LINCOLN — Seeing 15-year-old Adriana Eaton finish as medalist after her round of 77 at the RIGA Women’s Amateur Championship on Tuesday wasn’t a surprise. This spring Eaton won the high school state title as a freshman at Moses Brown and made the semifinals at last week’s RIGA Girls Junior Amateur Championship.
Had this happened in the men’s tournament, it would have been huge news. But in women’s golf, the young predominate. Of the 15 women in this week’s Women’s Amateur Championship at Kirkbrae Country Club, nine are teenagers. While men’s amateur golf has been dominated by older and more experienced players, the state’s women’s golf scene has been decidedly different.
Why is a very good question.
“Life gets in the way. Jobs, kids, family,” said Emily Brooks, who won the Women’s Amateur two years ago and calls herself “old” at the ripe age of 29. “There are other things going on. I just play every year because why not.”
“It’s something called work,” said Keeley Lockhart, 41, who moved to Rhode Island last year and shot 81 in her Women’s Amateur debut on Tuesday. “Work gets in the way. It’s a very time-consuming sport. A lot of women are shuffling their kids around to sports and it’s hard to commit to practice and competition as you get older.”
Marisa Brown is the oldest woman in the championship field. At 59, she’s eligible to play in the Senior Championship that’s running simultaneously at Kirkbrae. But Brown — the 2010 Women’s Amateur champ — felt she had to play in the big one to give the younger players a proper tournament even if it meant reducing her chances at taking home a trophy.
“The competition right now, I know this is as big a gap as I’ve ever had playing myself,” Brown said. “I told my husband we need to have a field of players for these kids. It can’t be eight women who walk in and they’re in the quarterfinals.
“I think I have an obligation as someone who benefitted by getting to play to be here today.”
Of the last 20 winners, only five were out of college when they won the title. Val Blinn, who won in 2007, was one of them.
Now 42, Blinn is at Kirkbrae competing in the Women’s Amateur because she wants to win another. She’s also equally curious about the makeup of the field that sees Brooks and Paula Kleniewski as the only competitors in their 20s or 30s.
“I guess we have to ask, where are they?” Blinn said. “For me, they have the seniors going off this week and a lot of them are the mentors I grew up playing golf with. There are a lot of good players out here in Rhode Island that just don’t sign up or they can’t get the time off from work or maybe they’re intimidated by the age gap.
“But if it wasn’t for people like myself in their 40s playing golf when I was in my 20s, I wouldn’t have molded my game the way I have over the years.”
“I don’t know about Rhode Island,” said Brooks, who grew up in North Carolina and now lives in Newport. “I don’t know a ton of girls my age that are playing competitively, but back in the Carolinas there are a bunch of girls my age still playing Mid-Ams and stuff.”
While the field itself is dominated by youth, the crew that was old enough to order a drink from Kirkbrae’s bar is certainly in the mix. Brooks was two shots behind Eaton for the top seed and there was a four-way tie for third, with Moses Brown All-Stater Kylie Eaton and La Salle All-Stater Olivia Williams finishing with an 81 alongside Blinn and Lockhart.
“I don’t have any expectations anymore when I play golf. I’m just out there to have fun,” said Lockhart, who played collegiately at Missouri State. “I still have a competitive side of me when it comes to play but that’s where it’s different for me and my perspective. I’m out here having fun with no expectations.”
“Why can’t I win? That’s my question,” Blinn said. “That’s why they have an amateur championship — because there’s a lot of good amateurs out there. I don’t think there’s an age factor. I think we all have a lot of skills.
“My skills are just as good as theirs. It doesn’t change for me because I know my game and I know I can play against anybody.”
Blinn won’t get a chance to face one of the young guns in the tournament when match play begins on Wednesday morning. She’ll be up against Brown, who posted an 88 and earned the No. 11 seed, beating three teenagers in the process.
Brown wishes there were more women of varying ages in the field, but is excited about the players who decided to tee it up.
“I was saying to [former champion] Kibbe Reilly, ‘Kibb, this is the first time that there’s actually a field of juniors 10 deep,’” Brown said. “We used to have one or two that were stars who you really looked forward to playing with. Today, we’ve got a great field of young kids.
“Will these kids go on and come back in 10 years and still be competing in their 30s and 40s? I hope so, but right now women’s golf [in Rhode Island] just doesn’t have the numbers.”
“It’s just different now because there are a lot of younger kids so more of the older generations, they’re moving up. This is the new generation of golf,” Blinn said. “To see the talent out there and see where they go, that’s why I love playing with them.
“Just because there are a lot of younger players, it doesn’t mean there are other players who can’t qualify. Not that you want to knock somebody out, but that’s what makes all of this competitive.”
RIGA Women’s Amateur Championship
At Kirkbrae, par 72
1, Adriana Eaton, 77; 2, Emily Brooks, 79; t-3, Olivia Williams, 81; t-3, Kylie Eaton, 81; t-3, Keeley Lockhart, 81; t-3, Val Blinn, 81; 7, Brooke Brennan, 83; t-8, Lily Dessel, 84; t-8, Claire McTaggart, 84; 10, Lisa O’Brien, 86; 11, Marisa Brown, 88; 12, Morgan MacLeod, 90; 13, Anna Gardner, 92; 14, Paula Kleniewski, 85; 15, Maggie McDonald, 104.
Wednesday’s first-round pairings
No. 1 Adriana Eaton, bye; No. 2 Emily Brooks vs. No. 15 Maggie McDonald; No. 3 Olivia Williams vs. No. 14 Paula Kleniewski; No. 4 Kylie Eaton vs. No. 13 Anna Gardner; No. 5 Keeley Lockhart vs. No. 12 Morgan MacLeod; No. 6 Val Blinn vs. No. 11 Marisa Brown; No. 7 Brooke Brennan vs. No. 10 Lisa O’Brien; No. 8 Lily Dessel vs. No. 9 Claire McTaggart
This article originally appeared on The Providence Journal: Adriana Eaton earns medalist honors at RIGA Women’s Amateur at Kirkbrae