As far as golf runs go, the one New Prague native Kenzie Neisen is on right now is hard to match. In April, as a freshman at Oklahoma State, she won the individual title at the Big 12 Championship.

In June, with partner Sarah Burnham, she won the Minnesota Women’s State Amateur Four-Ball Championship. In July? She won the Minnesota Women’s State Amateur Championship. And on Wednesday, she won the Minnesota Women’s State Open and became the first Minnesota woman to win the State Open and State Amateur in the same year.

“I actually didn’t know that until afterward,” she said. “It’s an honor to be the first one to do that.”

It gives her a ton of momentum in a summer that is moving fast. Friday she leaves for Portland, Ore., to begin preparation for the U.S. Women’s Amateur that begins there on Monday.

She acknowledged she has confidence going into that event, though she laughs when asked if she’s the next big thing.

“I don’t know about that,” she said. “I try not to think too far ahead of myself.”

Indeed. Focus should not be a problem for Neisen, who has learned how to keep her edge in a mentally taxing game from both golf and life experience.

For the first, she credits her freshman year at Oklahoma State.

“I think I’ve learned through school not to worry too much about other players when I’m playing and focus on the shot I’m going to hit,” she said. “I’ve learned so much in one year. Everyone has been great, helping with teaching me and all the other golfers about golf and life.”

Some of what she’s learned from life, though, she’s unfortunately had to learn the hard way. Her younger brother, Tom, died of Hunter syndrome a month before she won the Big 12 Championship. The same rare genetic disease claimed the life of her older brother, Sam, in 2009.

While it goes without saying that no golf accomplishments can offset that kind of pain, it is also clear that Neisen has not only persevered but thrived in the face of tragedy.

At the Women’s State Open, she followed a first-day 72 with a final-round 67 to take the title.

“I had learned a few things from the first day about what to hit off the tee,” Neisen said. “My ball-striking was obviously pretty good. My wedges were pretty good. I was able to finish off holes with good putts.”

If she keeps playing like that, there’s no reason the run has to stop. The end of the U.S. Amateur leads right into the start of classes, which leads into more college golf, which leads into …

“I would obviously like to finish college and keep experiencing that,” Neisen said. “And when I’m done with school, we’ll see where my game is at.”

 

Michael Rand