Wa-Hi alum Chutas doesn't slow down

In this file photo, Wa-Hi grad Lindsay Morgan (now Chutas) follows the flight of her tee shot during the second round of the Pac-10 Championships.

In this file photo, Wa-Hi grad Lindsay Morgan (now Chutas) follows the flight of her tee shot during the second round of the Pac-10 Championships.

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Lindsay Chutas has always possessed a steadfast sense of her own self worth.

She had it as a prep athlete at Wa-Hi back in the late 1990s and at the University of Washington where she played big-time collegiate golf in the early 2000s. And she has it now as a wife and a mother and a hydrogeologist working in the Water Resources Department of the Spokane Conservation District.

In short, Chutas — Lindsay Morgan to those who knew her during her years as a Blue Devil and Husky — is a study in self confidence.

It’s a facet of her personality that drove her as she moved up through Washington’s junior golf ranks as a child, having taken her first swings as a 4-year-old under the watchful eye of then Walla Walla Country Club head golf professional Steve Stull.

She showed her grit by winning back-to-back Class 4A high school championships during her final two years at Wa-Hi. And again throughout her successful four-year varsity career at the UW where she became known as one of the longest hitters in the Pacific 10 Conference.

These days, however, Lindsay uses this Emersonian attitude of self reliance not so much on the golf course as she does on snow-covered slopes and craggy cliffs.

Downhill skiing, she says, has always been her first love. And what began as an interest in rock climbing has burgeoned into full-fledged mountain climbing for the 33-year-old adventuress.

“I love to ski,” Lindsay said during a recent Walla Walla visit. “It is my longest-termed sport and the last sport I will ever give up. I probably started when I was 2 1/2, and it is so much fun.”

So much fun, she said, that when she decided to attend and play golf at the University of Washington, she made Huskies coach Mary Lou Mulflur agree to a contract that would allow her to continue to ski.

“I told her I wouldn’t go to school there if I couldn’t ski,” Lindsay recalled. “She agreed, and I did go skiing when we didn’t have practice.”

Lindsay made it through four years in Seattle without breaking any bones or wrecking either of her knees on the slopes. But one can only wonder what Mulflur might have said had Lindsay made a similar demand regarding her most recent adrenaline rush.

“My boss asked me one day if I wanted to climb Mount Rainier,” she recollected. “He thought I was athletic enough and I said, ‘Yeah, sure.’ So we signed up for a guided climb and did it.”

Since then, Lindsay has also climbed Mount Athabasca in Alberta, Canada, as well as Mount Adams and Mount St. Helens in Washington state. Her next climb will be Ojibway Peak in the Cabinet Mountains of Western Montana later this summer.

“It’s not a big, tall peak,” Lindsay said of Ojibway Peak. “But technically, it’s interesting.”

Mountain climbing and rock climbing are naturals, Lindsay said, for someone who majored in geology at the UW and earned a graduate degree in the same field at Duke University in Durham, N.C.

“Any time you are in the mountains, surrounded by interesting rocks, you are thinking about how they were formed,” she said. “And mountain climbing is fun and interesting to me because it is challenging and requires a lot of thinking.

“It is totally different than golf.”

Lindsay hasn’t played more than a handful of rounds of golf in the last year, she estimated, usually venturing onto the links when she comes home to visit her parents, Phil and Carol Morgan. Amazingly, she said, her game hasn’t suffered much.

“I learned early and now I can shoot par-72 without trying,” she said. “It’s a good gift that my parents gave to me.”

One that she plans to pass on to her 2-year-old son Barrett, who has already taken an interest in watching his mother knock the ball out of sight.

“Barrett watches me hit the ball and gets excited,” Lindsay said. “So I actually think I will be playing more because I want Barrett to play golf. Right now is just my selfish time to do other stuff.

“But golf will become a family thing. I just have to maintain so I can still beat him when he grows up.”

Lindsay and her husband, Nathan Chutas, who is originally from Ohio, met in Seattle and were married in 2006. They migrated to North Carolina, then moved to Spokane in 2008 after Lindsay completed grad school.

Nathan, also a geologist, was hired by a mining company and commutes between Spokane and Alaska doing geological exploration.

“He’s in the field for three weeks, then off for 10 days,” Lindsay said of her husband’s schedule. “He travels a lot, and he could have worked from anywhere. But he loves Washington and I wanted to move back to the west, so we weighed all of the pros and the cons and Spokane ended up where we wanted to go.

“Spokane happens to be just the right distance from home and has awesome outdoor access, which was important to us. I don’t know why you would live in Spokane if you didn’t do a winter sport, but it’s a great place to live as a skier.”

And, as it has turned out, a mountain climber.

Lindsay didn’t have a job lined up when she and Nathan picked out Spokane as their new home. But it didn’t take her long to find one with the Spokane Conservation District.

“All of my training is in hard rock geology and I didn’t know anything about water stuff, but Spokane is very water centric,” she said. “So I got connected with the conservation district and I guess I caught up quickly, because after a month of being there they thought I was valuable enough to hire (full-time).

“I do hydrology work in the water resources department, a lot of surface water studies and monitoring of underground water,” she explained. “Basically find ways to help keep the water in Spokane cleaner and more abundant.”

Nathan played football at Mount Union College in Alliance, Ohio, and was an offensive lineman on two NCAA Division III national championship teams. He’s beginning to show some interest in mountain climbing, Lindsay said, but he’s more inclined to spend his leisure time on the golf course.

“Nate golfs a lot and is slowly getting better, but he’s still pretty terrible,” Lindsay said. “He’s like anyone else who takes up golf at 30 and played football his whole life. He’s athletic but tries to power the ball too much.

“I encourage him to take lessons, but from someone other than me. I know nothing about the golf swing.”

Lindsay came to that conclusion during a three-year period in which she signed on as an assistant golf coach at Lewis & Clark High School in Spokane. Michelle Grafos, who was one of her teammates at the University of Washington, is the Tigers’ head coach.

“We had good teams, won state once, and my role was mostly to help girls who were moving on to the next level with the college recruiting process,” Lindsay said. “And it was interesting passing along tricks and advice that would help them improve mentally beyond the high-school level.

“But I had no idea how to help them with their golf swings. I just need to know what I need to know about my own swing.”

It’s a swing that might have won once, and my role was mostly to help girls who were moving on to the next level with the college recruiting process,” Lindsay said. “And it was interesting passing along tricks and advice that would help them improve mentally beyond the high-school level.

“But I had no idea how to help them with their golf swings. I just need to know what I need to know about my own swing.”

It’s a swing that might have led to a professional career on the LPGA Tour had Lindsay been so inclined. She wasn’t.

“It was just not my personality,” she said. “I was just not that fired up about the lifestyle and all the other things I would have had to give up. My heart just wasn’t into it.”

Paige Mackenzie, another of Lindsay’s UW teammates and a rival throughout their years in the Washington Junior Golf Association, did turn professional in 2006 and has been playing on the LPGA Tour ever since with career earnings nearing $700,000. A back injury has sidelined the Yakima native in 2014, but Mackenzie remains active in golf as a co-host of the Golf Channel’s Morning Drive.

“I caddied for Paige in one tournament, and we talked a lot about the lifestyle and spending such a huge amount of time in hotel rooms,” Lindsay recalled. “We would go to dinner and she wouldn’t even look at the menu, just told the waiter what she wanted. She was so tired of eating out.

“Paige has been successful, and I think I could have been successful, too, to some degree. But you’ve got to be 100 percent, and I don’t think I was.”

Nevertheless, Lindsay has many fond memories of her amateur career on the links.

Those two high-school state championships, for sure; reaching the semifinals of the USGA Junior Girls’ Amateur Championship in 1999; and losing 1-up to legendary Carol Semple Thompson in the third round of the U.S. Women’s Amateur in 2002.

“Definitely the Junior Amateur stands out,” Lindsay said. “Making it to the semifinals and suddenly playing in front of a gallery of 1,000 people who were actually cheering for me, the tall white girl who was playing against a girl whose name they couldn’t pronounce.

“That was the first time I had really felt that, and the feeling that I could compete on a national level. That was a big deal to move on to the next level just before going off to college.

“And the U.S. Amateur in New York. Carol Semple Thompson made that dagger putt, a downhill 35-footer on the last hole, to beat me. I guarantee you she can still shoot even-par and she is now in her 60s.”

And, of course, leading her Huskies to a share of fifth place in the 2002 Women’s Pac-10 Championships on her home course, the Walla Walla Country Club, with her mother serving as tournament director. That was memorable as well.

“Playing the Pac-10 at home, that was huge,” Lindsay said.

When she’s not gliding down mountain slopes or picking her way up to the top of the world, Lindsay has found yet another sport to fill her days until she finally does return to the golf course on a more regular basis. Ultimate Frisbee.

“There is an ultimate Frisbee club in Spokane, and someone told me I should play,” she said. “So I did, and it was awesome.”

Ultimate Frisbee, Lindsay said, is more like basketball, which she played in high school.

“It’s a lot like that,” she said. “Lots of running, which I craved all the way through undergraduate school.

“We have leagues, and we play every week. I am now one of the elder statesmen, I guess, but it is working out.”

And not nearly as demanding as the game of golf.

“I spent a lot of time practicing golf,” Lindsay said. “But I no longer want to be beating golf balls every day. I have done that and it is a lot of work.

“It’s fun to try other sports and interesting to learn new things.”

Exactly what you would expect from an independent thinker.

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