Hermansson Brings International Fire to Ole Miss Roster
May 31, 2017
When Pi-Lillebi Hermansson moved from Djursholm, Sweden to Oxford, Mississippi, there were a number of things she could’ve been concerned about—navigating a new town on her bicycle (she doesn’t drive), overcoming the language barrier (she speaks five languages, but English is at the bottom of the list), but the ultra-competitive freshman was worried most about grass.
In a conversation early in her freshman season with the Rebels’ men’s tennis coach and fellow Swede, Toby Hansson, Hermansson wasn’t quizzing Hansson on life at Ole Miss, she was caught up in the switch from bentgrass to Bermuda grass—Exhibit A as to how Hermansson is simply obsessed with golf. Long before she brought her golf obsession to Oxford, the Rebel golf coaches saw it on the course overseas.
“That’s the first thing that we noticed was the fire that she had and the attitude she played with that you don’t see too often with players. That’s what caught our eyes,” said assistant coach Drew Belt. “After she was done, the passion she had and the care she had for what she just did on the course meant a lot to us.”
Head coach Kory Henkes knew of Hermansson through her swing coach, but she first caught Belt’s eye at the 2015 British Open Amateur Championship. Recruited minimally to that point, Hermansson’s swing was rough, but the talent and the attitude were there. So Henkes and Belt made a scholarship offer and Hermansson committed—then she went to work.
“Her coach said they hadn’t worked a lot on her swing mechanics. She spent all winter inside just working on swing mechanics,” Henkes said.
When the coaches saw her once again over the summer at the Swedish Stroke Play National Championship, their green prospect had grown up.
“Kory and I literally walked out there and went, ‘That’s Pi now?’” Belt recalled. “She grew, she was stronger, her swing was better, her confidence was better. We were just smiling ear to ear.”
They were smiling even wider as the tournament went on. In Round 4, Hermansson carded a 64 to claim the national title.
“She made seven birdies in a row,” Henkes recalled. “To see all that hard work come to fruition was really cool. It’s nice to see that she had the talent we saw, and all the grit she had was just icing on the cake.”
After a terrific summer, Hermansson brought her talents to Ole Miss, where she put together one of the best freshman campaigns in program history. She was No. 2 in scoring average on the best scoring team in school history, but what Henkes and Belt value the most, was that she brought a winning attitude to the clubhouse.
“Having someone with that kind of work ethic is crucial to a team dynamic,” Henkes said. “It pushes everyone to be better. People feel guilty if they aren’t putting in the amount of time she is. A huge part of the team dynamic is having student-athletes who are going to push one another. Pi wants to be the best she can be, and she wants to be an All-American, so she’s going to keep working until she accomplishes those goals.”
Meanwhile, Henkes and Belt are going to work to bring the next generation of players like Hermansson into the fold. Stops in Italy, Germany and Sweden are on the summer recruiting schedule, but no matter where they have to go to find them, these Rebel coaches want hard workers.
“It’s an important part of the team,” Belt said. “Whether it’s international or from 20 minutes down the road, we’ll take that type of student-athlete.”
The Rebels do have a few coming from just down the road for next season. Ole Miss is welcoming the No. 1 high school player out of Mississippi, the No. 1 golfer out of Louisiana and a third prospect from Texas. However, as Henkes describes, some international prospects bring an inherent advantage.
“We’ll find that a lot of these international students have already been living on their own at a prep school or a golf school, so it’s similar to a college situation already,” Henkes said. “They aren’t living with their parents, they’re cooking their own meals, they’re practicing the same amount of time. So they walk right in and it’s like they’ve already been to college, so they can bring a different maturity level.”
That maturity level can be seen on nearly every successful team in collegiate golf. All 14 teams in the Southeastern Conference have athletes with international roots. Earlier this month, Arizona State won the NCAA Women’s Match Play Championship with four internationals in its counting five. Recruiting internationally has proven to be a good bet, but it’s all the same to the Rebel staff, as long as they find the right type of student-athlete.
“We don’t care if they’re from Tupelo, Mississippi or from Italy, we just want the best,” Henkes says. “The best player who has grit, works hard and is going to make us a better team. We’re going to keep looking. We’re going to look all over the world and try to find the best we can find.”
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