Takeoffs to tee-offs: Abbey Carlson

Sept. 26, 2017

By Zac Ellis

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The aviation bug first bit Abbey Carlson when she was a junior in high school. Circle Christian High in Lake Mary, Fla. offered an Eagle’s Nest Project class, which allowed students to build an FAA-certified airplane from start to finish. Carlson decided to give it a shot.

The prep golfer dove headfirst into the project. As part of a 10-student team, Carlson helped construct a single-engine RV-12 in the span of 180 days. The process itself was arduous, she recalls.

“The instruction manual was about three inches thick,” Carlson said.

Still, the experience was rewarding, so much so that it inspired Carlson to acquire her own pilot’s license. She became a licensed pilot in 2016, just as she arrived at Vanderbilt as a freshman on the Commodores’ women’s golf team. Since then Carlson has logged more than 50 hours of flying time, including solo stints between Orlando and St. Augustine back home in Florida.

These days, Carlson is tasked with dominating the golf course in the SEC. But some of her fondest memories remain in the air.

“It’s amazing to have control of an airplane,” Carlson said. “You have the whole world at your fingertips.”

Carlson, just a sophomore, might also have the world at her fingertips in collegiate golf. She earned a spot on the SEC All-Freshman team in 2016 after finishing second on the team in stroke average (74.46). Carlson put together a low round of 68 in the second round of the Las Vegas Collegiate Showdown last October.

The second-year Commodore followed a superb freshman campaign with a hot start to 2017. At the 17th annual Mason Rudolph Women’s Championship at the Vanderbilt Legend’s Club earlier this month, Carlson carded an individual fourth-place finish with a 10-under par total of 206. That score marked Carlson’s best finish of her collegiate career.

As a freshman, Carlson sometimes struggled to put a full round together. But her performance at the Mason Rudolph was the result of an offseason full of hard work. This week, she climbed to No. 74 in GolfWeek.com’s Women’s Collegiate Individual Rankings, sharing a top-100 spot with Vanderbilt freshman Louise Yu (66).

“I put in a lot of work within my shorter shots, within 100 yards, in the summer,” she said. ‘It really helped me get a few more birdie opportunities, and a few more putts started to fall, too.”

Carlson was a two-time AJGA Rolex All-American as a prep golfer and a big get on the recruiting trail for Vanderbilt head coach Greg Allen. Today, Carlson is an engineering major and an All-SEC-caliber talent, one hoping to help the Commodores win an SEC title for the first time since 2014.

“Abbey could be the poster child of a Vanderbilt student-athlete,” Allen said. “Here’s a kid who we’re asking to make a three-footer, and she can get up there and land an airplane. I knew when we had our first team meeting here, Abbey wasn’t afraid to speak up about goals, about what she wanted to do, about our program. She’s already becoming a great leader for us.”

The Commodores next hit the course on Oct. 13 for the Ruth’s Chris Tar Heel Invitational in Chapel Hill, N.C. Vanderbilt finished fourth as a team in the Mason Rudolph, but Carlson said the Dores can still get better. That starts with minimizing mistakes and capitalizing on opportunities.

Carlson knows what it takes to land an airplane, a process in which you can't cut corners. Now the sophomore hopes to utilize her own process in helping Vanderbilt navigate the SEC.

“On a daily basis, I just try to be a leader by example,” Carlson said. “I don’t feel like playing well at tournament influences that. It’s awesome to be a low finisher, but I want to be an encouragement to my team no matter how I play.”

Zac Ellis is the Writer and Digital Media Editor for Vanderbilt Athletics.


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