Cats’ new leader puts signature look in motion

Herald file photo
Jasper senior Gillian Blessinger will help lead the Wildcats in pursuit of their 17th sectional title Saturday when the girls golf postseason commences at Buffalo Trace Golf Course. The Wildcats won last year’s sectional crown by 38 strokes over Gibson Southern.


When Jan Tellstrom arrived at his first practice with the Jasper girls golf team earlier this summer, it wasn’t long before the Wildcats assigned him a nickname.


“He showed up, and I was like, ‘The Monopoly Man is gonna be our coach!” junior Haley Schroeder said.

Tellstrom has sported his signature handlebar mustache for the last 51 years, and it makes him almost a mirror image of the character Rich Uncle Pennybags from the Monopoly board game. The mustache has survived a fire (he accidentally set it ablaze while working with a space furnace) and recovered from job interviews (he once shaved it because he thought a clean-shaven look would make him look more professional).

But the lesson he’s learned is the mustache is part of his personality.

“When I started at French Lick in 2009, I went up to my golf director and I told him that I did an informal survey and noticed that none of the employees had facial hair,” Tellstrom said. “When I asked him if he wanted me to shave he told me, ‘I don’t want you to shave because then no one would have any idea who you are.’”

Just like his choice in facial hair, Tellstrom’s beliefs on the direction golf is heading have remained steady over time. Tellstrom, who was director of golf at Smock Golf Course in Indianapolis for 34 years before becoming the head golf professional of the Pete Dye Course at French Lick in 2009, believes the sport’s future lies heavily in a growing interest from women of all ages.

“Women tend to be the transportation directors and control 80 percent of the household revenue in family, so if they decide that golf is a good thing, then it’s a good thing,” Tellstrom said. “I think that if we grew their interest by about 20 percent, then the game would be better not only financially but also culturally.”

Before joining the Wildcats this summer, Tellstrom had never coached a team or individual.

One of the reasons Tellstrom was anticipating taking the job at Jasper was so he’d get to do something he hadn’t done much of before: instruction. However, upon arrival he quickly realized most of the Wildcats already had a golf instructor they worked closely with.

“I’ve realized that a bit of separation between their golf professional and their golf coach is a healthy thing,” Tellstrom said. “I do miss being able to help with the technical parts of their swing, but I think that I can teach them some things that the golf professionals might not have time for because I see them almost on a daily basis and in a variety of conditions.”

Since Tellstrom hasn’t been worrying as much about the analytical side of things, his main focus in his first season at Jasper has been improving practices.

Among Tellstrom’s ways of making practices simultaneously more enjoyable and more helpful is introducing the BirdieFire app, which allows the girls to implement up to 250 different styles of drills on their own. In another one of his strategies, the Wildcats play different scrambles and games such as two-club outings, in which players select two clubs they must use for an entire nine-hole round and see how quickly they can finish.

“We’ve done a lot more drill-focused things and stuff with putting, which is nice because it helps us to improve other aspects of our game while we’re out there playing,” Jasper senior Gillian Blessinger said. “He’s also helped to lighten our moods when things get stressful, which is nice.”

A common theme shared among the Wildcats as they approach Saturday’s sectional at Buffalo Trace Golf Course in search of their 17th title overall and fourth in the last five years, is something they’ve heard Tellstrom tell them often this season: “Always smile when you’re on the golf course.”

Schroeder said no matter how bad she’s shooting or how stressed she is, sometimes that’s the only thing you want to hear.

“When you’re playing bad, sometimes it’s hard not to get down on yourself,” Schroeder said. “But when he’s out there cracking a joke and making sure you’re always smiling, it helps.”

Even though Tellstrom jokes his players “must think I’m from Mars” at times, he said he’s had absolutely no regrets taking the Jasper coaching gig while at the same time maintaining his day job as a Golf Professional Emeritus in French Lick.

“I honestly like this way more than I thought I would,” Tellstrom said. “I think given a little bit of time, I can make a difference in their lives. The life lessons that this game teaches you alone are worth the investment, and even if some of these girls never play again, it’s good for their character.”

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