Kyra Cox, 16, has been playing golf for half of her life, and she has managed to cram a lot into those eight years.
“It feels like not that long ago I was playing in my first tournament,” said Cox, of South Salem, N.Y. “The years and the seasons have gone by really quickly. Seeing what my goals were when I was younger and how I have gotten to those goals, it’s awesome.”
Cox’s achievements include:
- Winning the 2015 New York State Women’s Amateur by two strokes at age 15 (she finished third in her 2016 title defense, missing a playoff by one stroke);
- Earning a berth in the 2016 Drive, Chip & Putt National Finals at Augusta National Golf Club, where she placed third in her age group and met, among others, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson;
- Qualifying for her first USGA championship, the 2016 U.S. Girls’ Junior, where she reached match play before losing to USA Curtis Cup player and eventual finalist Andrea Lee, 3 and 2;
- Attracting wide interest from college golf programs, including some Ivy League schools, before verbally committing to Furman University in Greenville, S.C., for the fall of 2018.
Cox met Cheyenne Woods at Augusta National last spring, and she tracks the progress of Woods and fellow African-American players such as Ginger Howard, Sadena Parks and Mariah Stackhouse in their professional golf careers. Stackhouse played on the victorious 2014 USA Curtis Cup Team and led Stanford to its first NCAA women’s golf title in 2015.
“It’s really inspiring to me – I follow all of them,” said Cox during the 2016 Girls’ Junior. “Even in junior golf, you don’t see a lot of African-American girls, so when you do come across someone, you feel like you have something in common. Those players make me want to push forward in this game and maybe inspire other girls.”
Cox, who turns 17 in May, recently put a couple of opportunities on hold. The junior at John Jay High School in Cross River, N.Y., was invited to compete in two prestigious events, the Annika Invitational last week in Florida, and the ANA Junior Inspiration in late March in California, but declined the berths.
“Kyra is taking three AP (Advanced Placement) classes right now that require a lot of homework,” said her father, Keith Cox. “Her junior year is the most critical year, and she really wants to maintain her ‘A’ average.”
Both Kyra and her father noted an important benefit to her immersion in golf: an accompanying diligence in her academic pursuits.
“Golf has taught me a lot about management and about responsibility,” said Kyra. “I take that into my school day and I seem to have gotten better at that, too. It has been such a positive influence on me.”
“I often tell people that Kyra was an average student, but the more she did in golf, the better she got in school,” said Keith. “She’s a lot more structured; she articulates herself well. She has taken it from the course into the classroom.”
As a high school junior, Kyra has not decided on a college major yet, but psychology and business marketing have piqued her interest.
“No one has to tell her she’s got to do her homework,” said Keith. “It’s a breath of fresh air. In fact, if she is as ambitious about her golf as she is about her schoolwork, she will be on the LPGA Tour next month.”
Not that she is a slacker in that regard. The family has a small practice area in their basement, and Kyra typically gets up before 6 a.m. to practice for an hour or more before school. This offseason has been devoted to a grip change, as well as new equipment.
“She had a weak grip that she knew she wanted to change,” said Keith. “It was just a matter of when to change it, along with shortening up her swing a bit.”
Kyra took advantage of an unseasonably warm February weekend to play at Split Rock Golf Course in the Bronx, where she was encouraged by how well she is adapting to her modified swing.
“It’s a lot to get used to,” said Kyra. “I want to be 100 percent and I want to make sure that I’m more seasoned before I get into a tournament.”
Kyra is planning to attempt to qualify for three USGA championships in 2017: the Girls’ Junior, the Women’s Amateur and the Women’s Open.
“I want to try to get into all of them,” said Kyra. “The USGA events are an opportunity to test my game and get experience against really good competition. I know I’m going to be seeing a lot of the same players in college golf.”
Which brings her to another corollary benefit of the game.
“I’m making a lot of friends, and I’m finding that I get much closer to the friends I make through golf than the ones I have through school,” said Kyra. “Having these relationships, and knowing that I’m going to be seeing these girls for the rest of my life, is just awesome.”
Ron Driscoll is the manager of editorial services for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.