Patrick Finley: Arizona golfer Kendall Prince perseveres in fairway of life

Prince overcomes 3rd illness in 3 years to aid UA's NCAA title hopes
2013-05-08T00:00:00Z 2014-07-02T12:32:30Z Patrick Finley: Arizona golfer Kendall Prince perseveres in fairway of lifePatrick Finley Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
May 08, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Kendall Prince started to feel funny somewhere over the Pacific Ocean.

By the time she played the Dr. Donnis Thompson Invitational practice round on Oahu, she needed a golf cart to get around.

She couldn't finish the first day of the March tournament, making it 27 of 36 holes, too weak to squat and read putts toward the end, before withdrawing.

She left Hawaii and returned to Tucson, went to the UAMC emergency room - where her swollen lymph nodes made the 5-foot-4-inch Prince's neck look like that of a linebacker - and was eventually diagnosed with mononucleosis.

Her mom came to take care of her. With no golf to play, Prince watched the first four seasons of "Lost" in less than three weeks.

That was almost two months ago.

Thursday, almost all the way back, the Arizona Wildcats sophomore will help lead her team into the NCAA West Regional Championships at Stanford.

The Wildcats, seeded No. 2 in the region, figure to march through to the NCAA Championships in two weeks.

To win the whole thing, they need consistency.

"I feel like we haven't peaked yet," Arizona coach Laura Ianello said.

Prince is still working her way toward the apex of her game.

She's done it before.

At the start of her senior year at Lakeridge High School in Lake Oswego, Ore., Prince got sick. She vomited yellow, lost 15 pounds and missed maybe two months, on and off, of school.

A workout and nutrition freak with soccer and tennis skills to spare, Prince was the No. 2 prep player in her class, according to Golfweek.

Almost overnight, she grew so weak that her game was limited to creating miniature golf courses in her house, putting up and down the stairs into cups.

Here's the weird part: No doctor could diagnose the problem.

"No one knew what was going on," she said.

Prince had biopsies on her liver, which made it hard to swing when she returned to the course. She was lucky to hit her drives 150 yards.

"I started from ground zero with my golf game," she said.

She returned to junior golf tournaments about five months after she first started feeling sick, finishing fifth at the AJGA Annika Invitational in February 2011.

But it would be another six months before doctors figured out what was wrong.

The month she left to attend Ohio State, she was diagnosed with an autoimmune liver disease.

Her immune system attacked her liver's good cells, perhaps spurred on by an acne medicine she was taking.

She still takes Imuran, an immune system suppression drug, and gets her blood drawn monthly to track the issue.

She was healthy enough to star in her freshman year at Ohio State. Prince won Big Ten Freshman of the Year, claiming three top-five finishes last season.

Then, another medical curveball hit: appendicitis.

Prince missed the postseason.

I asked if she ever shook her head at the bad luck.

She just smiled.

"Why?" she said. "I eat healthy. I work out."

After her freshman year, Prince, the youngest of three girls, decided to leave OSU.

She wanted to play year-round and not "have a golf course shut down for four months" because of rotten weather.

She narrowed her choices to three schools.

Two of them, unlikely partners, split the cost of her airfare.

The UA and Arizona State pooled their money.

Prince visited ASU before Ianello picked her up in Phoenix and drove her to Tucson.

She chose the UA, in part because of the variety of courses where the team can practice, and Prince has been one of the Wildcats' top players since.

She's currently the team's second- or third-best golfer, improving as she's felt stronger following her return from mono.

Prince played her post-illness tournament at ASU April 12-14, shooting 3-over-par.

Two weeks ago, she finished tied for 24th with an 8-over at the Pac-12 Championships in Valencia, Calif., where the Wildcats placed fourth.

"She has, by far, one of the best short games I've ever seen," Ianello said.

"She can chip it close from anywhere."

The Wildcats hope she keeps them within striking distance of the national title.

"If we all play like we can at the same time," Prince said, "we can win it, for sure."

NCAA West Regional Championships

• When: Thursday-Saturday at Stanford (Calif.) Golf Course

• Seed: The Arizona Wildcats are seeded No. 2, behind USC. Pac-12 opponents Stanford (5), Oregon (14) and Cal (16) round out the 24-team field.

• What's at stake: The top eight teams and two individuals advance to the NCAA Championships May 21-24 at University of Georgia Golf Course.

Contact reporter Patrick Finley at pfinley@azstarnet.com or 573-4658. On Twitter @PatrickFinley

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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