Kent State Grad Dreher Set for First Season on LPGA Tour
The 2008 MAC Championship medalist and 2009 conference golfer of the year is the first Kent State women's golfer to earn her LPGA Tour card
He's nestled comfortably around a driver, perched prominently atop a weathered golf bag of an aspiring professional. He keeps his laser-focus straight ahead, sending what seems to be telepathic, positive energy to his surroundings. The eagle's head is a symbol that becomes an integral institution atop every Kent State golfer's bag, both current and past.
Grinding out on the LPGA Futures Tour can appear to lack glamour. Crowds are sparse, the media's appearances are generally lacking, and the glitz of an event is usually replaced by functionality. Bags are lighter out of necessity; it's hard to keep a regular caddy on the road leading to becoming a full-fledged professional in part to the extra cost and the quirky and unpredictable travel schedule.
But there is Flash, no worse for the wear, keeping an eye on his faithful alum. He might not be able to read a putt, nor insist a seven-iron is the better choice considering the conditions. But this caddy makes up for it by instilling pride, the will to succeed, and memories of lessons learned in a hotbed of collegiate golf found in northeast Ohio.
This Flash will surely be happy in 2012; he's the first Kent State head cover to make the LPGA Tour, thanks to the persistence, diligence and passion of Kirby Dreher.
The path Kirby Dreher took to become the first Kent State women's golfer to earn her LPGA Tour card was as hilly as the countryside. After just missing tour qualification on her first try in 2009, Dreher struggled during 2010's final qualifying stage and failed to make the cut. That downward swing may have been just what she needed, as it gave Dreher the chance to re-focus on what she feels is the biggest factor for success in golf: her mental game.
"At this level, all of the golfers are really good; but your mind has to be right," Dreher said. "Golf is based on your mental game, and last year I went in just hoping to make it. This year, I went in with a different attitude; the cut wasn't the question, it was getting top 20."
Dreher continued to work at all aspects of her golf game in 2011, which was her second full year on the LPGA Symetra Futures Tour. With her Futures Tour status, Dreher joined the Q School process at the second level this past September, which was hosted at the Plantation Golf and Country Club in Venice, Fla. Dreher advanced convincingly with a one-under 287.
That set the stage for Dreher at the third and final stage of qualifying at the LPGA International in Daytona Beach, Fla. The final stage adds not only a fifth round of golf, but a higher level of competition with LPGA golfers that did not re-qualify from being on the top 80 of the tour money list.
Despite tougher conditions this past November, not only from the draw of the field but with windy and chilly weather, Dreher stayed true to her game plan. Through the first four rounds, she found herself tied for 34th overall; well above the cut line and in contention for a prized tour card.
Despite leaving some shots on the course—a challenge that lingers over the head of every golfer—Dreher finished with a one-over 73 to stay tied for 34th overall. That earned her Category 20 status for the 2012 LPGA season, which begins in February.
Forgetting about the ominous nature of the cut helped Dreher just play the game. She found that when she wasn't thinking about the cut line, she had a lot less pressure on herself.
"I liked my position going into the last day," Dreher said. "Sometimes, being higher on the leaderboard, there is more pressure. You start thinking, 'I just need to hold my position,' and if you drop a shot, you start thinking about every little thing. You have to stay out of your own way, and play how you know how to play.
"I thought I would be able to go low for the final round," she continued. "I played decent, but not the best; but I played well enough to make it."
Some of her success, Dreher admits, can be attributed to her four years at Kent State. A highly touted golfer at the junior level, Dreher saw her game reach new heights under the tutelage of 14-year head coach Mike Morrow.
"Besides the support of my family, Mike Morrow was one of the top factors that helped me in reaching goal of becoming a golf professional," Dreher said. "Before college, I was a decent golfer, but I didn't really know the game of golf. Mike taught me so much about the game, and I can't describe how much of a difference that has made for me."
In her first season, Dreher was a part of Kent State's 2006 NCAA Championship team and was the Mid-American Conference's 2006 Freshman of the Year. Dreher concluded her Kent State career with back-to-back honorable mention All-America citations from Golfweek and was the 2009 MAC Golfer of the Year.
"Kirby is fearless," Morrow said. "She has done what she needs to do to get to the next level, and her game keeps improving. And, success doesn't scare her. The more pressure she's under, the better she is."
It wasn't just the experiences she gained on the nation's best golf courses that prepped Dreher for a career on the links. The sports management major learned the life lessons of being fiscally responsible, managing time and taking her first steps of independence that are critical for success on the professional loop.
Kent State has made a name for itself as a powerhouse in women's golf, despite its relatively short history of 14 seasons. Dreher is another success story for Golden Flashes alums, which include a pair of NCAA Division I head coaches, two European Tour players and at least three recent grads that aspire to continue with professional golf careers.
Of note, Dreher played the final qualifying stage with two-time MAC Golfer of the Year and fellow Kent State graduate Martina Gavier. Gavier joined Dreher above the cut line, but was just two shots off gaining her own tour card.
"It brought be back to my college days," Dreher said of her pre-round time with Gavier. "We shared words of wisdom, confidence and advice, and that helps. In college, it is all about the team, and it was nice to have a former teammate to share the experience."
Dreher will likely begin the 2012 season in March, when more full-field tournaments appear on the schedule. She is also free to continue to play in LPGA Futures Tour events as her schedule permits.
Being new to the process, Dreher might not know what to expect. Her ability to participate in LPGA events will depend many factors, including the size of the tournament field; a full field features 144 golfers.
"It depends on who wants to play in each tournament," Dreher said. "I'm going to commit to as many LPGA events as I can, but in some cases it could be a waiting game. I could be at one tournament, and then have to make last-minute travel arrangements to get to an LPGA event."
Dreher predicts she will play in Monday qualifiers for some LPGA tournaments. But, as the season progresses, and hopefully as her play improves, that could change to getting invitations.
"I'm interested to see how the whole thing works," she said. "I've played in the Canadian Open three times, and a U.S. Open, and there is such a huge difference between the Futures Tour and LPGA. I'm excited to have media and fans at tournaments and be on the bigger stage. It's a whole different scale."
With the larger stage, Dreher's family and friends may find it easier to track her success. Dreher is humbled and thankful for her dedicated following.
"I am so thankful for the support I've gotten over the years," Dreher said. "Especially my family. They have helped me so much throughout my golfing career."
Plenty of new experiences, opportunities and connections have Dreher eager to hit the LPGA Tour links, but one of her goals for this season is to qualify for the 2012 Canadian Open, which will be held Aug. 20-26 at the Vancouver Golf Club.
"It's my dream to get in this year," said Dreher, a native of Fort St. John, British Columbia, about the opportunity to play in her home province. Dreher aims to gain admission to the Canadian Open via a win in one of three qualifying events or finishing among the leaders in the Order of Merit.
So, who will pick up Dreher's bag now that she's among the world's elite?
"My brother (Shelby) has caddied for me before, but he's got a real job," Dreher said. "I'll cross that bridge when it comes."
Until then, Flash is up to the task.