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New Castle’s Kirkwood Battling Forward in U.S. Women’s Amateur

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USGA/Chris Keane

Marissa Kirkwood stood on the par-4 seventh hole at Woodmont Country Club, in between shots with 132 yards to the hole, when all of a sudden the tension was cut by a gust of wind. The New Castle native pulled out a 9-iron.

Kirkwood has experienced many thrills on the golf course, including four holes-in-one, though three were in practice rounds.

With 64 U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship match play spots on the line, Kirkwood was clutch, as her three-quarter swing of a 9-iron found the cup, resulting in an eagle in her first round of the USGA-sanctioned event.

“That was just icing on the cake,” she said. “I felt really good and was confident in my club choice. I hit it exactly how I wanted to. I got the result that I wanted and it is nice to have it happen when you can write the score down. It was very unique.”

Though a rain delay and a lost day of play due to Hurricane Isaias, Kirkwood was able to weather the proverbial storm and advanced in the U.S. Women’s Am. After posting a 2-over par score through 36 holes, he’s seeded 20th as match play commences Thursday,

Kirkwood’s score proves even more admirable considering the tough conditions, in addition to seven players posting under-par scores in the stroke play portion of this championship.

“It means so much to me,” said Kirkwood. “This is my first time playing in the Women’s Am Championship, so just to be here was a tremendous honor. My goal was just to make it to match play and however I could get it done, get it done. I just played really solid golf and get it done.”

Growing up in New Castle, Kirkwood found herself drawn to golf at four-years-old with her father Mike by her side.

Mike coached most sports which allowed his daughter to have a competitive outlet, though as high school drew closer to a conclusion it was time to make a decision.

Ultimately in her junior year, Kirkwood chose golf although given the daily challenges the game provides, perhaps golf chose her as well.

“What I love about golf is that every day is different,” Kirkwood stated. “There is a new challenge, you can shoot 66 and you could have shot 65. That’s what gets me coming back and excited about golf. With other sports I feel like I reached my potential but with golf, there is always something to improve on.”

Today, Kirkwood has graduated from Kent State University, though is eligible to play for the golf team this season pending continued fallout from COVID-19. If there is not a season that eligibility is certain to roll over into the 2021-22 campaign.

As a Golden Flash, Kirkwood praised the team’s coaching staff for helping her, especially from a mental standpoint.

While anyone can grab a driver out of their golf bag, there is more thought that goes into a shot and the staff has helped her mentally prepare for any golf course Kirkwood may encounter.

At Woodmont’s short par-4 fourth hole, for example, Kirkwood is certainly tempted to use her length off the tee as she has the capability to drive over the bunkers, but for her it is not worth risking a mis-hit, so instead a hybrid has been the play during the two opening days of competition.

Being a Western Pennsylvania golfer, Kirkwood does have an advantage over other amateurs in the field. She already understands the elevation changes of Woodmont, located in Rockville, Maryland, and is able to compensate for that when attempting to properly execute a shot.

“I think Woodmont suits my game well,” said Kirkwood. “They have it playing a little longer and I am a longer hitter off the tee so I have a lot more shorter irons and wedges in so I can be more aggressive. I can understand when I am out position, it is key to hit the green give yourself those opportunities. I feel I have done that well these first two days.”

Though COVID-19 has certainly affected a lot of individuals, Kirkwood has been fortunate in that she lives near the border of Ohio and Pennsylvania, so she first went to the Buckeye State to practice while waiting for Keystone State courses to do the same. When she was not on the course, Kirkwood attempted to work on her mental game.

It has been a busy stretch of tournament golf for Kirkwood, who was in Chicago on July 20 for the Women’s Western Amateur, and then last week went to Tennessee before coming to Maryland for this event.

“I like to play in as many tournaments as I can, just because the more you are playing the better you are going to get and more reps are there,” Kirkwood said. “This stretch is probably the first time I have gone back-to-back-to-back, so it was a little unique when I had a day off actually sitting and letting my body rest.

“Walking holes for three or four days in addition to practice rounds, your body needs a rest too. My off days I will putt and chip, but I have to tell myself not to touch a golf club and to rest.”

There was a decent amount of sitting around earlier on in the week as a lengthy weather delay had Kirkwood waiting to complete the last few holes of her round, which she did accomplish, narrowly beating the darkness.

In anticipation of downpour from Hurricane Isaias, the USGA made the decision to err on the side of caution and postpone Tuesday’s second round of stroke play. Woodmont received over two inches of rain on the day.

“It was definitely tough waiting out that rain delay because it changed how the course was playing on Monday,” said Kirkwood. “Going back out (Monday) the rough was really thick and wet, so if you missed the fairway you couldn’t be as aggressive. Then yesterday you had all day to sit around and think about today, so I tried to relax and not think about it.”

Kirkwood’s opponent late Thursday morning is Reagan Zibilski who finished +4 in stroke play. Zibilski is seeded 45th. The winner of the match will take on either 13th-seeded Alyaa Abdulghany or 52nd-ranked Kirsty Hodgkins on Friday morning.

Just a couple of weeks ago, Kirkwood was able to experience match play, and though the outcome was not successful, it could serve her well now that there has been time to reflect.

“I think it comes down to that,” she said. “I am playing another person, but essentially with golf, you are still playing the golf course. You can’t get caught up in trying to match shot-for-shot because when you think about every little thing your opponent is doing, I think you lose sight in your process and in your game.

“I’m just going to stick to the game plan and try to beat the golf course.”

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