After illness, Prince ready for a memorable 2011

Kendall Prince during the first round of the Annika Invitational at Reunion Resort.

Kendall Prince during the first round of the Annika Invitational at Reunion Resort.

When Kendall Prince couldn’t play golf, she dreamed about it.

“I literally played 18 holes in my dreams every night,” she said, adding that she’s better in real life than she is in slumber. The recent graduate of Lakeridge High School in Lake Oswego, Ore., is No. 25 in the Golfweek Junior Rankings.

An immune disease (most likely autoimmune hepatitis, but doctors couldn’t say for sure) took her away from golf for months.

At the end of an American Junior Golf Association tournament in August, Prince’s parents told her that she seemed tired. She put her clubs away and took a break. Then things got worse.

She started sleeping 20 hours a day and couldn’t even walk around her block. Tests revealed a sky-high enzyme count in her liver – her body was rejecting its own organ.

An antibiotic she was taking might have caused the reaction. She came off the medicine and rested for months, with doctors monitoring every shift.

Besides dreaming about golf, she spent her time in bed reading golf books – “Putting Out of Your Mind” and “Zen Golf” were her favorites.

In December, she felt strong enough to pick up her driver. She left disappointed when she could hit the ball only 80 yards.

“My whole core was weak,” she said. “I was scared I wouldn’t get my distance back.”

After months of training in the gym and practicing at the range, Prince has regained her 240-yard drive. She said she also spends five to six hours a day practicing, with 60 percent of her time devoted to the short game.

In February, she played in her first tournament since the illness – the 2011 Annika Invitational.

“On the 16th hole, I just started crying walking up the fairway,” she said. “I was so happy to be back out there. It was emotional, but it gave me a whole new perspective on how important your health is.”

She finished fifth in that event, and is now ready to fill her summer schedule with tournaments.

On June 13-17, she’ll compete in the Rolex Girls Junior Championship in Byron, Minn. She’s also the first alternate for the U.S. Women’s Open from the Washington district. She lost in a playoff for the final spot.

She wants this summer to count. She’d like to have a victory of a top-5 in the Rolex tournament, and improve her game for September. That’s when she heads off to Ohio State to play for the Buckeyes.

Prince is confident the coaching staff and facilities will help her reach her playing potential. But with the scare of a lifetime, she’s trying to keep her health in mind.

“With the illness, I think I learned big lessons of keeping life in perspective,” she said. “Enjoy what you’re doing. Life is fragile. I’ll remember that every time I’m in a tournament.”

– CJ Lotz is a contributing writer that lives in Bloomington, Ind.

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