Ashland Invitational Tournament

Ashland's Kate Hanni hits on the No. 1 fairway during the Ashland Invitational Tournament on Monday at Bellefonte Country Club. KEVIN GOLDY | THE DAILY INDEPENDENT

Reflecting on Kate Hanni’s high school senior golf season, Mark Hanni recalled something his predecessor as Ashland’s coach said about his daughter.

“Coach (Larry) Bailey used to say about her when she was in eighth grade, you’d never know if she made a birdie or a triple bogey,” Mark Hanni said. “She just played. She just never was big on showing emotion.

“She was always probably out just to play the next shot and not really concerned about winning tournaments.”

Through a brilliant junior and high school golf career that hit an unexpected rough patch near its end, Kate Hanni kept that focus. It landed her a berth at Winthrop University, with whom she signed on Wednesday.

Hanni was first-team All-State in 2018 and ‘19, an honor determined by points earned from strong performance in high-caliber tournaments. She was in pursuit of a third straight such recognition and had a shot at Miss Golf when injury struck: a pinched nerve along the artery below her right elbow made it difficult for Hanni to control her right hand.

Hanni slipped from tied for the lead in All-State points late in the season to tying for the last spot on the All-State second team.

But she has her eyes forward.

Next shot.

“I think it helped me a lot,” Hanni said of that mindset, “because usually at tournaments, I start out bad and I come back. Both times that I shot my 69s (this season) I was 2-over through three holes, so I usually come back better at the end, and I just had to keep that mindset that I will get better eventually and just be able to get better for my college career, because that’s what’s most important now.”

Hanni has been preparing for college since making a series of visits during her freshman year, her father said. She knew early on she wanted to attend college in the Carolinas, a profile that Winthrop fits, and she was also taken with Eagles coach Kasay Gambrell.

Kate and her parents “were completely sold” during the official visit to Winthrop.

“The next morning, she told me, ‘I love it. If they offer, this is it. I’m taking it,’” Mark Hanni said. “And that was it. She had done her due diligence for three years. She was prepared.”

Hanni said she likes the area where Winthrop is located. The Division I Big South Conference school is based in Rock Hill, South Carolina.

“It all just clicked really well for me,” she said. “It felt like home for me when I went there, and right after my visit, (Gambrell) made the offer and I made the decision and canceled my other visits after that.”

Ashland won the region championship in decisive fashion in Hanni’s senior season, and she made the cut at State five consecutive years. Even if it didn’t end how she might have envisioned, Hanni was happy to get a complete senior season — something COVID-19 has not afforded everyone.

“I know how special it is to be able to play a high school sport, because some people don’t have anything after it. It’s their last season,” Hanni said. “And I think it’s really sad that all of this is happening to everyone, and I’m really super blessed and thankful that we were able to have a season and be able to have some type of normalcy, even though it was a little different. And I just hope everyone else can have their sports because I know they work just as hard and they’re just as passionate about it as we are. I’m hoping for the best for them, but I’m really thankful that we had the opportunity.”

Hanni was the co-All-Area Player of the Year as a freshman and a sophomore. The 2020 All-Area team will be announced soon.

Hanni thinks she will major in marketing, she said. She wants to be a pharmaceutical sales representative.

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