It would be appropriate to say the new Jennings County girls golf coach backed into her career.
Kellie Hensley was going full bore as a player in the mid-2000s at IUPUI when everything changed for her.
During a tournament in Louisiana, Hensley’s college career and her professional dreams ended when she injured her back.
“I couldn’t move out on the course, so I had to quit,” she said. “I’d never quit a match before, and I cried because I let my team down.
“It was a long bus ride back home. But I knew my golf career might already be over, so I began my coaching career while I was on that bus. I started encouraging (my teammates) and offering them tips.”
She wanted to be a professional golfer when she was growing up.
“My family and I used to play at Shadowood Golf Course in Seymour all the time,” she said. “I thought it was boring at first, but then I started to win tournaments. Sometimes, there weren’t enough girls in my age group, so I’d play against boys. Girls golf wasn’t as competitive 15 years ago. I played for four years on the Jennings County golf team and I loved it.”
After she graduated from Jennings County in 2005, Hensley enrolled at IUPUI and began playing for the Jaguars.
“I loved playing college golf,” she said. “It allowed me to play golf all over the country. “
After she had back fusion surgery and 2½ months of painful rehabilitation to repair two bulging discs, Hensley knew her dreams to play golf professionally were over.
Last fall she reconnected with Jennings County when her good friend and former assistant coach, Angie Klene, asked her to help during practices. Both of them work in special education at Jennings County Middle School.
“Klene told me that she wanted to spend more time with her family,” Hensley said. “She told me last fall that this was going to be her last year coaching and she encouraged me to apply for the job.”
Klene was thrilled when Hensley was chosen to succeed her.
“My first year coaching was 2005, her senior year,” Klene said. “I’m very happy she got the job. She has the same positive, upbeat attitude I have. We both are big on chipping and putting, but she focuses more on the girls’ individual games than I did. Because she played golf in college, she knows more about how to fix a golfer’s swing than I did.”
Panthers golfer Kassi Whitehead loves working with Hensley.
“With her help, we feel like we can do anything,” Whitehead said. “Earlier this year, I was having trouble with my driver because I was tightening my grip and the ball was going to the right instead of down the fairway. I was turning my wrist too far to the right. She straightened it out by telling me to loosen my grip and turn my wrist more to the left. She said I was turning my body about halfway through instead of all the way through, so I was standing sideways when I hit my shot.”
The results were good. “She knows a ton about the swing and she knows exactly what to fix and that will help me improve this season,” Whitehead said. “When she works with each of us individually, it helps us improve as a team.”
In her spare time, Hensley owns and operates Barnum Party Candles out of her home. On the golf course, she loves molding and shaping her players into better golfers.
“I’ve never had a coach who has motivated me as much as she has,” Whitehead said. “After each meet, we’ll both set goals on what to work on in practice. She’s the first coach I’ve had that has noticed I’ll hang my head if I do badly, and she’ll ask me what’s wrong. When I shoot well, she always gives me a thumbs-up. After matches, we all go out to eat and she’ll go with us. She’s one of us.”
Hensley is grateful for the opportunity to coach the Panthers.
“The golf course has always been my sanctuary,“ she said. “I’ve always been able to go to the golf course and forget about what’s been bothering me. This is home for me and I’m thankful for a great group of girls and a great support system.”