Trading Soccer for Golf, Kennedy Strides Ahead August 5, 2019 | West Point, Miss. By Tom Mackin

Through her coach at BYU, Anna Kennedy has made great strides in golf after injuries ended her competitive soccer career. (USGA/Steven Gibbons)

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Anna Kennedy loved playing soccer while growing up in Parker, Colo., but unfortunately the sport didn’t exactly return the favor. After suffering a series of injuries over three years – a broken collarbone, a concussion and an MCL tear – golf, her other sport of choice, became a better option. And a healthier one. 

The 22-year-old Kennedy, who shot 82 in the first round of the 119th U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship at Old Waverly Golf Club, quickly progressed in the game in high school, thanks to her father’s urging.

“I said to him, dude, you’re crazy,” said Kennedy of her father’s suggestion. “Golf is the same season as soccer. There’s no way. But without me knowing, he told the [high school] golf coach that I would try out my freshman year. I had no idea.”

Kennedy became the top golfer on the girls’ team at Legend High School, breaking the team’s individual scoring record in just her third tournament. At the same time, her dream of becoming the starting center midfielder on the school’s soccer team became a reality, creating a hectic spring schedule for the next four years.

“I would play a golf tournament and then head straight to a soccer game,” she recalled. “I used to think when it was so cold out on the course that I can go run like crazy at my soccer game and that will warm me up.”

On the soccer field, she squared off a few times against Mallory Pugh, a member of the 2019 U.S. Women’s National Team that won the World Cup earlier this summer in France.

“We knew Mal (who played for Mountain Vista High School) was the best of the best. She was amazing,” said Kennedy. She ripped a shot once from outside the 18 and I dove to block it with my body. The ball hit my side and I had a soccer ball imprinted on my skin for a few days.”

By Kennedy’s senior year, playing Division I college golf had become her focus. Kennedy zeroed in on one school: Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah.

“I grew up playing sports with my cousin, Cory Calvert, who played basketball for two seasons at BYU. I went to some of his games there and loved it,” she said.

Kennedy reached out to BYU women’s head golf coach Carrie Roberts, who suggested she attend the school’s golf camp the summer after her junior year.

“I talked with her there about my game and she recommended that I go see her cousin, Boyd Summerhays,” said Kennedy of the former PGA Tour player turned instructor who is based at McDowell Mountain Golf Club in Scottsdale, Ariz.

After a one-day session, Summerhays, whose son, Preston, won the 2019 U.S. Junior Amateur at Inverness Club in Toledo, Ohio, three weeks ago was impressed.

“What stuck out to me was how hard she practiced,” said Boyd, whose daughter, Grace, advanced to the Round of 16 in the U.S. Girls’ Junior two weeks ago, losing to eventual champion Lei Ye. “I told Carrie I liked her power; she was athletic, and I loved that she was willing to work. I encouraged her to give Anna a chance. And it’s ended up working out well. The only difficulty with players like Anna who start later is that they miss out on experience. She’s done a heck of a job becoming as good as she has to this point.”

Roberts offered her the chance to walk on at BYU and Kennedy accepted.

“I thought, OK, I’m in. I have a shot and I can work with the coach every day to get better,” she said. “The team made it to the national championships that year. I’m usually an outgoing person, but that year I stayed pretty quiet, kept my nose to the ground and worked hard. Those girls were legit.”

During her first year of eligibility, after not earning a spot on the travel team for a tournament in Tennessee, Kennedy won an individual event at Utah Valley University, shooting a career-best 67 in the final round. She has since compiled seven top-20 finishes in three seasons and played a key role in helping BYU win the 2018 West Coast Conference title over Pepperdine in a playoff by making a key birdie in a sudden-death playoff.

“Every year, she gets a little bit better,” said Roberts, who qualified for two U.S. Women’s Open Championships and reached the quarterfinals of the 1999 U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links at Santa Ana Golf Club in New Mexico – she lost to eventual champion Jody Niemann. “She went from not competing her freshman year to now competing in just about every event last year. She’s very athletic so she can be taught things a bit quicker. It’s fun to work with athletes like her.”

“I feel like I’ve gotten significantly better,” said Kennedy. “The best I have played was the first four tournaments of my sophomore year. Since then, it’s been up and down. Overall, I’ve made great strides as a player. My coach has transformed my game, especially the mental side. I still work with Boyd but not as much since he has a very busy schedule these days.”

Qualifying for the U.S. Women’s Amateur was Kennedy’s main goal for this summer, and she was joined in the field by teammate Allysha Mae Mateo, of Hawaii.

“It’s hard to qualify for this championship,” said Roberts, who is caddieing for both players during stroke play. “I’ve had some really good players who should have been here in the past but didn’t make it. It’s cool to have two this year.”

Kennedy still gets a soccer fix by playing on an intramural team at BYU. She also plays flag football, basketball, dodgeball and plenty of spikeball, all with her coach’s support.

“Who am I to say no?” said Roberts. “I played in intramurals when I was in college (at BYU) and my golf coach taught me how to ski back then. I like well-rounded individuals. If that’s what she likes to do, then she’s going to be happy playing those sports.”

Kennedy does miss playing competitive soccer, but not the physical toll it took on her body.

“It’s funny how things happen because I never would have imagined being in this position. Had those injuries not occurred, I never would have played golf for BYU. It’s been one of the biggest blessings in my life.”

Arizona resident Tom Mackin is a frequent contributor to USGA digital channels. Email him at temackinjr@gmail.com.

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