Kyra Cox is only 16 years old, but she is already making a habit of exceeding expectations.
In 2015, she made waves by capturing the New York State Women’s Amateur by two strokes in July, then won her regional in the 14-15 age group in September to earn a place in the 2016 Drive, Chip & Putt National Finals at Augusta National Golf Club. On Tuesday, she played a steady incoming nine to secure her place in the match-play bracket of the U.S. Girls’ Junior at The Ridgewood Country Club, her first USGA championship.
“I tried to qualify for this championship last year, but I missed out in a playoff for an alternate spot,” said Cox, of South Salem, N.Y., who will be a junior at John Jay High School in the fall. “I had heard so much about this event, and I really wanted to make it. It’s an amazing environment.”
Day 3 of Cox’s first USGA championship officially began at 9:30 a.m. on Wednesday, when she teed off in her Round-of-64 match against Andrea Lee, a 2016 USA Curtis Cup Team member, of Hermosa Beach, Calif.
“This week has been unbelievable,” said Cox, who posted rounds of 75-79 for an 8-over-par total of 154 to finish as one of eight players who tied for 49th place among the starting field of 156. Cox got the No. 52 seed, while Lee earned the No. 13 seed with a 2-over total of 148. “Everyone from the volunteers to the Rules officials, everything is just so precise.”
After Monday’s round of 75, Cox discussed the mindset that has helped her get through stroke play and into the match-play draw.
“I know that I have to be on top of my game, because all these girls are really good,” said Cox, who plays out of Centennial Golf Club, in Carmel, N.Y. “I definitely have to stay calm and make sure that I keep within myself.”
Cox’s calmness surely must have been tested last fall, when she competed for a berth in the third Drive, Chip & Putt National Finals, but she posted the top score of any player in her regional event at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass., to move on to Augusta National. Cox tied for third among the 10 finalists at Augusta, but her performance was not the memory that stands out most.
“During one of the practice rounds, I was following Bubba Watson with his wife and Condoleezza Rice,” said Cox. “Both Bubba and Condoleezza Rice came over and shook my hand and told me good job on the Drive, Chip and Putt. The whole experience was more than I expected, to be honest.”
While there, Cox also met Cheyenne Woods, a fellow African-American player. Cox was thrilled to see four African Americans competing in the LPGA Tour’s recent event in Portland, where Woods – who finished in a tie for sixth – was joined by Mariah Stackhouse, Sadena Parks and Ginger Howard.
“It’s really inspiring to me – I follow all of them,” said Cox. “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. Just seeing those girls and how well they did in that tournament makes me want to push forward in this game and maybe inspire other girls.”
Cox credits her sister, Kaylee, 14, who is autistic, for getting her into the game, which Cox discovered when her father, Keith, brought her to a charity golf event to benefit autism at age 8. Cox noted in her DCP bio, “It’s an easier task for me to become the best player in the world than it is for her to just be mainstream.”
Cox is no longer eligible for Drive, Chip & Putt, but she is grooming her younger sister, Katelyn, 13, for the competition.
“I’m preparing her for it – she has her local qualifier on July 27th,” said Cox.
Cox prepared for the spotlight of this week’s national championship by attempting to defend her New York State Women’s Amateur title last week. Although she did not win, she put forth a valiant effort, missing a birdie putt on the final hole of the 54-hole event to miss out on a playoff and finish third.
“I feel like I wasn’t that much of a threat last year – I was 15 and no one knew who I was,” said Cox. “This year, I was almost like the player to beat, so it was a different kind of environment. Still, I had two good showings the last two years, inside the top five in both of them.”
Cox’s performances on regional and national stages have earned the attention of colleges, and though she is just entering her junior year, she plans to make a decision soon on her post-graduation plans.
“It’s definitely not too early – a lot of girls are committing already,” said Cox. “I’m in the midst of making my decision. I definitely want to play collegiate golf, but I want to get a good education as well. I’m just looking for the right balance of golf and academics.”
So far, Cox’s balancing act is helping her scale some pretty lofty heights.
Ron Driscoll is the manager of editorial services for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.