Winfield junior Kenna Biddle will be where those who know her golfing ability expected her to be on Monday morning – playing in the Class 4A girls tournament at Topeka’s Lake Shawnee.
It’s a logical progression for the 17-year-old Biddle, who helped the Vikings win the 4A title as a freshman and tied for 11th individually at state last season.
If only it were that simple.
Biddle’s preparation for the current season was severely limited as she convalesced in late spring and summer from proton beam therapy – a concentrated radiation treatment – on the remnants of a brain tumor she was first diagnosed with four years ago. Biddle spent much of March and April at Houston’s MD Anderson Cancer Center receiving treatment.
“Before the season, she hadn’t played since March,” said Biddle’s mother, Kim. “She’d been ill and still is. There are several issues that still affect her game.”
Despite challenges with balance and vision, Biddle has played in eight tournaments this season. She shot 98 in cool, windy conditions during last week’s 4A regional at Clay Center to help the Vikings finish second and qualify for state.
“It’s always more exciting to get to go to state as a team than as an individual,” Biddle said. “My goal is to place in the top 10 at state this year after getting 11th last year, but it will be harder now because of my health issues.”
The genesis of those issues seemed fairly mundane. When she was 12, Biddle experienced intermittent dizzy spells, but without accompanying pain or headaches, dismissed them as dehydration.
After the spells persisted, Biddle underwent an MRI in August 2013 that revealed an abnormality. Chris and Kim Biddle eventually took Kenna to Houston, where a surgeon removed portions of a low-grade tumor on her brain stem near delicate cranial nerves.
“She went through rehab for two months afterward,” Kim Biddle said. “She had to re-learn how to walk, move her arm, brush her teeth. She underwent speech therapy, she was on a feeding tube for six months and missed the first two months of seventh grade.”
For Biddle, a straight-A student who played multiple sports, the lifestyle changes were significant. With her agility and speed affected, she chose to give up basketball, soccer and softball.
Seeking a new outlet for their younger daughter, the Biddles, who live on Winfield’s Quail Ridge Golf Course, suggested she try golf. Neither parent plays the sport, and Kenna was a hard sell.
“I didn’t want to play golf originally because I thought it looked boring and was only for old men,” Biddle said. “I’m pretty competitive and I don’t like doing things I’m not good at.”
Biddle’s buy-in came after her first junior varsity tournament with Winfield Middle School. She won it, and hasn’t looked back.
“She’s one of those natural golfers with a lot of ability,” Winfield coach David Bertholf said. “She’s a perfectionist. She loves to hit a ball solid more than whatever the number is on her scorecard.”
As her health stabilized, Biddle’s golf talent blossomed. She played on Winfield’s varsity as a freshman and helped the Vikings edge Goodland by five shots for the 4A title at Hays. Biddle highlighted her sophomore season by claiming medalist honors in the regional at Quail Ridge.
But during the winter, Biddle, who has a paralyzed vocal cord, started to encounter trouble swallowing. The Biddles, who have made quarterly trips to MD Anderson since Kenna’s surgery, took her to Houston to begin treatment.
“That was kind of the trigger that it’s time to take action,” Kim Biddle said. “With this type of tumor, which is slow-growing, they don’t want to treat it too quickly and induce symptoms. Once she got home, she was pretty sick and is still on steroids for brain inflammation.”
Biddle also experiences nystagmus, a vision condition that causes uncontrolled, rapid eye movements and presents challenges when addressing a golf ball. But she persisted in her desire to play this fall.
The magnitude of the challenge was unveiled in her first visit to the driving range.
“It was hard to make solid contact with the ball,” Biddle said. “I hadn’t swung a club in months and you could tell. It felt awkward, like I was trying to play left-handed or something.”
Biddle has been allowed to ride in a cart in tournaments this season, accompanied by Winfield assistant Kevin Hottinger. With her vision issues, she has difficulty following the flight of the ball and requires the flagstick to be tended when putting.
Biddle still has provided wow moments. She carded an 80 to finish third in the Ark Valley-Chisholm Trail III-IV tournament earlier this month at Hesston and was second in a nine-hole tournament at Wellington.
“I chipped in for par on my first hole at league and that gave me a positive attitude for the rest of the round,” Biddle said. “I usually start out my round with a double bogey and get down on myself, so it takes me a couple holes to relax. I also putted pretty well, and putting is usually the worst part of my game.”
Given her challenges, Biddle’s performance has defied logic. Or at least the expectations of those who are daily witnesses to what she has encountered.
“Through all of this, she’s never complained,” Kim Biddle said. “Never said, ‘Why did this happen to me?’ She just changes direction. She’s a very determined person.”
Monday, Oct. 16
- Class 6A: Mariah Hills GC, Dodge City
- Class 5A: Emporia Municipal GC
- Class 4A: Lake Shawnee GC, Topeka
- Class 3-2-1A: Smoky Hills CC, Hays