Date: March 15, 2016
Author: Mark Hayes

Hodgkins’ heroics overcomes huge deficit

The power of “nice” – and the impact of a champion’s voice – is far stronger than you’d imagine.

Just ask Kirsty Hodgkins, the young Queenslander who added the Women’s Riversdale Cup to her growing list of tournament victories on Sunday.

Hodgkins, who celebrated her 18th birthday last week with a remarkable come-from-behind victory charge, paid tribute to a brief meeting with former LPGA Tour star Lindsey Wright for her growing belief and success.

“Dad took me to the Women’s Australian Open (at Kingston Heath) one year and I had the chance to watch and then meet and talk with Lindsey … she was just so nice and was such a good player, it was such a great moment for me (in hindsight),” Hodgkins said.

“I got to watch her and (English star) Melissa Reid, but to talk to Lindsey just made me really want to focus on my golf. I’ll never forget that.”

The Albury-based Wright, effectively retired from the tour now but also a great fighter, would have been exceptionally proud on Sunday as Hodgkins ran down a seemingly unassailable target to win by a stroke.

The Queensland state team representative began the final day seven shots behind runaway leader Yumi Kodo, never really giving herself a chance at victory that she ultimately achieved with a sparkling five-under-par 68 en route to a nine under total.

But a withering mid-round run gave Hodgkins that sniff of an upset – and the pressure ultimately became too much for the Japanese to bear.

“I made four birdies in a row from the fourth hole and then made another couple around the turn at the ninth and 10th to, I suppose, turn the pressure up a little bit,” she said.

“But I think the keys were actually a couple of good par saves on 12 and 13 when I was in a bit of trouble, then she made bogey on 14 and suddenly we were all square.

“I hit my downhill first putt 12 feet (4m) past on the 15th, but made the one back to keep me square, then she went over the back on 16 and took a double that gave me the edge.

“But then I had a split-second loss of concentration and three-putted myself there for a bogey and the lead was one.

“I thought to myself, `Just don’t do anything stupid – make pars and play to the middle of the greens and put the pressure on her to come up with a birdie’.

“I hit a 7-wood (for safety) off the 18th tee, then hit a 50-degree wedge a bit right of where I was aiming but safely on the green, then just put it down to tap-in distance and she couldn’t make a birdie and that was it.

“I couldn’t believe it, really. I’m still trying to figure it out.

“That just doesn’t happen – to be in the final group on the final day and come from seven back … it just shows you that anything can happen in golf and you should never give up.”

Hodgkins, whose family moved from Victoria to Queensland three years ago, has set up a happy base at Redcliffe Golf Club, but is coached by Chris Gibson at Victoria Park in inner northern Brisbane.

And the teen, who’s off to the University of Colorado on a golfing scholarship in July, said she’d made steady progress under Gibson.

“He’s been really good for me, not only on the golf side, but also the mental side of the game, too,” Hodgkins said.

“It’s a big difference from last year … (when) I just made the (Riversdale) cut but went on and finished last.

“I’ve been playing really well for the last couple of months and I think it just came together at Riversdale.”

That, however, might be selling herself a little short.

Hodgkins also played stellar golf on a Tasmanian tournament trip in late January, not only winning the state’s Junior Masters, but also the open-age Tamar Valley Cup.

“It’s nice to play some consistent golf,” she said with one eye already on her impending collegiate career.

“I just really want to give it a good crack now and see how I measure up against the other girls over there before hopefully turning pro … one day.

“I’d love to represent Queensland and Australia if given the chance, but that’s out of my hands for now.”

You can’t help but think how proud Wright would be to hear those words.