Omaha Westside golf standout Kaitlyn Hanna has been around golf almost her entire life.
And, as pro golf has returned to Omaha this week at the Pinnacle Bank Championship, Hanna can remember how it all started while she also looks to her future by announcing her commitment to play in college at the University of Iowa.
It’s not been a conventional journey; especially a commitment to a Power Five school.
“I always wanted to do it my way,” Hanna said. “I enjoyed playing basketball and golfing. I want to kind of prove to the golfing world that girls can compete in two sports at a high level in high school, while not playing golf all over the country and still compete at the highest level.”
Hanna’s love for golf started around Omaha’s first go-round with pro golf as her dad, Terry, was the tournament director for the Cox Classic at Champions Run. It started her early enthusiasm for the game.
“She was usually the only girl at youth golf clinics growing up and hung out around the Cox Classic,” dad noted. “We then housed Camilo Benedetti of Columbia for about seven years, and she would always follow him watching how he golfed.”
Her golf journey that started by looking to some many different player and coaches led up to today’s commitment to Iowa.
“Iowa is a great fit for not only the player I am today but for the player and person I want to become in the future — both academically and athletically,” Hanna told nebpreps. “Getting to see the campus in person and meeting the coaches and the athletic staff that make up the university; it just felt like a giant family. Everyone knew my name, was interested in my background and you could feel how they want you to succeed.
“The indoor and outdoor facilities at Iowa are amazing, and they are right next to campus, the best I’ve seen. I just fell in love with every aspect of Iowa. I can’t wait to play for Coach Menzel with the other players. The goal is to compete for conference championships and qualify for the NCAAs, and with Coach Menzel, the facilities and their current players — and ones coming in — Iowa is that school.”
Hanna, however, has a golf story that is starting at Iowa. It’s been a story of hard work and patience from the beginning.
With all the practice, tagging along with dad and taking golf lessons with Golftec coach James Kinney, by middle school, she was experiencing regional golf success. In sixth grade, she qualified for the National Drive Chip and Putt National Finals at Augusta National and later that summer, she recorded a top-10 finish at the Nebraska Girls Junior. And, she wasn’t even a teeenager.
She followed that up with 8th and third place finishes the next two summers, and, as a freshman at Norfolk Country Club she shared the Class A state championship in a rain shortened event. The following summer — in 2019 — she won the Nebraska Girls Junior at Beatrice Country Club and followed that with an outright Class A state title as a sophomore.
She did it all while growing up in the Omaha Sports Academy and later Nebraska Attack basketball programs and has been the starting point guard for a very successful Omaha Westside girls basketball program.
“I think basketball has helped my golf game tremendously,” Hanna said. “Basketball games are always so intense as you are just one piece of the puzzle and it’s vital that the entire team is in sync and does their job.
“I think my composure from the basketball court helps me stay present and focused on one shot at a time, and it helps me mentally knowing if I do hit a bad shot, that I can still bounce back and recover with an even better one. When I’m at the free throw line, it feels like I’m over a putt.”
Although she did not play club basketball the past two summers — a knee surgery delayed by Covid slowed her 2020 summer — she’s kept busy on the golf course this summer while keeping in touch with college coaches and playing more nationally.
In a six week stretch this summer she competed in the following events:
- She shot a 2-day score of 6-under at the Nebraska Jr. PGA qualifier and qualified for the Jr. PGA Championship at Valhalla in Louisville, KY.
- She was the youngest golf to advance to the final four of the prestigious Kansas Women’s Match Play.
- Finished tied for 8th out of 78 players at the 96th Western Junior and qualified for the 16-player match play field.
- Shot a final round 70 for a comeback win at the Midwest Junior Championship at Glen Oaks Country Club in Des Moines, IA upending two other top Nebraska players CoCo Kolbas and Katie Ruge in the final round.
- The three then joined forces with three other Nebraska players to win the Four State Team Championship in Manhattan, KS.
- Then, a plane ride to Pinehurst, NC to play in the North South Junior at world-famous Pinehurst No. 2 where she finished 43rd out of 95 players.
- After a second place finish at the Nebraska Women’s Amateur at Indian Creek, she made the cut at the PGA Junior and finished 65th in a 150+ player field.
You could say it was a busy summer.
Now, Hanna turns her attention to a senior year where she hopes to become a rare three-time Class A champion and is continually focused on the long journey that is the game of golf. It’s also a sport that she loves to use to give back. Evidenced by her 150-player junior golf camp held this week at Stone Creek Golf Course.
“I have always loved the practice and hard work of golf,” Kaitlyn said. At the end of the day, you must respect the process of golf. It’s a long journey and you are always learning each and every time you practice and compete because there’s always a new shot you’ve never seen.”
For Kaitlyn Hanna, just maybe, her journey has just begun.