It added up to 72, one-under par on the Creek Course at 13th Beach, and could and should have been maybe a couple of shots better. But Katherine Kirk was happy enough at the end of her opening round in this Vic Open. Only four years removed from the start of a severe career-dip that had friends asking if she was considering retirement, the 36-year old native Queenslander now based in Wichita, Kansas remains a work in progress.
“2015 and 2016 were really rough,” she says. “I finished outside the top-100 on the money-list in both of those years. I was missing so many cuts by a shot. And that started getting to me. My former coach – who I had worked with since 2012 – could see that. We were going down the wrong path technically and he recognised that. He found my present coach, Dana Dahlquist, for me.
“It took me a year of hard work before the results started to improve. I had a lot of technical issues. I just couldn’t keep the ball in play before. And that was wearing on me. I was working hard and getting nowhere. So I had to make changes. My husband was very supportive. He knew I wasn’t ready to quit. That, combined with finding Dana, helped me turn the corner.”
Previously, Kirk’s swing contained what she calls, “too much right-side bend.” That forced her to “flip” her hands through impact, which was fine on days when the timing was good. Not so fine when it was not. In her darkest days, Kirk qualified for the weekend in fewer than half of the 38 starts she made in 2015-16.
“I was very inconsistent,” she confirms. “My angle of attack into the ball was varying too much and, in turn, I wasn’t hitting solid shots. My misses were very wide. And both ways. Right now, I am literally trying to hit low, pull cuts. Which is the total opposite of the high, push-hook I fought before. I have had to to exaggerate those opposite moves to make the changes I’ve made. I’m like everyone else in that I never to old bad habits under pressure.”
Kirk’s short game is also much improved.
“I almost had the yips with my chipping back in 2012,” she reveals. “Technically I wasn’t that sound. So the contact between club and ball became an issue. And then it was in my head. I’ve worked hard to make all of that better.”
The signs are good, too, at least on the evidence of Kirk’s play on the Creek Course at 13th Beach. Three fours on par-5s and two fives on par-4s were her only deviations from regulation figures. It was a solid performance that bore no relation to the trouble and strife endured in years now best forgotten.
“I’m still making progress,” says the three-time LPGA champion. “My ball-striking is pretty good. But there is room for improvement. And I can never spend enough time on my short game. I still believe my best golf is ahead of me. The stuff I’m working on is only going to get me more consistent. When that happens I’ll be recording a bunch of top-tens every year instead of just one or two.
“I’m also a lot mellower on the course. I was a bit of a hot-head until I got married. It got the better of me sometimes. I’m more calm now and more experienced. I see some of the rookies out here making the same mistakes I did. But I have matured enough that I can now use my experience to my advantage.”