EDMONTON - A few months ago 22-year-old Canadian Jennifer Kirby graduated with a business degree from the University of Alabama. Now she has new field of study, the business of professional golf.
The Paris, Ont., golfer had quite the classroom setting in the first round of the 2013 CN Canadian Women's Open on Thursday, playing alongside hotshot teenagers, Lydia Ko and Charley Hull, and after it was all over Kirby received high marks.
She checked in with an impressive three-under 67 at the Royal Mayfair Golf Club, off Ko's lead and two better than Hull, the 17-year-old from England who played so well for the victorious European team at the Solheim Cup last weekend.
Ko, who at age 15 became the youngest winner of an LPGA event at the Canadian Women's Open in Vancouver last year, was back at it again. The defending champion fired a five-under 65. But Kirby felt good about her start, too.
"I think that they're wise beyond their years and they're both great players," Kirby said, when asked about playing in a group with the teenagers.
"It was nice to see firsthand how they play. When you watch on television, it's just visually different. I was able to see the type of shots they played, how they played each hole. It was just nice to see how good they are in person."
Standing on the sixth tee after Kirby made a bogey on No. 5, Ko already was four shots ahead of the Canadian with three early birdies. But Kirby steadied herself and made four birdies in her final 12 holes to put herself on the leaderboard.
"They hit a lot of good shots," Kirby said. "Lydia made it seem pretty easy. She made a lot of birdies [six]. That told me that there were lots of birdies out there and I just needed to stay patient."
Successful amateur career
Kirby turned pro a few months after a successful amateur career that saw her win the Canadian Amateur, Canadian Junior, Ontario Amateur and Ontario Junior in 2009 and followed that up with successful defence of her provincial crown in 2010. She also played an integral part of Alabama's national team title in 2012.
Turning pro was the natural next step in the game she began playing at a young age when she followed her mother Sandra and older brother Patrick to the golf course behind the family home, the Oaks of St. George.
She later would join the venerable Brantford Golf and Country Club and at age 13 she began making trips to Glen Abbey in Oakville, Ont., to work with golf instructor Sean Foley, who now coaches Tiger Woods.
Kirby is a Woods fanatic. She wears Nike apparel, just like Woods.
Since turning pro, however, her competition has been limited. Kirby captured her first event as a pro, the CN Canadian Tour stop in Quebec in June. She played well enough to finish in a tie for 41st at the LPGA Manulife Financial Classic in Waterloo, Ont., last month.
Kirby will get more steady work next season if she has success at the LPGA tour school in the fall. She is slated to begin the second stage in early October.
In the meantime, she wants to take advantage of her opportunity at Royal Mayfair. So far, so good. The budding pro, who was cheered on by a large gallery that included her mother, hit 15 of 18 greens in regulation.
The gallery also watched Ko get off to an incredible start with a birdie on the first hole. The 16-year-old amateur from New Zealand, who is tied for the lead with American Angela Stanford, had it to six under after 14 holes but suffered her only setback of the day with a bogey at No. 15.
Part of Ko's success at the Vancouver Golf Club last year was hiring member Brian Alexander as her caddy. She's done the same thing this summer by using Royal Mayfair member Bruce MacMillan to carry her clubs.
"It was a pretty special week last year," Ko said. "To have that kind of week again this week would be a double miracle for myself.
"But I did feel a little bit of pressure [this week], not from others but from myself because you're the defending champion. People are going to expect more and I'm going to expect more from myself. I called my dad a couple days ago and he said 'relax, you can't control everything,' He told me to just play the game you want to play and that you planned."
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