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She’s Swinging for the Stars

Katie Kirk has the golf ball rolling her way By Mike Savicki   On an afternoon when most golfers might choose to leave their clubs in the trunk, sixteen-year-old Katie Kirk is on the practice area at River Run Country Club in Davidson. The driving range is closed because of wet conditions and daylight savings time is making it all but impossible to squeeze in even a few holes before it gets dark. So Katie Kirk is out there – alone - working on her short game not far from the putting green. The golf course is her playground, and before it is time for homework, she has it all to herself.   If the placement of the dozen or so practice balls resting within a foot of their target is any indication of her skill, then it is safe to say that Katie Kirk knows what she is doing. The North Mecklenburg High School junior is not only the player of the year in the newly formed I-Meck Conference, she is also one of the highest ranked junior golfers in North Carolina and an increasingly recognizable name in the region. In just over four years since she began competing, Katie Kirk has ascended through sixth to third in the Tarheel Youth Golf Association Junior Rankings and she has no plans to slow down.   A year-round commitment While golf is a fall sport for high school girls in the area, Katie Kirk’s year-round schedule includes not only interscholastic events, but also TYGA sanctioned events, to earn ranking based on a combination of the total points earned in rankings events and tournament scoring differential. Her stroke average for the 26 events she played in 2009 is just under 78. To put her ranking in perspective, she is just over one stroke out of second place.   “Katie is a rare golfer who has the skill and determination to really leave her mark,” asserts Rick Luttrell, head golf coach at North Mecklenburg High School. “She is a quiet competitor who is not afraid to take on the best players no matter where she plays. She loves being out there all year long and she doesn’t shy away from pressure situations like many other girls her age.”   Her commitment extends to her practice sessions. Katie Kirk admits, “Especially when I am out here alone, I’ll set up situations and put myself in moments of pressure. Most of the time, I might need to get up and down to make par, so I’ll try to chip it close and then make the put. I try to make it only about the scorecard. It may sound easy and boring, but when you do it over and over, it’s a great way to build confidence and get used to making shots under pressure.”   “Katie is a motivated, goal-oriented girl who works hard at everything she does,” boasts her mother, Mo Kirk. “It’s hard enough to get her to leave the course as it is, but when she has a big event coming up, or if she feels she has had a bad round, she will be out here until well after dark.”   An edge from the start Katie Kirk first picked up a golf club well before she turned eight. She says she was too young to join her father regularly on the golf course so the pair engaged in father-daughter putting contests as often as they could. “I guess you could say I started by playing with my Dad,” she says. “He is a good golfer and I tried to learn as much from him whenever I could.”   And how did she grow into a serious competitor? “I like to say I got into competitive golf as a result of a swimming injury,” she jokes. “When I hurt my ankle and wasn’t able to push off the starting blocks, I picked up my golf clubs while my ankle healed and never put them down.”   The road ahead As the 2010 calendar year begins, Katie Kirk has her sights set firmly on moving higher in the state rankings and leaving her mark on the junior circuit. If the ball continues to roll her way, she hopes that her clubs will help her through college and perhaps into a career in the sport. “Sure, I keep the idea of maybe someday playing professionally in the back of my head, but I know I have a long way to go,” she asserts. “For right now, I’d like to play well, win some junior tournaments this year and play in college.”   Coach Luttrell believes she may have what it takes. He concludes, “If I were to rank Katie among all the golfers I have coached through the years, I’d say that right now she is the second best. I coached a high school boy in Tennessee who eventually made it on to the pro tour. He had the same type of game as Katie does and he has done quite well. Can Katie make it that far? Well, she could very well become the best golfer I have coached if she keeps doing what I know she can. But I guess we will have to wait and see, won’t we?”  
This article was originally published in the January 2010 edition of Currents Magazine.