From walk-on woes to scholarship dreams, Hendrickson earned her stripes with Missouri women's golf

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Stephanie Priesmeyer called Cayce Hendrickson into her office near the end of Hendrickson’s sophomore campaign with the Missouri women’s golf team. Hendrickson remembers that moment vividly; it was the biggest of her golfing career.

After struggling her way through her freshman year and making just three individual appearances on the course, Hendrickson exploded onto the scene as a sophomore. The walk-on from Benton, Kentucky, earned a starting spot with the Division I program and competed in every tournament on the year. In the process, she earned the respect of her teammates and coaches.

That day in her office, Priesmeyer, also known as “Coach Coop,” told Hedrickson she had earned more than just respect — a partial scholarship, enough to ensure she’d make it through college.

“I really didn’t expect it … When I got back to my car, I cried like a baby,” Hendrickson said.

As tears fell, she picked up her phone and called her dad to tell him the news. Now, a year later, she’ll look to cap off her junior season with a strong showing at the SEC Championships, which run Wednesday through Sunday in Birmingham, Alabama.

Hedrickson’s parents hadn’t been Division I athletes, but her father, Richard Hendrickson, taught her how to play at a young age. Most of her life she’d spent in the shadow of her older sister, Chloe Hendrickson. And even though the sisters were best friends, the shadow was long.

“(Golf) is the only thing that’s ever been truly mine,” Hendrickson said.

Her hard work and dedication to the sport led to accolades at Marshall County High School. Hendrickson was a second-team All-State selection and finished eighth at the Kentucky High School Athletic Association Tournament. Despite being recruited by Illinois, Middle Tennessee and Western Kentucky, though, she dreamed of greater things for her collegiate career.

Missouri didn’t show interest until the Hendrickson family did. Priesmeyer offered Hendrickson a spot on the Tigers’ roster after both she and her father called the coach and expressed a desire to join the team. There was no guarantee of playing time or a scholarship, but Hendrickson decided to move 300 miles away from her family to play for a coaching staff she had grown to love and attend MU’s Trulaske College of Business.

She wasn’t new to sacrifices. She remembered skipping out on social events at Marshall County to compete golf in tournaments. Moving away from home and passing up on financial aid from other schools was a step up from sacrificing a night at a school dance, but she knew it had to be done.

“You have to make sacrifices for dreams,” Hendrickson said, “and that’s okay.”

The women’s golf team usually reserves nine roster spots each year. The Tigers compete for top recruits across the country and recruit overseas at some of Europe’s most elite tournaments. Currently, their squad boasts golfers from England, Scotland and the Netherlands.

Hendrickson struggled to make an impact for the Tigers upon her arrival to Columbia and never made the five-golfer cut to participate in team tournament play. In the fall of 2015, she traveled with Missouri to The Woodlands, Texas, to compete individually in the Jim West Challenge hosted by Texas State. She shot a 20-over-par 236. The limited role and trouble on the course led to frustration.

“I remember one time during her freshman year when she was crying in the locker room. I came up to her and said ‘Remember why you wanted to be here. You wanted to get better,’” Priesmeyer said.

Her growth through practice and progress was evident when she retuned to the Jim West Challenge as a sophomore and shot an even-par 71 during the first round and finished tied for 61st with a 12-over 228. After earning her partial scholarship, she again started her junior year at the Jim West Challenge by tying for 47th place. Hendrickson shot a career-best 2-under par 69 in the tournament’s final round and capped of her season by being named to the Women’s Golf Coaches Association All-American Scholar Team.

“In every walk of life, she’s got a great attitude and puts her most into everything; she didn’t let up and continued to seek a higher level,” said Emma Allen, Hendrickson’s junior teammate from Southampton, England.

Heading into the spring semester, though, Hendrickson had to deal with tragedy back home in Kentucky. On Jan. 23, two Marshall County High School students were killed in a school shooting. Her younger brother and sister were among the hundreds of students running out of the school in fear that day.

Hendrickson posted to her Twitter asking for support from her Missouri family. Her teammates and coaches delivered.

“It’s amazing how everyone stepped into that role and everybody cared,” Hendrickson said. “(The school shooting) is always going to be part of me. ... I always try to stay involved there; I try and teach (my siblings) not to be scared. It’s more about them than it is me,” Hendrickson said.

Hendrickson’s devotion to people and their well-being is a quality admired by both teammates and coaches.

“She’s always thinking about others and trying to make sure everyone is in a really good place. She cares about people individually,” Allen said.

On March 15, Hendrickson celebrated her 21st birthday at El Maguey. She was surrounded by all her teammates. They’ve been who’ve stood by her through those first shaky tee shots, the lowest of lows and, with the conference tournament looming, greener grounds. Once an afterthought on the roster, Hendrickson will play a big role for the team, which is hanging on the edge of regional qualifications. A solid performance could be the difference between a longer postseason or closing up shop early.

“I’m so fulfilled by the friendship and sisterhood I have with my teammates. They’re the best people I know,” said Hendrickson. “My motivators are my team. Everything that I do here and now is for them.”

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