Olivia Benzin, the daughter of a former NCAA Division I golfer, had her own clubs before she could even walk, let alone putt.
“But I didn’t start playing until I was 4,” she said. “I wasn’t really strong enough to use them.”
Thirteen years later, the little girl with the set of tiny red clubs is now the top-ranked girls golfer in Class 4A as she enters Wednesday’s 4A state tournament at Indian Canyon Golf Course in Spokane. Since her freshman year, Benzin has helped Bellarmine Prep win three of five consecutive state team titles.
“It’s been a lot of fun this year,” said Benzin, who won the 4A Narrows League title by shooting a 3-over-par 147 at Lake Spanaway Golf Course. “The coaches have been great and the whole team has been great. It’s a really great note to leave on.”
Coach Mark Bender said Benzin is among the best golfers he has coached in 18 years with the Lions.
“She never plays her opponent,” he said. “She plays against the golf course — and it takes a special person to figure that out.”
But despite playing in the state tournament the last three years, an individual title has remained elusive. Benzin came close in 2013, tying for first and then losing in a playoff, and placing fifth last year, with teammate Alivia Brown, now at Washington State University, winning the title.
“I try to not think about pressure,” she said. “I just play one hole at a time (and) if I happen to win, that would be awesome.”
Benzin is known for an unparalleled work ethic, but is rather nonchalant about her success. The Oregon State University signee won the Washington Junior Golf Association State Championship and competed at Junior Worlds in 2014.
Her excitement is evident, though, when Chambers Bay is mentioned. Benzin has already played the University Place course where golf’s elite will converge next month for the U.S. Open. Ever the enthusiast, she plans to attend at least one practice round.
“I can watch and know some of the areas and the way the greens are going to roll,” she said. “It will be neat.”
Benzin, who will graduate with honors next month, plans to study business at Oregon State. But her ultimate goal is to play on the LPGA tour.
“I would absolutely love to do that,” she said. “I’ll see where I’m at when I’m done with college, but I definitely will try.”
Benzin played basketball until eighth grade, but quit to focus on golf.
“And I was 5-2, so I kind of knew what wasn’t going to go far for me,” she said with a laugh.
And she still plays with her dad, Rich, on a regular basis. The former University of Washington golfer started taking her out for single rounds in middle school.
“I can get him sometimes,” she said.
Bender said some of her teammates have joked that Benzin should “get a life” — but that is exactly what she is doing.
“Her life is exactly in tune with what she wants to be and what she wants to do,” he said.
“She sets (goals) and achieves them and moves on, so who knows where she could go.”