Kendrick sets record, wins third straight conference title

It’s the year of the walk on.

Ben Kendrick classified himself as a tennis player while at Boyle County High School.

Now, a senior at University of the Cumberlands, he’s done just about everything he could do as a golfer in the Mid-South Conference after walking on his freshman year. Kendrick shot a conference-record -14 at the conference championship at the Bowling Green Country Club this week to win his third-straight MSC tournament title.

“I haven’t had the senior season that I was looking for, but I just kept telling myself to learn from everything,” Kendrick said. “There’s two that matter in the season: There’s conference and there’s nationals. I was back-to-back champion and I wanted to do it again. I kind of felt like I had something to prove, I wanted to give everyone something to remember me by. This was one I had circled on my calendar, and that’s what golf is about, peaking at the right time. So I came out and I was really just firing on all cylinders.”

The event started Monday, and the weather certainly did no favors. Rain kept the course soaked through the three-day, 54-hole tournament.

Kendrick said he has a 75-minute routine that he does before every round — a routine he’s got memorized down to the number of swings he takes — and he didn’t get any of that on Monday.

“It was crazy, the worst part about the weather, that first day we didn’t know if we were going to play,” he said. “We were sitting in the clubhouse waiting around, the driving range was closed. The only warm up I got was laying in the locker room to stretch out. The course was sopping wet. Nothing was ideal except the greens, they were extremely receptive. I just tried to look at the positive side of that. The greens out there are always nice for putting, and I knew that during the practice round that the greens were rolling perfect.

“I went out, I was hitting safe shots because I knew I wasn’t warmed up. I just wanted to get in the flow of things. We played nine holes that day and I think I was -3. A lot of guys were shooting higher than they normally would, but we have been playing on that all spring.”

Kendrick said his team’s home golf course in London — Crooked Creek Golf Course — really helped him deal with a soaked course because he’s been dealing with it in practice pretty much all season.

Kendrick earned Mid-South Conference Player of the Year and was given the Champion of Character conference award.

“ That’s honestly one of the greatest honors, awards that I’ve ever received,” Kendrick said. “My favorite accomplishment was sophomore year, at the banquet I got the Patriot Award. It goes to the best teammate. The Champion of Character reminded me of that. A lot of people can be great at their sport, be gifted, work hard, but I feel like character and being a good person out there doesn’t get recognized. I think the people that really deserve it the most don’t get recognized for it. So I feel extra special and honored to get that award and be recognized for that.”

Now, Kendrick will prepare for the NAIA National Championships held in Silvis, Illinois. Kendrick placed second there last year.

“I’ve got a really good record on that course, just like Bowling Green it’s a course that I know like the back of my hand, it’s a course that I could tell you everything about it and where I want to hit every shot,” he said. “I feel like my gameplan is good. It fits my game really well. It’s the one thing I came back to do. Conference was sweet. But there’s one thing missing on my resume and that’s a national championship, that’s one thing I want more than anything right now.”

Kendrick’s girlfriend Jessie Truelove keeps him grounded, through the highs and lows. He might’ve been a record-setter this week but she wouldn’t give him much time to celebrate.

“I lost a lot this year, my girlfriend told me after every loss that I’d get 24 hours to mope and whine, and then I’d have to get back to work. I came back from conference and she said I’d get 24 hours to celebrate and be on that high, then it’s back to work,” Kendrick said. “So now I’m going to my swing coach to get a lesson. Nationals has always been on the radar and that’s the focus now.”

After nationals?

Kendrick will graduate from University of the Cumberlands with a biology/chemistry degree. He took the MCAT last year. But his focus the rest of the calendar year will be on golf: He’ll turn pro this summer and participate in local events.

“A lot of guys spend the summer after their senior year still as an amateur, I’m going to go ahead and make that turn to professional,” Kendrick said. “There’s a couple events that I have my eye on, there’s some mini tournament events in Louisville and around the area, some in Tennessee and the Carolinas that I’m going to play in. Obviously there’s the Barbasol Championship at Champions Trace (in Nicholasville), I’m going to try to qualify for that. Golf has never been a full-time job for me, tennis was my priority in high school. I’ve never even gotten to practice and play golf at the volume that I’ve wanted to.

“I feel like if I’m going to do that this summer, if I keep playing well I might as well make a little bit of money for it in these tournaments. But really I’m just practicing, I’m going to do a lot of practicing and training, work on my skills and get ready for the tour. I’ll be moving down to Florida in the winter, work down there and try to make it on the tour.”

Kendrick said he hopes his athletic story resonates for any young athletes: He never qualified for the high school state golf tournament, said he struggled to make the golf team his freshman year and is now arguably the best golfer in the entire NAIA.

“I decided that if I was going to do it, I was going to give it my all,” Kendrick said. “I wanted to devote my game to God. I give him all the praise and glory, my gifts are from him. I went and got a swing coach, started taking lessons and really just started practicing harder than I ever thought I could, even when I didn’t want to. It’s not that you always enjoy the practice, but you enjoy the outcome. I’m a little guy, I’m a walk on, I don’t have the most conventional game. Anyone can do it, it doesn’t matter where you’re from or what sport you play. Just always keep your head up, know who gave you the gifts and things will work out.”