It’s the kind of sports story you like to see because it embodies the essence of competition.
BYU sophomore Anna Kennedy helped raise the WCC golf championship trophy this past week in San Diego at Carlton Oaks Golf Club with as much pride as anybody on the squad. Though she struggled mightily all week, she swung the hammer at the end.
It marked the third straight conference title for the BYU’s women’s golf team — a great accomplishment for the program and coach of the year Carrie Roberts.
But it all was in serious doubt until a playoff with Pepperdine University after the final round of play.
Kennedy, a 5-foot-9 sophomore and MVP of her high school soccer team at Legend High in Parker, Colorado, rose up at a critical moment and delivered a devastating, if not a storied, kind of finish. It is something she’d done time and time again this season.
Kennedy, you see, struggled on that golf course, a layout made for ball strikers with pinpoint accuracy and precision iron shots. Known as a player who can hit it long off the tee, Kennedy struck drives that found a lot of trouble during the 54-hole tournament.
She was 25-over par. She was 21st in the field of 25 golfers for this WCC title event. She’d fired rounds of 80-81-80 in a season when she’d averaged 75.79 strokes per round. So, for all those reasons, she was the last person on the Cougar squad you’d expect would make a difference as the Cougars headed into an emotional playoff with the warm-weather Pepperdine women, who get the luxury of playing all season near Malibu, California.
Teammate Kendra Dalton, the WCC Player of the Year, had just made a 10-foot bogey putt on the 18th hole in regulation, and a Pepperdine player was lining up a 3-foot par putt to win it all for the Waves.
“I was ready to console Kendra after losing this,” said BYU women’s coach Carrie Roberts. “I fully expected it was over.”
Then, the Pepperdine player missed the gimme, sending the championship into a two-team playoff, the Cougars versus the Waves.
The WCC told everyone to go to the No. 10 tee box, where they’d split up in fivesomes and play the pesky par-4 hole. BYU had to pit its No. 5 and No. 4 players against Pepperdine’s No. 5, 4 and 3 players. Kennedy was BYU’s No. 4 but had finished last. The second group had BYU’s two best players, No. 1 Dalton and No. 2, WCC medalist Rose Huang, and freshman No. 3 player Naomi Soifua against Pepperdine’s Nos. 1 and 2 golfers.
Kennedy had every reason to be in a defeatist mood, deflated and discouraged. She’d carded the worst scores on the team all week long and hadn’t been a factor.
She got up on the No. 10 tee and belted a monster drive, leaving her an 83-yard wedge shot on the 387-yard hole. She’d hit a tee shot that had traveled 305 yards before it settled in a sweet spot on the fairway.
To get an idea of how long that drive was, Soifua, a former Provo High star and perhaps the longest female hitter in the state of Utah, had 136 yards into the No. 10 green right behind her.
“Talk about an adrenaline rush,” said Roberts.
Kennedy stuck her wedge shot to 3 feet and calmly sunk the birdie putt.
It must have been the soccer blood in her. In soccer, you can play an entire game to a 0-0 tie, and then somebody scores a goal in the final seconds and it's over.
Of the 10 players in that playoff, the low eight scores counted. Kennedy was the only one to make a birdie. BYU went birdie, par, bogey, bogey for +1. Pepperdine had par, par, bogey, bogey for +2.
“It was all she wrote, all we needed,” said Roberts. “It was huge for Anna. She was the difference.”
In the celebration that followed, Kennedy told Roberts that those three shots were the highlight of her athletic career, the greatest thing that had ever happened to her.
Roberts has seen this out of Kennedy before.
“This is what she does,” said Roberts.
Earlier this season in San Diego match play, Kennedy was four down with five to play and ended up halving the match. At BYU’s Invitational at Entrada in St. George, she made birdie on No. 18, her front nine saw the team was behind Kent State and made birdie on No. 1 and then made par on No. 2 to lift the squad.
“She is really good when it’s all on the line,” said Roberts.
The No. 40-ranked BYU women will find out Wednesday at 3:25 p.m. (MST) on the Golf Channel where they’ll go in NCAA Regionals.
With Kennedy’s help, Roberts’s team made it a three-peat at the WCC. Huang won medalist, Dalton was Player of the Year, Soifua earned Freshman of the Year and Roberts Coach of the Year.
In midseason, Roberts’s No. 3 player, sophomore Aiko Leong, transferred to USC of the Pac-12. Still, the Cougars brought home the hardware.
Not too shabby. And the finish was top-drawer, thanks to the girl with the soccer mentality.