Throughout the remainder of the holiday season, we will provide a look back at some of the best content from our writers at Global Golf Post Plus. This article originally published on Dec. 3. Enjoy.
As Americans recently gathered with family to give thanks for the bounty of riches we’ve had laid at our feet, it’s good to remember that life’s struggles, big and small, have a purpose. They make us stronger, more appreciative, and they provide us with the tools to help others. That’s easy to forget, especially when you immerse yourself in the comings and goings of a genteel game.
Then, occasionally, a story comes along to remind you.
When asked to summarize her standing at the moment, Kennedy Carroll, a sophomore on the women’s golf team at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, doesn’t hesitate. “I’m a late bloomer in golf,” she said. “But maturity-wise, I’m a little bit ahead of the game.”
There is good reason for both.
To get a sense of what her life has been like in and out of golf, Carroll tells a story that goes back to 2015, not long after her 15th birthday and before she had her learner’s permit to drive. Her younger sister, Copelyn, who was 12 at the time, needed to be picked up from dance practice several miles from their Charleston, South Carolina, home. And their mother, Tiffini, was too drunk to drive.
“I drove a lot,” Carroll said. “A lot more than I was supposed to. Dad would travel on business thinking Mom was better. But she wasn’t. I’d have to suck it up and drive. I figured if I got pulled over by the cops, I’d try saying at least I have a parent in the car with me.”
By then, the awful realities of alcohol abuse had hit home in the Carroll family.
“When I was in the fifth grade, I started to notice that things were not normal,” Carroll said. “I couldn’t figure out what was going on, but I knew that my mom was really good some days and not at all normal on other days. Then we started finding vodka bottles around the house. She tried to hide them, but she wasn’t very good at it. We found them easily.”
There were trips to rehab and multiple trips to the hospital. “Ambulances were a frequent thing at our house,” Carroll said. Finally, with seemingly all options exhausted, the family separated.
In the quiet times, Copelyn had dance and Kennedy had golf. As a kid, she found friendships in the game and solace on the course with her father, Stephen.
“My first clubs were a purple U.S. Kids Golf set,” Carroll said. “For a while in the middle, I didn’t like it. I played golf because my dad loved it. Like a lot of kids, I put it away for a while. But when I picked it back up, I loved it. I won my high school state championship my junior year. That was great.”
Then she paused, collected herself and said, “But no one knew what was going on behind closed doors.”
“Through everything she has been through, Kennedy never, ever used her mom’s alcoholism as an excuse for anything going on in her life.” – Stephen Carroll
Those closest to alcoholism believe that others don’t see. They feel alone. That is one of the reasons Kennedy Carroll speaks out. In the United States, seven out of 10 alcoholics between the ages of 40 and 50 are women. A majority are well-educated and middle class. And in almost every instance there is a family – struggling, suffering and lost.
But there are outlets, support groups, churches, coaches, friends and strangers like Kennedy Carroll ready and able to help.
For Carroll, moments of triumph in her formative years will forever be tinged with anguish. She won her state championship without her mother there. “She was at home drunk,” Carroll said without bitterness, just matter of fact.
“She’s one of those kids that you look at and say, ‘I have so much respect for you; even though you’re so much younger, you’re an inspiration,’ ” said UNC Charlotte head women’s golf coach Holly Clark. “Before she got to Charlotte, I knew there was something different about her. She seemed more mature than most people her age. I really didn’t know her family situation at the time. But as I got to know her, I realized that she was tough as nails. At the time I didn’t know why. Then I learned about her family situation and realized that that’s what made her the way she is.”
Stephen Carroll lauds his daughter’s strength: “Through everything she has been through, Kennedy never, ever used her mom’s alcoholism as an excuse for anything going on in her life. Whatever burden she carried and whatever she went through – and there were many obstacles along the way – what her mom was going through never came up. Never once did she have a bad day and blame it on her mom.”
Carroll did have her down moments. During one college tournament, playing with Kayla Smith of the University of North Carolina, Kennedy had trouble focusing on the back nine. After the round, her father asked what had happened.
“Kayla’s mom showed up,” Kennedy said. Nothing else needed to be said.
It would be wonderful to say this family tragedy had a happy ending. But life rarely wraps itself in a bright red bow. In early 2020, Tiffini Carroll’s health deteriorated. She suffered a number of falls at her home. On March 2, she was hospitalized.
A day later, because Stephen and Tiffini had divorced and 18-year-old Kennedy was the closest legal adult in the family, she had to take her mother off life support. “No one should have to make that decision,” Kennedy said. “Having to do it at age 18 … yeah.”
“I don’t see kids who are able to process and deal with life the way she has,” Clark said. “It’s truly amazing. She brings so much perspective. Whenever Kennedy is around, she brings such a different outlook. Her presence lets you know that the problems you have are not all that big in the grand scheme of things.
“I believe that God puts people in certain positions for certain reasons. Kennedy is going to be able to help so many people because of what she’s been through and how she’s dealt with it.”
Stephen Carroll agrees: “She’s very concerned about the people around her. And she wants her mom’s story to help others who might be in similar circumstances to find help.”
Clark brought the entire UNC Charlotte team to the funeral for Carroll’s mom. Both Kennedy and Copelyn spoke.
“She handled it with so much grace and so much strength, I could not have handled it the way she did,” Clark said.
“The messages they delivered (at the funeral) were amazing – honest, sincere, loving, respectful and also very straightforward,” their father said. “Kennedy talked about the great things about her mother, but she didn’t gloss over the alcoholism. That’s the way that she’s usually been when she’s talked about this.
“We talk about it a lot. God has given her the gift of golf. But that’s just the vehicle to deliver a much deeper and much more important message,” Stephen added. “Golf is the thing she can use to touch lives. Golf will put her in front of people. And the more people she meets, the more opportunities she has to share her story.”
Carroll used golf and the friendships she’s developed in the game to help her through life’s roughest moments. Now, she wants to use her story to help others who might be struggling alone.
“If I get the opportunity, I will tell kids who might be in a similar situation not to forget who you are and what you are,” she said. “Think of yourself as well as others. And reach out for help. You will find out quickly that there is a bigger support group out there for you than you would ever know.
“And if you play golf, use it. Let it be your safe space. Let it be your sanctuary. Remember that you can be anything you want to be.”
That is Kennedy Carroll’s story and her message. It is one of tragedy, perseverance and perspective – a story of caring for others; of being the adult in the room, even when you aren’t; of doing the hard and necessary things and using that experience to inspire others.
“You are not alone,” she said. “A lot of times you think you are. But you aren’t. There are others who have been there. Others who can help.”
Photos: Courtesy of Kennedy Carroll
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