To say that her first set of golf clubs were a far cry of what she currently carries in her bag is an understatement. Still, Morris senior Olivia Kief had to get her start somewhere.
"When I was little, I had a set of giant Snoopy golf clubs that had large plastic heads and the ball was the size of a tennis ball," she said. "I used to hit that in the back yard and in the basement."
This past fall season, she only seemed to be playing with clubs that large as she parlayed her talents into a 48th-place finish at the Class A State Outing held at Red Tail Run in Decatur a little less than a month ago. She ended up with a score of 178 (86/92) in making Morris history as the first Redskins player ever to participate in a state golf meet.
For her work this fall with the Morris boys golf team, Kief is being recognized this season as the Morris Daily Herald All-Area Girls MVP.
Girls golf has been very slow in developing in the area. While the sport was actually adopted by the IHSA in 1975, it has only been recently that girls golf has started to catch on.
"When I first started, the first girls golfer I noticed was Sara Supergan of Seneca. I know she went to state. I think she was a senior when I was a freshman," Kief said. "Then I heard of (Rachel) Herzberger and Minooka had a team. Then Seneca and Coal City got teams. But there's not too many girls who are golfers."
Kief said part of the reason for that is what goes into being a devoted golfer.
"You have to be dedicated to the sport. It's not like where you can go out and buy a $25 basketball and start practicing," she said. "Not just anybody is going to go out and buy a $1,000 set of golf clubs. It's an expensive sport to play.
"Golf also takes a lot of time and practicing for multiple sports is tough. If I didn't spend time at the range and on the greens and do it virtually every day, I would never be able to compete with the people I am able to compete with. Especially if it is a summer sport. For example, you couldn't golf and play soccer or softball. It's hard."
Kief said she thought she would also help get other girls interested in the sport.
"What they need to do is promote it," she said. "My freshman and sophomore years when I told people I was playing for the boys golf team people were asking, 'You can do that?."
Because Morris does not have a girls team, Kief had to compete on the Redskins boys team all four years.
"Since I came on as the boys golf coach at Morris, I have been in awe at how Olivia has conducted herself," Morris coach Matt Lafond said. "She has played on the boys team all four years of her high school career and not once have I heard her complain."
Kief competed regularly as a freshman on the junior varsity team under coach Chris Hankins and as a sophomore under coach Eric Iverson. She played JV all year except for a couple matches at the end of the season. However, her sophomore year, she did participate in the regional and in conference play and, for the first time ever, medaled in a varsity meet. By her junior year, under Lafond, she was the second-highest individual out of regional play, and this year, she became the first Morris girl ever to win a regional.
"Since I took over the reigns, I've seen Olivia go through some extremely difficult times on the course and turn right around and be successful. She has got the perfect mentality and demeanor to play the game," Lafond said.
"Between injuries and going back and for between the red (ladies tees) and blue (mens tees), there is not another person that I know of that could have handled it better. Since the beginning of her senior season, Olivia has done nothing but improve — obviously seeing how the season ended! She knows the game, feels the game, and can handle anything that she might encounter on the course."
Kief said that keeping the right mental approach on the course has been simply staying focused.
"The No. 1 thing I do is to not let myself think that I've got it. I want to stay positive, without getting a big head about it," she said. "I know I have to play my best each time and that I have to stay focused. Even if I go out and have a good front nine like I did in conference this year, I keep telling myself over and over to keep going for it."
It was with that attitude that Kief won the regional at Spring Creek Golf Course with a round of 82. She beat McNamara's Gina Vallone (83) to do it. And while Kief would go on to qualify for state and also win a Northern Illinois Big 12 Conference championship (77), the win at Spring Creek stands out to her the most.
"I was surprised, but in a good way," she said of winning the regional. "It's one of my favorite memories ever. That day I hit a 35-foot birdie on the back nine, and looking back, I feel like that won it for me."
Kief is planning on golfing in college after graduating this spring. She is still in the process of figuring out which school is the best fit for her at the moment.
"I don't know yet. I've gotten a lot of Division III offers," she said. "A lot of schools have invited me to play for their team."
Illinois Wesleyan, St. Mary's of Notre Dame, Augustana, Carthage, Monmouth and North Central are among those in the mix at press time.