Kennedy Swann rides wave of NCAA title to win the Oregon Open Invitational, on her way to turning professional
by Steve Mims
Kennedy Swann was looking for a quiet place to land after she figured her college career was cut short due to COVID-19 in the spring of 2020.
The University of Mississippi senior and her boyfriend, Logan Bodiford, scanned a map and landed on McKenzie Bridge, Ore.
“I wanted to move somewhere new,” Swann explained. “I have moved around a lot in my life, so I wanted to move somewhere in the Pacific Northwest. Logan and I love being outdoors to go rafting, hiking, fishing, kayaking, all that stuff. McKenzie Bridge seemed like a pretty good place to do that. We picked up and drove 40 hours from South Carolina with no clue what to expect. We got here and absolutely fell in love with the place.”
While Bodiford, who met Swann in a freshman statistics class at Clemson, found work as a fisheries biologist with the U.S. Forest Service, Swann reached out to Dan King, the PGA pro at Tokatee Golf Club for more than a quarter-century, about a summer job.
King found plenty of work for Swann, who has divided her time between working in the pro shop and kitchen, driving the beverage cart, and working with the junior golf program while also keeping her game sharp as she prepares to turn professional.
“I work four or five days a week, but the hours are reasonable, normally a morning or afternoon shift so I can go practice or play,” Swann said. “I play 72 holes some days, 36 in the morning and 36 in the afternoon. Dan has been incredibly flexible with scheduling because he understands that I am playing a lot. He supports me in how much I want to play, which is awesome.”
When the NCAA gave all spring athletes an extra year of eligibility because of canceled seasons due to the pandemic, Ole Miss coach Kory Henkes reached out to Swann to pitch her on the idea of returning for a second senior season.
“I didn’t want to go back for a fifth year,” said Swann, who played at Clemson for two years before transferring to Ole Miss in 2018. “When coach called, I was sitting in the Tokatee pro shop looking around and said, ‘You really want me to go back to Mississippi after being out here?’ Then she threw in a free trip to the Masters with it and that was hard to turn down. All in all, I am so glad I went back.”
Swann would go on to cap her college career by earning All-American honors while leading the Rebels to an NCAA Championship. She went 3-0 in match play, including a 2&1 win over Oklahoma State’s Maja Stark in the title match.
“The thing that made me emotional was when all my teammates came up to say ‘This is why you came back for a fifth year – to win a national championship’,” Swann recalled.
Swann also was the individual co-champion at the East Lake Cup in October and finished the season with a 72.68 stroke average while compiling seven Top-20 finishes. She also earned academic All-American honors while compiling a 4.0 grade point average en route to graduating with a masters of business administration degree.
“In the fall, I won East Lake and that was a confidence boost, but I had a mediocre spring,” Swann said. “I had a couple Top-10s, but otherwise I was in the top 20 or 30. It was not
awful, but I didn’t do anything special. Going into nationals, I was a little ho hum about where my scoring was at. I was playing well, but not scoring, so when I won my first match against Texas, I played with a lot of confidence.”
Swann returned to Tokatee for a second straight summer and became the first woman to win the Oregon Open Invitational, shooting 11-under par over three rounds in June to finish first in a field of nearly 200 men at Black Butte Ranch’s Glaze Meadow course.
“Growing up, I played a lot with guys,” said Swann, a native of Austin, Texas. “And guys aren’t used to playing with girls. When I first got out here, I played with the guys and they were kind of shocked. It is such a small town, they had not played with many females. That was definitely an advantage going into the Oregon Open. I could tell by the first hole that I had a few opponents rattled by playing with a girl.”
Swann played the tournament from the forward tees, shorter than the men’s tees, and opened with a 71 before shooting 65 in the second round to move within one shot of the lead. She fired a 69 in the final round to win by two strokes.
“Nobody really knew who I was,” Swann said. “Kennedy can look like a guy’s name so nobody was really thinking about it. When I shot 65, they realized I could play. I started the final round by going birdie, birdie, par, birdie with the par coming on a 3-putt from 30 feet.”
Next up for Swann was a return trip to the U.S. Women’s Amateur, held last month at Westchester Country Club in Rye, N.Y. She made it into the match-play bracket, but lost in the round of 64. In last year’s championship, she had made it all the way to the quarterfinals.She plans to turn professional and compete in the fall at the LPGA Qualifying School for a tour card.
Mark Giustina, the operating manager for Tokatee, is among the sponsors who will help Swann fund her trip to Q School.
“It is hard because a lot of people are hesitant on funding until you get through Q School, but they don’t really know how expensive Q School is,” Swann said. “Mark has been awesome and I am repping the Tokatee logo, which I love.”
Swann is hoping to get a sponsor’s exemption into the Cambia Portland Classic in September, but wherever pro golf takes her, she’ll keep the remote golf course along McKenzie Highway in her heart.
“This is a hard place to move away from,” Swann said. “I am definitely more of an out-in-the-sticks type person than living in a big city. I was born and raised in Austin and it had a population of 600,000 when I was born and two million now. Population of 100 or so out here is pretty sweet.”
Steve Mims spent 21 years as a sportswriter at The Eugene Register-Guard. He was a finalist for Oregon Sportswriter of the Year in 2017.