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How Lengthy Seaside State sophomore beat most cancers to succeed in No. 1 in faculty golf rankings

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It wasn’t how Ian Gilligan envisioned beginning his sophomore season; not after a promising freshman marketing campaign wherein he was runner-up at convention, and definitely not after his landmark victory on the NCGA Novice, held solely weeks earlier at famed Spyglass Hill. However there he sat, in his automotive on an early September afternoon within the car parking zone of Business Hills Golf Membership. He had simply missed out on qualifying for Lengthy Seaside State’s fall opener by a single shot, and he was fuming.

“I did not say something,” Gilligan recalled. “I used to be so pissed off.”

Just a few mornings later, although, Gilligan had refocused. It was nonetheless darkish out, and Gilligan had simply dropped off his teammate, roommate Steven Deutsch, at Walter Pyramid, Lengthy Seaside State’s iconic multi-use gymnasium the place those that made the journey squad for the Husky Invitational had been assembly earlier than heading to the airport.

By the point the Seaside’s aircraft took off for Seattle, Gilligan was already on the again of the vary at El Dorado Park Golf Course.

“These days when the staff was gone, I used to be placing within the work,” Gilligan mentioned. “I knew issues had been going to show round.”

He was proper. A couple of month later, Gilligan had not solely cracked two lineups, however he had two particular person titles to his credit score as properly.

When the aircraft landed in Lengthy Seaside after Gilligan’s second victory, at Cal’s Alister Mackenzie Invitational, Gilligan and his teammates immediately fired up their cellphones and pulled up Golfstat. It was the night of the primary fall rankings reveal, they usually had been in for an enormous shock.

“The blokes all look again at me they usually’re like, ‘Holy cow, Ian’s No. 1,’” mentioned Reilly Hegarty, the staff’s interim head coach for the autumn who has since returned to his assistant position following the latest rent of Rob Murray from Kansas State.

Added Gilligan: “To go from not qualifying for the primary match to a month later seeing your self No. 1 on Golfstat, it was fairly cool.”

In Gilligan’s case, nevertheless, it isn’t even near being the best comeback story in his 19 years of life.

In the case of adversity, he is overcome a lot worse.

He is overwhelmed most cancers.


GILLIGAN WAS A PREP STANDOUT at Galena Excessive in Reno, Nevada. As a 15-year-old freshman, he edged then-SMU sure Ollie Osborne, a future US Novice runner-up, by a shot to seize a area title earlier than happening to complete fifth at states.

On the identical time, unusual well being points had began to pile up – a lump right here, a sore there, adopted by extra critical pores and skin issues. One lump popped up in Gilligan’s left armpit shortly earlier than the state match. Gilligan initially pushed by way of the ache by taking Advil, however by early June, throughout a qualifier for Junior Worlds, he’d had sufficient. Medical doctors would take away what they initially thought was a cyst.

Additional checks, although, revealed way more harrowing information: Ian Gilligan, the 15-year-old son of Grant and Julie Gilligan, had stage-4 ALK-negative massive cell lymphoma.

It is a most cancers often discovered within the aged and barely in youngsters – simply 20 or so on the time, and Ian was one in all them.

“As you would possibly anticipate, when you do not really feel 100% and your whole tournaments for the summer time have been canceled, your motivation falls off a bit,” Gilligan posted on Instagram on July 26, simply over a month after he first shared his prognosis together with his followers.

“…It may be a troublesome 5 months, however I am not going to lose it!”

Gilligan underwent seven rounds of chemotherapy and spent over 50 days at Renown Kids’s Hospital in Reno, together with 10 days within the ICU with mucositis, a facet impact of the chemo, following his second cycle. He misplaced about 40 kilos.

However when he felt as much as it, he’d play just a few rounds of golf between remedy weeks.

“A variety of youngsters will get very depressed,” Grant Gilligan advised Nevada SportsNet again in 2019. “Most of them do, particularly if they do not have an exercise. …However having the ability to swing the membership actually helped him. He would inform me to not fear. That is how courageous he’s.”

When Ian was 2 years previous, he’d hit golf balls with a kitchen spoon, and never lengthy after Grant Gilligan must pull his son off the driving vary, kicking and screaming.

However when it got here to battling most cancers, Ian by no means complained.

Even when his preliminary post-chemo scans, shortly earlier than Christmas, got here again inconclusive, and there was the potential want for a bone marrow transplant, he remained optimistic. He wasn’t dropping.

By the tip of January, he was ringing the bell.


GILLIGAN’S FIRST TOURNAMENT BACK was in late March on the AJGA’s Sergio and Angela Garcia Basis Junior Championship in Austin, Texas. He tied for 20th. A month later, he misplaced a high-school occasion in a playoff scorecard. And only a week after that, he eagled his remaining gap to win for the primary time since his most cancers prognosis.

“It appeared like I used to be capable of get again into the stream of issues fairly simply,” Gilligan mentioned. “By regionals, I felt like I used to be regular once more.”

Gilligan went on to efficiently defend his area title, by six photographs, after which carded eight final-round birdies on the state championship earlier than bogeying his final gap and dropping in a playoff. That summer time he received the Ellie Mae Traditional Junior to obtain an exemption into the Bay Space’s Korn Ferry Tour occasion, the place he shot 4 overs, beating 17 professionals, together with present PGA Tour participant Brandon Matthews.

It was an impactful stretch, profitable regionals and enjoying with the professionals simply months faraway from chemo. However within the second, Gilligan admits, he did n’t understand the magnitude of his accomplishments.

“For me, I used to be simply enjoying golf,” he says, “and excited that every little thing was again to regular.”

And like most traditional youngsters with elite golf expertise, he signed on to play collegiately, selecting Lengthy Seaside State over Illinois. One of many deciding elements for Gilligan? Unsurprisingly, the nice and cozy climate was engaging to somebody who needed to fear about solar overexposure throughout his most cancers battle.

However when Gilligan formally stepped on campus final fall, it wasn’t all sunny skies. He was unprepared for the student-athlete steadiness and received behind his first semester. Like this yr, he didn’t qualify for the season opener. He’d play 3 times within the fall, failing to notch a single top-15 end, after which kicked off his spring with three straight showings of T-39 or worse.

Finally, although, he’d settle in, capping his spring with three top-10s in 4 begins, together with a solo second on the Large West Championship, and was named the convention’s freshman of the yr.


NOT ONE TO MAKE EXCUSES, whether or not in golf or in life, Gilligan had a legitimate purpose for not enjoying his finest in that first sequence of qualifying this fall. It had nothing to do together with his well being – he nonetheless feels 100% with no lingering results from the most cancers, although he does routinely see his physician each few months for a check-up, with an MRI scheduled for each six months. Quite Gilligan and his swing coach, George Gankas, whom he is labored with since 2017, had been attempting to implement just a few adjustments to Gilligan’s swing. They simply took just a little bit longer than anticipated to take maintain.

However when Gilligan stepped on the primary tee for the staff’s subsequent qualifier, this time for the Nick Watney Invitational in Kingsburg, California, Hegarty and his gamers may inform, “Gilly was beginning to really feel himself once more.”

Gilligan sank a 40-foot eagle putt on the final gap of qualifying to keep away from a playoff and lay the groundwork for a 14-under match, which he completed in a tie for first to assist the Seaside win the staff title as properly.

The subsequent match, hosted by Cal, Gilligan was a stroke higher, closing in 7-under 65 to finish up a five-shot winner at 15 below. Hours later, he was the top-ranked golfer in Division I.

“For Ian, the rating was a cool approach for him to see that every one his exhausting work is actually paying off,” Hegarty mentioned. “And it is also impacted the remainder of the staff, like, OK, that is anyone I need to look as much as, and if I work exhausting, I can get to that stage.”

Within the weeks that adopted, any time Gilligan’s teammates would beat him in a drill or observe spherical, they’d shout, “I simply beat the No. 1 participant in faculty golf!” Gilligan has seen elevated exterior consideration as properly, whether or not it is being acknowledged by his classmates, extra interview requests, or awards – final week Gilligan acquired the month-to-month CalHOPE Braveness Award, which honors student-athletes at California schools and universities who’ve overcome the stress, nervousness, and psychological trauma related to private hardships and adversity.

“It is at all times good to get acknowledged,” mentioned Gilligan, who would earn a $5,000 donation towards his faculty’s psychological well being providers ought to he win the annual award, which his handed out on the finish of the schoolyear.

However awards aren’t what fuels Gilligan. He has many objectives nonetheless but to perform this season. Now No. 33 in Golfstat, Gilligan remains to be comfortably inside his top-50 goal set at first of the autumn, simply behind notable names akin to Ben James, Derek Hitchner and Caleb Surratt. And team-wise, Lengthy Seaside State sits No. 65, firmly on the bubble after narrowly lacking out on the postseason final season.

“I’d be shocked if we did not make regionals this yr,” mentioned Gilligan, who heads a roster that features sophomore Isaac Rodea and freshman Jack Cantlay, the youthful brother of the fourth-ranked professional on this planet, Patrick Cantlay.

Nobody, although, is sort of like Gilligan, a 6-foot-3 economics main who wears black-rimmed glasses that he typically switches out for black aviators on the course.

Hegarty recollects a shaggy dog story from the staff’s early-morning bus trip to its most up-to-date occasion at Cal Poly. Whereas everybody else was sleeping on the constitution, Hegarty seen a brilliant mild and music coming from Gilligan’s seat. Hegarty’s star participant had been up enjoying Pokemon for 4 hours.

That is Gilly, who, by the way in which, will then go step on a tee field and hit drives on a string.

“He is a 19-year-old child who simply enjoys life and golf,” Hegarty mentioned. “Whenever you consider younger golfers who simply love the sport and need to see how good they will get, Ian is the perfect instance I can consider.”

And in relation to backstories, few are as inspiring as this one.

“I went by way of a lot,” Gilligan wrote earlier this fall, “that it gave me a perspective many individuals know of however do not actually perceive: To be glad about life; dwelling every day, one second at a time, and being within the current and specializing in the duty at hand and the duty at hand alone. So, if there’s something I hope somebody will take away from studying this, let it’s this:

“Be form, be current, and hold shifting ahead.”

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