Swann Song: Ole Miss senior Kennedy Swann ends college career in style as national champion

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — After leading Ole Miss to a dominant victory at the NCAA Championship – the first women’s title in school history – head coach Kory Henkes said, “If you get the right people on your team anything can happen.”

When you look at the Rebel roster, Kennedy Swann stands out.

The Austin, Texas, native with the big smile and even bigger game has been the emotional leader and a sparkplug for Ole Miss, but this weekend at Grayhawk Golf Club almost never happened for two reasons. The first? Swann, a Clemson transfer two years ago, was unsure about returning for a fifth year after COVID-19 wiped out the 2019-2020 season. The second?

“To be honest, at first I told her no,” Henkes said of the initial call about a transfer. “I just didn’t know if it was the right fit for where we were going with our program at the time. After talking to her I said, ‘alright, I’ll give you a second chance, but if you mess up, you’re done.’ It was strict for the first year, and she didn’t blow it. She took advantage of every opportunity.”

‘We had our moments’

Both Henkes and assistant coach Zack Byrd uttered those words when talking about Swann’s start in Oxford.

“We’ve had our moments and she was a challenge when she got here, but it’s been unbelievable to watch her mature and see her game get better. She was always the one asking to go over stats, asking what can I do to get better,” said Byrd, who works a lot with Swann and was on the bag for her quarterfinal run at the 2020 U.S. Women’s Amateur. “Coming in she was averaging 76 and now she’s under par. It’s been one of the most fulfilling moments of my life to work with her.”

“We had our moments, not every one was great, but that’s what gets us (to a national championship),” echoed Henkes. “We hold them accountable, and if we don’t do that early on, we don’t get here today.”

The final shot

As if making school history in her final event wasn’t impressive enough, Swann called her shot.

“She called me and Kory and said, ‘If I’m coming back we’re gonna win a national championship, right?’”

Right she was.

Swann finished 3-0 in match play this week and never saw the 18th green after making birdie on her final stroke-play hole on Monday. Not only that, she ended her college career in style with her family by her side, every step of the way.

“To dream this for your kid when they’re 10 years old and you see the talent, the fight they have in their heart, the want to compete and the will to win, to see it play out like this, knowing this was her very last golf tournament, to be here at the very last and see her hit that shot on 17 to seal the match, it was just nuts,” said her father, Jay Swann.

That shot on 17? Just a knockdown 60-degree from 86-some yards to a foot, leading to a conceded birdie and a crucial second point for the Rebels against Oklahoma State’s Maja Stark, a finalist for the ANNIKA Award and the No. 6-ranked player in the country.

“That was pure luck or something else came over me because that was not my intention,” she said with her signature smile and a laugh. “My intention was get it on the green somewhere and make her make birdie to beat me and go to 18.”

“I hit it and thought, ‘that’s either going to be really, really good or its going to land next to the pin and roll off the back of the green and I’m going to have a tough chip,'” explained Swann. “I saw it land and saw her pick up my ball and throw it in the rough so I thought, ‘well, that must’ve been pretty good.’”

Family business

The Swann’s bought an RV – they call it the bus – the summer before Kennedy’s senior year of high school, and it’s been put to good use the last year.

“With COVID, travel was difficult,” said Jay. “So we loaded up the bus and drove from Austin, Texas, to Washington, D.C. for the 2020 U.S. Women’s Amateur in the summer. We knew this spring would be her last go around so we loaded up the bus again and drove to Florida in February.”

“When she committed to that fifth year I told Jay I really want to go to every tournament,” said Kennedy’s mother, Laura. “He said, ‘okay, let’s make it happen.'”

NCAA Women's Championship
NCAA Women's Championship

Ole Miss golfer Kennedy Swann celebrates with her father Jay Swann after defeating Oklahoma State in the NCAA Women’s Golf Championship at Grayhawk Golf Club. (Photo: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports)

Laura, a counselor and adjunct faculty at the University of Texas, worked from the RV when she was out on the road. Jay, a lieutenant for the Austin Police Department, would fly back home to work and make it to tournaments when he could on the weekends. Laura spent seven weeks on the road watching her daughter become one of the nation’s best players.

Swann is exempt into the 2021 U.S. Women’s Amateur, and the family will be “loading up the bus” for the drive to Westchester Country Club in Rye, New York, in about five weeks.

On the road again.