Rachel Ingram has helped the East Tennessee State women’s golf team achieve great heights in recent years. Now she has a team of her own.
Ingram, a 26-year-old Johnson City native, has been hired as head coach at Samford University in Birmingham, Ala. She begins her new job on Friday.
“I’m really excited,” said Ingram who had been an assistant to Stefanie Shelton at ETSU for the past three years. “I’m nervous but excited. It’s really a good opportunity at a great school. It’s sad to leave my family and my old team, but I’m looking forward to getting started.”
Samford coach Brooke Valente had to give up the position after one year when her husband’s job forced the family to move to South Carolina. That left the school looking for a replacement.
Samford Athletic Director Martin Newton mentioned to his ETSU counterpart, Richard Sander, that he had an opening. Sander mentioned Ingram’s name.
The rest happened quickly. Ingram went in for an interview on Monday, Aug. 12. She was offered the job the next day and had one more day to accept.
Ingram is a 2005 graduate of University High. Her father, Duke Ingram, is one of the founders and owners of Blackthorn Club. She played four years at Ole Miss on a golf scholarship and tried her hand at professional golf, playing on mini-tours.
She has spent the past three years — one as a volunteer and two full-time — as an assistant coach to Shelton at ETSU as the team has made great strides, winning the Atlantic Sun Conference championship and qualifying for its third NCAA regional last spring.
“I feel like Stefanie helped prepare me a lot,” Ingram said. “We became really good friends. She taught me a whole lot. She taught me how to do the behind-the-scenes stuff. I learned how to handle girls going through different times. How to turn girls into women. How to turn them into players. It was a really good thing for me. I owe a lot of my knowledge to her.”
Shelton said Ingram will be missed at ETSU.
“Rachel had such a positive impact on our program,” Shelton said. “She quickly earned the team’s trust and was a great coach during tournaments and training. Samford’s women’s golf team is fortunate to have such a bright, passionate coach in Rachel. I believe she will bring a new competitiveness and level of success to the program.”
Ingram inherits a Samford team that finished fifth in the Southern Conference last spring and enters this season ranked 102nd in the country. With three freshmen coming in — one was medalist in the U.S. Women’s Amateur qualifying — she expects to hit the ground running.
“They have a lot of talent and a lot of potential,” Ingram said. “I am going to remind them a team is a team. There’s more to life than golf. Yes, we want to win, but there’s more to it than that.
“I want them to learn how to actually play the game, not just hit the ball ... learn how to compete and enjoy it. That’s something Stefanie taught me while I was at ETSU. And we’ll work on course management. That’s my No. 1 skill, thinking their way around the course.”
Ingram has also been working at Blackthorn Club as a swing teacher.
“It’s really hard to say bye to my students, the kids, the women,” she said. “That was a really tough decision last Wednesday. But this opportunity doesn’t come very often, if ever again, so I’m going to go and hope for the best.”