Paige Kelly has been seeking advice from Matt Davis for what seems like forever.
Her constant search for truth included a place where Davis feels more comfortable than just about anywhere else.
That would be on the links, of course.
"He told me he would teach me how to play golf," the 2014 Hudson graduate said.
Davis didn’t have much of a choice. He made a bet with the then ambitious teenager and came out on the losing end.
Not that Davis minded, though. Kelly’s ability to outwit her friend and confidant was all part of the longtime coach’s master plan.
"We made bets every year in high school," Kelly said. "The first year, it was making it to the state meet. The next year, it was making it to finals. The third year, it was making top three."
That final bet involved a lesson on a fickle game that originated in Scotland during the 15th century.
Apparently, Davis didn’t appear to be a particularly good loser. Therefore, the impatient landlord had to take strict action since her most noteworthy tenant failed to pay his rent.
"It took a few years for him to cash in on it," Kelly said. "We finally went to a driving range and he gave me some pointers."
These days, one thing is crystal clear when it comes to Kelly’s prowess on the links. She’s no Annika Sorenstam.
As for her instructor, he may want to consider sticking to his day job.
"I can’t say I’ve picked up golf since then," Kelly admitted.
Kelly’s brief obsession to pick up a club was influenced by a certain structure comprising much liquid and less than a gallon of a pale yellow-green gas that is used to make pesticides.
It’s called a swimming pool.
Kelly’s expertise to control her body in the water is a bit more evident than it is and, most likely ever will be, on a golf course.
The 22-year-old University of Kentucky senior has decided to toss her swimsuit and goggles aside as she dives headfirst into the frightening yet exhilarating real world.
She has two more courses to complete before she applies for Physical Therapy School.
If this was indeed the last hurrah, Kelly’s rather impressive aquatics’ career certainly deserves a mic drop.
The gifted distance swimmer, who transferred to Kentucky after spending her freshman year at The Ohio State University, was a two-time NCAA Division I qualifier.
Her superiority on the collegiate level was a continuation of her excellence in high school.
Kelly was a four-time state qualifier for the Explorers. She really blossomed as the curtains began to close.
Kelly left Hudson in style with back-to-back third-place finishes in the 500-yard freestyle at the Division I state competition.
Talent certainly paid a role in her success. However, Kelly strongly believes none of this would have ever happened without the wisdom of her one-time golf instructor.
"Matt is someone who has been a second dad to me," Kelly said. "He really cared about me first and foremost in terms of my growth as a person.
"He wanted me to succeed, but he was more interested in me being happy even if I wasn’t successful."
The coach’s role as a father figure didn’t end when his star pupil received her high school diploma.
The happiness Kelly felt swimming for the Explorers had vanished when she enrolled at Ohio State, which is the third largest university campus in the country.
"Things didn’t go well," Kelly said. "I was expecting my relationship with the head coach to be the same as it was with Matt. I learned that’s not always the case when it comes to Division I athletics."
Kelly needed to flee from Columbus. The sooner, the better.
At the same time, though, she knew her days of being engulfed in chlorine were in serious jeopardy.
"It hadn’t worked out for me, so I stepped away," Kelly said. "I thought I was done with the sport for good."
Kelly didn’t have too many options. Thus, it was time to get in touch with a man she trusted more than just about anyone else.
"Matt gave me the opportunity to help me train," Kelly said.
That’s not all he did.
Davis has developed quite a friendship with Lars Jorgensen, who is Kentucky’s head swimming coach.
Rumor has it the persuasive Explorers’ coach did some name-dropping when he contacted the Wildcats’ leader.
"Lars took a chance on me," Kelly said. "He is really good about having a relationship with all of the swimmers, no matter what level you are. I’m very thankful to work with him."
Kelly certainly felt more at ease with her new surroundings. Nonetheless, she couldn’t help but wonder if her ultimate plan had failed.
"I was definitely a little wary of going from a big school in the Big Ten to a medium-sized big school in the SEC [Southeastern Conference]," Kelly said. "I was kind of afraid it would end up being the same thing."
Again, Kelly sought guidance from a significant person in her life. This time, she picked the brain of her former high school teammate, Ross Palazzo, a five-time state champion who recently concluded a successful swimming career at the University of Florida.
"He just told me to take it one practice at a time, one lap at a time and one set at a time and work on beating the people next to me," Kelly said.
Palazzo’s counseling did wonders for Kelly. As a result, her swimming career was rejuvenated.
"Ross is one of my best friends," Kelly said. "It’s nice having someone else go through the Division I athletics’ process. There are definitely days when it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. When I have a tough time, I know he’s always a phone call away. The same goes for him."
Kelly found herself in the lion’s den almost immediately after she decided to call the Bluegrass State her new home.
The Wildcats competed at an invitational that didn’t provide too many fond memories for their new recruit.
It happened to take place at a school known for its famous "Horseshoe."
"The first year I competed for Kentucky, we swam at the Ohio State Invitational," Kelly said. "There was definitely a bunch of nerves wrapped around it. I had to swim in front of my former coach, who didn’t believe in me."
It turned out OK for the once high-strung collegian. In fact, it turned out to be the arrival of a newly created person who returned to being a master of her craft.
"I swam a crazy fast time," Kelly said. "Later that year at SECs, I was a few seconds away from NCAAs. I was actually thinking, ‘This is possible.’"
It most certainly was.
One year later, Kelly scored in both the 1,650- and 500-meter freestyle races at the SEC competition. She also qualified for the NCAA Championships, where she finished 35th in the 1,650.
"Paige improved by a tremendous amount," Jorgensen said. "She dropped more than 30 seconds in the 1,650, which is a substantial amount. She has a tremendous amount of persistence."
Her meteoric rise to prominence paved the way for a beautiful swan song.
Kelly was named a captain her senior year and added another wrinkle to her already impressive list of accomplishments.
She achieved success in the 400-meter individual medley and wound up scoring in that event, along with her two trademark races, at the SEC Championships.
Kelly ended her career with a 39th-place time of 16 minutes, 25.83 seconds in the 1,650-meter race at the 2019 NCAA Championships.
These performances certainly turned the tables of her once fledgling career.
But her ability to touch the wall faster than ever before was only part of the equation.
Kelly’s selflessness is what her coach and teammates appreciated more than anything else when it came to their formerly embattled captain.
"She didn’t want to just swim fast for herself," Jorgensen said. "She wanted to swim fast for Kentucky and her teammates. We are fortunate that she came here."
Jorgensen may not have seen the last of his hardworking standout, after all.
Kelly will consider her soon to be alma mater as she explores the next phase of her life.
"Lars recently called me just to catch up," Kelly said. "He’s a great guy who is super easy to talk to.
"I plan to head down to Lexington to work with the physical therapists. I’m sure I’ll be on the pool deck here and there."
Since her swimming career is over, maybe Kelly will consider taking a few more lessons on the links.
Is a stint on the LPGA Tour a possible second profession?
Nonetheless, Kelly will be more than happy to schedule a tee time or two with a certain individual, who she adores more than most.
If they do get a chance to enjoy each other’s company, one of them may want to consider this recommendation before they approach the first tee.
All bets are off.
"I’d like to pick it up again since I retired," Kelly said. "I can’t thank Matt enough for everything he has done for me."
Reporter Frank Aceto can be reached at 330-541-9444, firstname.lastname@example.org or @FrankAceto_RPC.