As much as Olivia Hensley has achieved on the golf course, it took a defeat to produce her greatest victory.

Competing for a fourth consecutive Region 12 title, the Boyd County golfer once again found herself locked in a duel with Ashland’s Kate Hanni. Hensley fell short in a playoff, but a new mindset and motivation was formed in that moment.

Her father and coach could see it as they left Hidden Cove Golf Course that day.

“Olivia and Kate have battled since they were young kids,” Scott Hensley said. “Any time they get together, it’s a coin flip. After that tournament, (Olivia) was a different person. She was determined in what she wanted to do. We have always talked about it since her eighth-grade year. We talked about her winning a state championship.”

A week later, Hensley overcame the elements, an early double bogey in the final round and a talented field to claim the ultimate prize. She became the first golf state champion at Boyd County in 35 years.

Hensley said she arrived at the Bowling Green Country Club with a purpose.

“I don’t want to say that I’m glad that I lost (the region), because it hurt a lot,” Olivia Hensley said. “Obviously, after winning it three years in a row, I wanted to win it a fourth time. I felt like losing at region spurred me on to work even harder for the state tournament.”

“I went out to Bowling Green four days before anybody was there for practice rounds,” she added. “I played 18 holes every day. It was the highlight of my golf career so far. I was working so hard at that point. It pushed me even harder.”

Hensley pulled away from the field to claim the state crown, finishing with a two-day score of 2-under par. It was one of seven tournament wins during her senior year. She was a four-time The Daily Independent All-Area Player of the Year and was named to the All-State first team the last two seasons.

Hensley’s talents, championship mentality, academics, will to win and impact on her school and community has led to her being named the 2019-20 Tony Curnutte Memorial Female Sportsman of the Year.

Her considerable attributes will serve her well at the next level. Hensley committed to Morehead State as a sophomore. Coach Stephanie Barker could see early on that Hensley would be a stellar addition to the Eagles program.

“She started coming on official visits when she was in eighth or ninth grade,” Barker said. “It was fun watching her grow into the player and young lady that she has become. We are always interested in those individuals that are working hard in the classroom and on the golf course.”

Natural ability

Olivia Hensley’s interest in the sport started at a young age and grew from her father’s love of the golf. After accompanying him to a course one day, Scott’s 10-year-old daughter started asking if she could take a swing.

“I played a lot of golf when I was younger,” Scott Hensley said. “At a new job, they found out I played and invited me to a scramble. It just so happened Olivia came with me one day to practice. I wanted to get the rust off. All day long she was bugging me, ‘Let me hit one, dad.’ At the end of the round, I gave her a pitching wedge. A kid with an adult-size club. I didn’t expect a whole lot.”

With her first-ever golf shot, Olivia lofted the ball over a pond and planted it on the green from 100 yards away, Scott said.

Several weeks of practice followed that day. Hensley entered her first tournament two months later and finished fourth at a U.S. Kids Tour event in Columbus.

“The first time, she had a pretty decent swing and made good contact,” Scott Hensley said. “She took a few more and when we got home, I told my wife I was going to build her a net and see if she likes it. The rest is history.”

“Olivia is ambidextrous, so her eye-hand coordination seems to be a little more adept,” he continued. “When she played softball, we had to buy her a mitt for her right and left hand until she decided what hand she wanted to go with.”

Scott built an indoor hitting space in his garage. Father and daughter spent many nights together where discussion dominated the sessions more than drives.

“He definitely shaped me into the player that I am today,” Olivia Hensley said of her father and coach. “We talked a lot. It was good. I was so comfortable around him. There were also times he could see what I needed when I say, ‘I got this.’ He trusted me and believed in my decisions.”

A State of mind

Olivia Hensley made her first trip to the state tournament as an eighth-grader and has made a return trip each year since. Even as a middle-schooler, she was aware of the big stage, the environment and the work ethic required to compete at that level.

“It was like a whole new world,” Olivia Hensley said. “It's different looking at it now. As an eighth-grader, I watched all the high school players and the way they carried themselves. The way they played inspired me.”

Hensley is rarely without a club in her hand and if the weather cooperates, she can be found on the golf course. She makes weekly trips to Lexington to see swing coach Larry Ward and plays in tournaments throughout the year.

Mason County’s Sarah Fite, the 2016 state champion, also took lessons from Ward and made a lasting impression on Hensley when she was a freshman.

“She is someone I looked up to in high school golf,” Olivia Hensley said. “I feel I related to her, being from small towns.”

“That played a big role in what Olivia wanted to do,” Scott added. “She saw a state champion and was seeing what she had done. It really solidified where she wanted to go.”

Scott said Olivia has “grown as a player, but more as a person with the mental side of her game.” He remembered watching her thought process change after the double bogey on the first hole of the final round at the state tournament. Olivia went on to par or birdie the next 14 holes.

“I feel like for years learning where not to hit it, that made me learn the course (at Bowling Green) very well,” Olivia Hensley said. “I heard people say it was a senior course and I can say that is true because you need to know the course to play well on it.”

A roaring revival

Hensley’s impact on the Boyd County golf program has produced historic results. The Lady Lions won their first-ever Region 12 title in 2018 and defended their title last season.

“She took it upon herself to be a leader for her team and the other kids got better,” Boyd County athletic director Pete Fraley said. “Those kids see how hard Olivia is working. It makes them want to get better, too.”

Three teammates, Emily Brown, Adie Caldwell and Morgan Kennedy, joined Hensley on the All-Area team this year and formed a solid nucleus to finish in 12th place at Bowling Green.

“Team success means so much to me because of how long I’ve been with the program,” Olivia Hensley said. “I’ve gotten to see all the players that joined the team. We learned and we have grown together. I see how much they have accomplished in their game. I feel like I have helped them. We have such a great bond. We hang out off the course.”

Scott Hensley relinquished his coaching duties after last season. He has seen his daughter lead by example during her career.

“She has a great attitude on the course,” Scott said. “Rain or shine. The girls that play with her hold a special place for her because she is so light-hearted about stuff. I’ve never heard a negative comment about her. The girls will come to the house and want Olivia to go hit with them.”

Olivia Hensley joins more elite company. She becomes the fourth athlete from Boyd County in the last seven years to receive Female Sportsman of the Year honors, along with Taylor Wheeler, Destiny Goins and Savannah Wheeler.

“We take pride in all of our sports,” Fraley said. “When you have four kids that have achieved that honor, it says a lot about our school. Olivia has represented Boyd County tremendously over the years. The attention she brought, not only to herself, but the golf team, the high school and the community, is huge. A state championship in golf, a championship in anything in this area, is huge.”

True to her school

Hensley graduated with high honors and distinction after finishing with a 3.8 grade-point average. She was involved in several school activities and was a member of the Beta Club, Key Club and the National Honors Society.

She was also worked with the Kentucky Youth Assembly and the Distinguished Leaders program during her senior year.

“I really tried to push myself hard this year,” Olivia Hensley said. “I am proud of myself for the things that I have accomplished. Being in National Honors Society again and on the Distinguished Leaders last year is a big accomplishment. I love being involved with the yearbook. It’s my favorite.”

Olivia plans on becoming a radiology tech and studying imaging sciences at Morehead State. She is ready for the next challenge in her golfing career. She is excited about her new team and learning under her new coach.

“Having my dad be my coach was great, but sometimes it’s good to learn from someone else and to get out of your comfort zone,” Olivia Hensley said of Barker. “She is great. When I was visiting colleges, most of them just didn’t feel right. When I went to Morehead, it was great. She is really kind, laid-back and she knows what she is doing. I trust her with whatever she wants us to do.”

Barker, a former Kentucky coach and LPGA player, is in her 13th season at the helm of the Eagles. She said Hensley has displayed the tools needed to perform on the college stage. Hensley will be the first high school state champion to play for the Morehead State women’s program.

“I feel like she has the maturity to handle the ups and downs of the game,” Barker said. “You have to have the understanding that there will be times that you will not be at your best, but you still have to figure out how to get the ball in the hole. That is a quality that younger players don’t have.”

The same commitment Hensley showed to her game was on display to her future golf destination. Despite her recent successes, she never wanted to sever ties with the Eagles.

“She had opportunities to go elsewhere,” Scott Hensley said. “There were discussions about should we stick with Morehead State. With her, it’s never been a question. She really loved the campus. She loves her new teammates. Coach Barker is a magnificent person and takes care of the girls.”

Olivia said she has LPGA aspirations, but she will never forget where she comes from. Her family has been a major part of her life. She helps out and runs errands for all the senior citizens who live in her grandmother’s apartment building.

Olivia hopes any impact she has made will lead to more recognition for her school and the game of golf.

“I feel like I’ve made more people in the state look at Boyd County, the school and the program,” Olivia Hensley said. “When I was younger and playing in tournaments, people would ask me where I am from. I would say Boyd County and they would say, ‘Where’s that?’ Now that’s changed.”

“I feel, as good as I’ve played, it’s made other people wonder,” she added. “Should I try playing golf? Should I be on the golf team and try something new? I hope I’ve guided them along that path.”

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