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.
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