an NCAA postseason berth for a then-school record 13th consecutive time and finished the season with a 6th place finish in the NCAA’s Stanford Regional.
Under Kelson’s watch, the 2010-11 squad rallied with a strong finish to the regular season and advanced to the NCAA Championship finals for the third time in program history since 1995. Kelson led the men’s golf program to extend the school record of producing an NCAA postseason berth for the 12th straight time in school history.
Kelson piloted the Vols to collect two wins within the first three 2009 fall tournaments. Under his guidance, Darren Renwick led the lineup as he received medalist honors, which promoted the Vols to win the prestigious Carpet Capital Collegiate title for the first time. The 2009-10 campaign was recorded as one of the most noteworthy seasons for Tennessee, as the program climbed to No.1 in the national Golfstat.com rankings after posting eleven top-10 finishes to cap off the year.
Kelson and the Vols charged into the 2008-09 season taking four runner-up finishes led by Chris Paisley and Robin Wingardh in the lineup, and posted a combined ten top-10 finishes on the year. The squad challenged for the NCAA Northeast regional before finishing second, and then challenged for a berth in the NCAA Championship Match-Play Quarterfinals before placing 12th.
Under Kelson, the Vols entered the spring of 2008 with a runaway victory at the Turtle Bay (Hawaii) Intercollegiate, after finishing the fall of 2007 with another triumph at the Ping Arizona Intercollegiate. Kelson coached Charlie Ford to take the title at the Turtle Bay event behind a school record 54-hole score (200) and led Chris Paisley as he shot a low 64 in the second round of the Bank of Tennessee Intercollegiate to take medalist honors.
The 2006-07 campaign was the most memorable season during Kelson’s tenure as he guided UT to win its first SEC title in 17 years after holding off Alabama by two strokes. The squad’s performance led to Kelson being named as the SEC Coach of the Year while three Vols finished among the top-10 at the conference championship. During this year, the roster also took the title at the Bank of Tennessee Intercollegiate, posted eleven top-10 tournament finishes, and placed 16th at the NCAA Championship.
Kelson guided UT during the 2005-06 season to capture the title of their very own Tournament of Champions, with Lloyd Campbell and Philip Pettitt tying for medalist honors with a then-school record of 201. Under Kelson, Jonathan Mount claimed the Shoal Creek Intercollegiate individual title the very next week to help Tennessee to a runner-up finish at the tournament. The Vols finished in the top-10 eight times and ended the year placing ninth at the SEC Championship and 18th at the NCAA East Regional.
In 2004-05, Kelson developed David Skinns who won the SEC individual championship, UT’s first medalist at the conference tournament in 15 years. The victory by Skinns kick-started Tennessee’s postseason run to an 11th place finish at the NCAA Championship. The Vols combined for 12 top-25 finishes including three titles on the year.
Kelson guided the lineup to seven consecutive top-10 finishes with an overall 12 top-25 finishes for the season. The Vols capped off the 2003-04 campaign with a NCAA regional appearance where the squad placed 18th in the New Haven, Conn. event. Bowen Sargent, who served under Kelson, was named Assistant Coach of the Year by the Golf Coaches Association of America, expanding the success of the program.
Kelson led Tennessee to its first NCAA Championship appearance under his watch in 2003 and the first since the 1997 campaign. The roster paved the way to the final with a fourth place finish at the NCAA East Regional and also placed fourth at the SEC Championship. The 2002-03 season was highlighted by two back-to-back runner-up finishes at the Tournament of Champions and Hawaii Fall Classic.
In 2001-02 the Vols won three titles and finished second twice in 12 tournaments. Kelson coached David Skinns who claimed medalist honors at the Augusta State Invitational and helped the Vols to a tournament victory.
Within Kelson’s initial year through the 1999-2000 campaign, the Vols improved their previous record of 31-113-1, to 101-68-7. Under his guidance, the team finished within the top-10 in 18 out of 25 tournaments and posted its then-best par-or-better finish (864), since 1995 at the Cavalier Classic.
Prior to his head-coaching debut, Kelson coached the only Division I sport at Augusta State University. He led the Jaguars to four appearances in the NCAA Championships from 1993-1996 and five appearances in the NCAA East Regionals. He guided his teams to 32 top-five finishes in 57 regular season tournaments.
Under Kelson’s leadership, the Jaguars won 11 tournaments during his seven years as coach, at least one team championship every year. As a result of the teams performance, Kelson was named NCAA Division I-North Coach of the Year in 1993.
Prior to Augusta State, Kelson spent a year on the mini-tour in the Orlando area before assuming his position at Florida. Kelson served as the assistant coach at the University of Florida under former U.S. Amateur champion Buddy Alexander. Kelson helped recruit several of the golfers who helped the Gators finish runner-up at the 1993 NCAA Championship.
Along with Alexander, Kelson has also worked with some of the most highly regarded teaching professionals in the world, including Conrad Rehling, Eddie Merrins, Bob Toski, Wally Armstrong, Chuck Cooke, Denis Pugh, Ernie Vaderson, and Michael Shannon.
He served as Alexander’s assistant for three years before accepting the head-coaching position at ASU. Kelson also served as the assistant athletic director for compliance at Augusta State.
Along with Kelson’s studies at the University of Alabama, he also made time to compete on the men’s golf team for the Crimson Tide for two and a half years. He transferred to Alabama after his sophomore year from the University of Oklahoma where he was a member of the Sooner program that competed in the 1983 NCAA National Championship.
His achievements on the course include winning the 1983 Oklahoma State Amateur and a third-place finish at the 1987 Bermuda Amateur, in addition to participating in the 1982 U.S. Golf Association Amateur.
Kelson resides in Knoxville, Tenn. with his wife, Jinger.