For Stone and Griffin, Harder Hall is a place to reconnect
Latanna Stone and Kendall Griffin (AGC photo)
Latanna Stone and Kendall Griffin (AGC photo)

SEBRING, Fla. (Jan. 9, 2019) – Kendall Griffin’s name on the Harder Hall Invitational leaderboard is a familiar sight. It’s been there for a decade, which is saying a lot considering that’s half as long as Griffin has been alive. But the sight of Kendall Griffin, who turns 20 next week, at Harder Hall Country Club in short sleeves and a skirt? That’s a new one.

The Harder Hall, a Florida winter event as famous for biting cold wind as it is for introducing up-and-coming stars in women’s golf, is Griffin’s home-town event. Locals who follow the action know her name and dote on her. One once gave a much younger Griffin a pocket knife after watching her play.

The LSU sophomore nearly missed it this year after the tournament was moved back a week. Classes started today in Baton Rouge, but the Harder Hall is a can’t-miss.

“I was really worried about being able to play this year,” said Griffin, who turned in a 77 that could have easily been several shots higher. Griffin, battling a left miss, only hit six fairways and four greens. The round left her tied for 14th, five shots off the lead.

Griffin hardly needs a practice round at the Harder Hall, so instead she spent the day before the tournament visiting swing instructor Joe Hallett, the same instructor who has worked with LPGA player Stacy Lewis (another past champion in this event).

“I was hitting it really good yesterday, but maybe having too many thoughts in my head today may have hurt me,” Griffin said.

In terms of identifying young talent, well, Griffin is at the center of that. She finished runner-up last year to 16-year-old Yujeong Son, who made no bones about wanting to turn pro. (Son is not in the field this year but remains an amateur.) Back in 2010, the first year Griffin played, she was a 10-year-old looking up to then 14-year-old Lexi Thompson. That was the same year that a 7-year-old changed the course of Griffin’s golf career.

Griffin can remember prancing into the clubhouse at a local First Tee event in 2010 with a score in the mid-40s. She was almost certain she had a winning round. But then Latanna Stone, age 7, brought in a 36. It lit a fire for Griffin, setting her on the golf path she might not have otherwise pursued.

“She comes in so small, and I’m like, ‘How cute is she?’” Griffin remembered. “…Because she was younger and I saw how good the girls out there were, I was like, ‘I want to beat her in six months.’ I started practicing a lot more, a lot harder, because I had a goal in mind now.”

A young Stone and Griffin
A young Stone and Griffin
Griffin has a sister – in fact, there are three older Griffin siblings – but Stone doesn’t, which is something she lamented post-round as she watched London-born sisters Annabell and Samantha Fuller come off the course and give interviews. Griffin fills part of that void for Stone, who is bunking at the Griffin house this week. In another year, she’ll join Griffin on the LSU roster.

College golf will be a welcome change.

By the time Stone was 10 years old, she was making her debut at the 2012 U.S. Women’s Amateur. It made her the youngest player to ever qualify for the event, a record that stood until the following year when Lucy Li edged her by roughly a month. Stone, who was quite shy that week in Cleveland, Ohio, doesn’t remember much about it.

“I just remember little bits here and there,” she said, describing a waning junior career that now feels a bit “mushed together.”

Stone, who lives in nearby Valrico, Fla., still fills her schedule with mostly junior events, but is back in this event after skipping it a year ago. She hadn’t made a competitive start since the AJGA’s Rolex Tournament of Champions in November (where she finished in the top 5), so the Harder Hall felt like a good place to knock off the rust. She’ll play another AJGA invitational, the Annika, later this month.

An opening 72 put Stone is a tie for the lead with Virginia senior Anna Redding and junior golfer Yoon Min Han. There are three rounds left in Sebring.

With age comes experiences, but also nerves. First-tee jitters are a very real hurdle for Stone these days.

“I could care less when I was 10,” she said. “I was like, I have so much time. Now, it’s like, make everything count. As I’ve gotten older and the more tournaments I’ve played, I’ve understood the nerves and trying to overcome it.”

How to address those feelings on-course is a question Stone often fields, and her best solution so far has been to hum a song – or even sing the lyrics out loud – to calm down.

“It’s a little bop in your head to distract yourself,” Stone said beside Harder Hall’s closing holes as she waited for Griffin to finish in the group behind her.

And if music doesn’t work? Well, that’s what friends are for. They bring out the best in you and your game.

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