High School Coach Benedict in Field Because of Former Foe September 13, 2019 | Flagstaff, Ariz. By Lisa D. Mickey

Kim Benedict returned to USGA competition in 2016 after having played in the U.S. Women's Amateur in 2001 and 2002. (USGA/Matt Sullivan)

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Kim Benedict never dreamed that the woman who drummed her, 8 and 7, in their club championship match would go on to become the reason she would revisit competitive golf nearly 25 years later.

Benedict was 14 when fellow Michigan native Mary Jane Hiestand dominated the 36-hole match at their home course, Indianwood Golf & Country Club, in Lake Orion. While Benedict saw a very accomplished amateur in her opponent, Hiestand saw a young woman with a lot of promise.

“She was really young, but she was good,” said Hiestand, 60, who was a finalist in the 2017 U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur Championship at Champions Golf Club in Houston. “We would compete many more times after that, all the way through Kim’s college career at the University of Michigan.”

Ironically, both Michiganders would end up in Naples, Fla., where Hiestand moved in 2002 after meeting her husband, Jeff. Benedict took a job as a high school teacher and coach in Naples and once again bumped into Hiestand.

Both are entered in this week’s 33rd U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur Championship, making a rekindling of that Michigan rivalry a possibility. Benedict is playing in her fourth consecutive Women’s Mid-Am and hopes to advance past the Round of 32 for the first time, while Hiestand would love another shot at the title after coming up short to Kelsey Chugg two years ago.

The truth is, Benedict would not even be at this week’s championship if Hiestand had not taken an interest in the younger player and offered some guidance at a critical time.

Benedict had won three collegiate tournaments while at Michigan and she captured the Michigan Women’s Amateur three times – in 1999, 2001 and 2003. After her third state title, Benedict turned professional, but she never joined a tour or competed as a pro in the 1½ years she spent as a professional.

“I was going to go to LPGA Q-school, but then I didn’t feel like I was ready, and then I put it off and never ended up doing anything as a pro,” said Benedict, 38, of Bonita Springs, Fla. “I was in my 20s and was busy trying to get my work life together.”

Mary Jane Hiestand, who made a run to the 2017 U.S. Women's Mid-Amateur final, has been a mentor to Kim Benedict. (USGA/Darren Carroll)

“I just told her that if she was not going to play on a pro tour and if she wanted to keep up her game against really good players, she should go play in USGA events,” said Hiestand, who was inducted into the Michigan Golf Hall of Fame in 2004. “I told her the U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur is really competitive and that she would meet a lot of people who are working full-time jobs just like her.”

Benedict reapplied for her amateur status while staying busy as an English teacher and coach of the boys’ golf team at Gulf Coast High School in Naples.

“I didn’t realize what was out there until she kind of guided me,” admitted Benedict. “M.J. is really the person I’ve looked to for guidance when it comes to amateur golf. She’s been my mentor.”

Benedict had competed in one U.S. Girls’ Junior and two U.S. Women’s Amateur championships, but it had been 14 years since she competed in the Women’s Amateur when she qualified for her first Women’s Mid-Am in 2016. She advanced to match play in that event at The Kahkwa Club in Erie, Pa., but she drew defending champion Lauren Greenlief in the first round of match play.

It was intimidating enough to be in her first USGA competition in years, but to open match play against Greenlief was a tall order for Benedict. As it turned out, she won the match, 1 up, when Greenlief missed a downhill 3-foot putt on the final hole.

“I was playing well and staying with her,” said Benedict. “You don’t like to win that way with someone missing a short putt, but that’s part of it.”

Benedict lost in the next round, and for the next two years in the Women’s Mid-Am, the match-play Round of 32 would continue to be her Achilles heel after wins in the first round.

“I tried to take something from each experience to hopefully get better,” said Benedict of her 3-3 record.

Admittedly, Benedict does not play a lot of tournament golf. She did play in the Florida Women’s Open this summer “just to get some tournament rounds,” but most of her practice comes from playing three or four times a week with the high school boys’ team she coaches.

Her team won the 2017 Florida State 3-A High School Golf Championship and finished second last year. Benedict said her team is a solid contender for this year’s state title, with several players hoping to play college golf.

“If my team is playing nine holes from the tips, I’m playing nine holes from the tips, and if we’re doing certain drills, I’m doing those drills, too,” said Benedict, who won Collier County’s Golden Apple Award as this year’s top teacher.

Taking a week off from school to compete requires Benedict to prepare lesson plans for each day she’s gone. She admitted that “it feels cocky” to plan out her lessons through next Friday, but to not plan is to not believe she can keep advancing.

“I have to assume there’s a chance I could be playing in next Thursday’s final,” she said. “I’m not thinking about results, scores, matches or the Round of 32. I just hope I see signs that my practice has paid off.”

While her high school team will be checking their coach’s scores from Naples, a fellow competitor will also be keeping a keen eye on Benedict.

“Kim’s got game and I root for her even when I’m playing in the same event,” said Hiestand. “She’s like a daughter to me and I want her to play well.”

“I’ve had my time,” Hiestand added. “I hope I have shown her the way.”

Lisa D. Mickey is a Florida-based freelance writer who frequently contributes to USGA websites.

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