After almost three years in the golfing wilderness making swing changes and battling to make cuts, ALPG star and multiple LPGA tournament winner Katherine Kirk is back.
Having recently recorded her best finish on the LPGA Tour since 2014—an 11th place finish at the Lotte Championship in Hawaii—the Queenslander spoke to us from her home in Wichita, Kansas.
Kat, congratulations on a great finish at the Lotte Championship in Hawaii. While 11th for a player of your calibre is probably nothing to celebrate, it must have been fun to be up there in contention again?
“Yes, I was really happy with the way I played in Hawaii. It had been a while since I put four good rounds together so it was nice to finally do that and also go low in the last round. Obviously, I would have liked to shoot under par in that 3rd round but I didn’t give myself enough makeable chances so I was pleased to improve on that Sunday.”
During the ALPG season this year and early LPGA events it seemed that your confidence was slowly returning with some solid rounds, highlighted by your opening round 65 at the Women’s Australian Open. Is that how you felt about your game?
“I’ve been really confident with my ball striking over the past year and on the days that my proximity to the hole gets under 20 feet I usually post a good number so that’s been fun and encouraging.
The 65 at the Aussie Open was an example of that and I know if I can get more confidence with my short game then I should be able to contend more frequently.
Everything is pretty sound from a technical standpoint but I have a tendency to overthink and overanalyze so if I can be more childlike and trust what I’ve been doing in practice then more low rounds will come.”
You have made some swing changes over the past few years, can you tell us a little more about what you did and the reasoning behind the decision to make the changes.
“I’ve always swung in-to-out and played a draw and when my timing was good I would score well but when my timing was bad I would inevitably hit a big push or a hook that would get me into trouble.
My coach in Wichita, Josh Cook, believed that to reduce misses I would need to get more open at impact and improve face stability. We got the face more stable early on but my body has been a little slow to respond.
Josh and I worked with Jim Hardy for a while and made some progress but working with Dana Dahlquist since December 2015 has been the most beneficial.
Dana is known as a “sequence guru” and even though I perform some weird looking drills on the range my golf swing is getting better every week. Josh keeps an eye on things when I’m home and I visit Dana in California 3-4 times a year in addition to sending video so I have great feedback and accountability.”
At the Queens Cup in Japan in December last year and during the ALPG season, you looked to be swinging the club really well and striking the ball beautifully. Is your swing now where you want it to be?
“I have made great progress with my full swing but I’m still working on getting more open at impact and still learning to use the ground better.
There’s also a speed component we’re working on. To elaborate, there are days when I’ve swung driver at 102mph but I can’t maintain that yet so I’m using the SuperSpeed Golf Training System to increase my clubhead speed.
Speed is not the be-all-end-all but if I can hit an 8-iron instead of a 7-iron into a green then my chances of scoring well improve.”
Since your marriage to Tom in 2012, have your priorities and focus towards golf changed at all?
“When I was single golf was definitely my biggest priority and my schedule revolved around tournaments and preparation for tournaments.
Being married has changed that quite a bit but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I actually have more balance in my life and feel blessed to be able to share everything with Tom.
My perspective changed from solely me to “him/us/me” and even though I still have goals on and off the course I also am focused on being a better wife and supporting Tom in his pursuits.”
The standard on the LPGA Tour continues to improve each year, what do more seasoned players like yourself do to keep up with the young guns of the LPGA such as Lydia Ko and Ariya Jutanagarn?
“Two of the biggest reasons the young guns have had so much success are (1) they’ve had access to better information at an earlier age, and (2) they have no scar tissue. You can see that across other sports too.
Undoubtedly, the depth of talent has improved enormously in the last 5 years and to remain competitive doesn’t necessarily mean working longer hours but it means working smarter.
The advantage we “veterans” have is years of experience and the fact we don’t have to learn too many new golf courses and we already know how to schedule our season.
With that being said, to remain competitive we still need to keep stats, know how to evaluate what to work on, and then implement a plan to improve.”
Your finish in Hawaii means that you will go right to the pointy end of the re-rank, so is it correct to assume that you will get starts in most events now apart from perhaps a couple of the majors?
“The LPGA has a Priority List which determines our entry number into most tournaments and at the start of the year my number was 146.
Following the “reshuffle”/”re-rank” after the Volunteers of America tournament in Dallas, thanks to my finish in Hawaii, I will likely remain in the Top 80 on the money list which means my new number will be around #90.
This basically means I will get into every event between now and June 25 without having to potentially Monday qualify. It also helps me for the 2nd/final reshuffle.
For simplicity sake, if your priority number is above #140 you often have to Monday qualify for an event and there are sometimes 60+ players competing for just two spots so it’s rather difficult.
I’ve had to do a few Monday qualifiers in the last 2 years so I’m really happy to avoid those this summer.
At this stage I will get in the KPGA Women’s PGA Championship and most likely the Ricoh British Open without issue but I will have to do a 36-hole qualifier for the US Women’s Open.
The Evian Championship goes off both world rankings and money list so solid play through the summer would get me a start in that event as well.”
What are your goals for the rest of the season?
“I have lots of goals and desires for the rest of the season. I look at goals in terms of the things I can control, and desires as things that I want to happen but can’t necessarily control. Since I can’t control how others play I would say I “desire” a win and top finish Top 40 on the money list.
Ultimately, my goals should help me attain my desire and the following are just a few examples of those:
(1) spend a minimum of two hours on short game practice six days a week
(2) spend a minimum of two hours on full swing drills six days a week (except tournament rounds)
(3) play a “better-ball” game at least once a week in off-weeks
(4) lift weights three days per week and do corrective exercises six days a week”
Katherine currently sits 55th on the LPGA Money list at the time of writing, and her Rolex Women’s World ranking has improved significantly from the high 200’s at the start of the year to 157, making her the ALPG’s 5th ranked player behind Minjee Lee (19) Su Oh (67) Karrie Webb (79) and Sarah Jane Smith (80)