Go to the Globe and Mail homepage

Jump to main navigationJump to main content

Jennifer Kirby
Jennifer Kirby

Jennifer Kirby does her best to fill in the gaps Add to ...

Jennifer Kirby stood on the practice range at Royal Mayfair Golf Club, pounding away at golf balls into a brisk wind, finalizing her preparation for this week's CN Canadian Women's Open.

For the former Team Canada and collegiate standout, it will be the second time she's competed in Canada's National Open championship but the first as a pro.

Next week, she'll likely be back on the practice range but there won't be a tournament to prepare for. Such is the life of a professional golfer with no Tour status.

After four successful years of college golf at the University of Alabama - highlighted by winning an NCAA Championship in 2012 - Kirby made the decision she says she was destined for - she turned pro. But without status on any of the major women's tours, Kirby seems stuck in a kind of professional limbo.

Relegated to the kindness of sponsor exemptions, qualifying tournaments and mini-tour events, Kirby says she's managed to scrape together a patch-work schedule this summer which included winning in her very first professional event, a CN Women's Tour tournament in Quebec.

"I was really happy to start out that way, kind of took the monkey off my back before it was even on my back," said he smiling 22-year-old former Canadian Amateur champion while taking a break from putting drills.

"Definitely felt different because I knew if I did win I would be playing in the Canadian Open, which is huge because I didn't have a full schedule at the beginning of the summer."

Kirby got an exemption to play in the only other Canadian LPGA event, the Manulife Financial Classic near her home town of Paris, Ont. And earlier this month, she added a second victory to her resume by taking the $6,000 top prize at the Ohio Women's Open, a state championship featuring future and current Tour pros as well as top collegiate players aspiring to be professionals.

"It's been kind of nice. I've been able to play a couple of tournaments and then practice for a few weeks and then play again."

Kirby says she'll be moving to Florida shortly as part of her preparation for the LPGA's qualifying school this fall, where she will try to land a coveted spot on Tour.

Kirby made it quite clear she doesn't regret one minute of her decision.

"I definitely knew before I started college that as soon as I finished school I would turn pro right away," she explained. "And by the end of college, I was so eager I just wanted to start playing professionally as soon as I can."

Kirby knows she was fortunate to get that first win under her belt so soon after turning pro, to remove any lingering doubts about her decision. But she wishes there were more opportunities for her and others like her who must wait for the chance to play regularly on the LPGA or developmental Symetra Tour.

"I think it would be nice to have a few more of the mini-tour events. If you're not on a Tour then it's hard to find someplace to play and then when you do get into something you haven't really been playing much."

---

HOME COOKING: Of the 20 Canadians here this week for the CN Canadian Women's Open, Jennifer Ha is probably the only one who can claim a bit of home course advantage. Ha hails from Calgary and will also be one of two Albertans in the field - Nicole Forshner from Banff, Alta. being the other after finishing first in the Monday qualifier.

When the tournament was last held at Royal Mayfair back in 2007, Ha had the opportunity to get up close and personal with the LPGA stars, taking part in the Pro-Am event that preceded the tournament. This week, she'll get the full tournament treatment as the second group off the 10th tee on Thursday morning.

"It's nice that it's so close to home," said the 19-year-old. "And it's just a nice experience being back, being in the field with all the names that you always hear about."

Ha comes into the Canadian Open off a solid finish in her sophomore season at Kent State University, claiming medalist honours at the Mid-American Conference Championships and being named the Conference Golfer of the Year. She also captured the Pacific Northwest Golf Association's (PNGA) Women’s Championship in a tight 36-hole match-play final over American Caroline Inglis. It was the culmination of a turnaround for the Team Canada Development player, who was struggling badly at the start of the year.

"In January I had a little bit of a rough patch and my coach, Mike Morrow at Kent State, he retired," exlained Ha. "I was very close with him so it was kind of hard. I was also going through a slump right then, making a few changes in my swing and my putting, and that was big.

"Tristan (Mullally, Team Canada Women's coach) and Ann (Carroll, Assistant coach) definitely helped me a lot get over that. And Rob Wakeling kind of took over the women's program in our school, and he really kicked my butt.  He made me a stronger person, and I think that helped me throughout the season."

---

HENDERSON'S RETURN: A year ago, Brooke Henderson made headlines as the youngest player ever to compete at the CN Canadian Women's Open. Ultimately, the 14-year-old was upstaged by another teen, Lydia Ko, who would go on to become the youngest ever to win an LPGA Tour event by claiming the title in Vancouver.

Fast forward 12 months and the spotlight isn't as bright on the Smiths Falls, Ont., player as another high profile teen, 17-year-old Charley Hull, joins the fray this year.

With another year of experience, a couple of wins and a few more high profile events under her belt, Henderson says the sting of last year's missed cut at the Canadian Open is clearly behind her.

"I've been looking forward to this event all year," said the No. 1 ranked female amateur in Canada, who qualified for the U.S. Women's Open and finished tied for 35th in only her second LPGA tournament, the Manulife Financial Classic.

"It's such a great atmosphere here with the pros and all the fans that are going to come up this week. I'm just really looking forward to it."

Henderson will find herself paired for the first two rounds with fellow Canadian Rebecca Lee-Bentham and LPGA fan favourite Michelle Wie. It's the second time this year the 15-year-old will play with Wie, a former golf prodigy herself who has failed - so far at least - to live up to those lofty expectations. At the LPGA's Waterloo event, even Wie found herself admiring her playing partner's accomplishments.

"Really enjoyed playing with Brooke Henderson today!" she tweeted. "What a talented young lady!!! Can't believe she is only 15!"

While she continues to add to her LPGA resume, Henderson was also looking ahead to another high profile event which is likely to be in her future. 

"I think we all would love to play for Canada at the Olympics. It's definitely a big goal," she said. "We love playing for our country, wearing the Canadian leaf on our shirts. Every time we step on the course would be a great opportunity, and that is something that we're looking forward to."

---

GENERATION GAP: Paula Creamer was just starting to process the 5 & 4 loss to Charley Hull in Sunday's Solheim Cup singles matches when the European rookie approached her for an autograph request.

While some might consider it adding insult to injury, Creamer thought it was "pretty cool".

"I kind of wish I would have asked Laura Davies or something like that in my first Solheim," added Creamer.

For her part, Hull admitted to being somewhat uneasy about the whole thing , which she says was at the request of a friend. 

"Before I played, my friend was like, oh, can you get Paula Creamer's autograph, please?  I was like I don't really like asking people for their autographs.

"At the end I was like I've got a good chance of getting it now, so I'll just get it."

A nine year pro on the LPGA Tour, Creamer admitted it will take some time to get used to the fact that some of the young golfers now look to her as a role model.

"That's kind of the way that golf is going these days.  It's getting younger and younger. So to be a role model or whatnot, it's a little strange for me to say that, but it was cool."

Hull also explained the reason behind photos taken Tuesday which showed her wearing a New York Yankees baseball cap and the fact she had no idea the logo stood for the iconic baseball team.

"All my friends wear (baseball caps), so I was like I'll wear it. It's actually my sister's boyfriend's hat, and I stole it off him. He said can you please wear it when you play in America?  And I was like, okay, then, I'll wear it because it's really comfortable on my head."

---

 

In the know

Most popular videos »

Highlights

More from The Globe and Mail

Most popular