PORTSMOUTH – Kylie Eaton now has a story to tell when it comes to bad breaks on the golf course.
The 15-year-old spent her Thursday morning mounting a serious charge against this year’s top seed in the Rhode Island Golf Association’s Women’s Amateur Championship. Standing in the 17th fairway, Eaton pulled a wedge. The ball didn’t land on a postage stamp of a green at Montaup Country Club, rather it nestled under a nearby group of shrubs.
With Gianna Papa already on the green and eyeing a round-closing par, Eaton faced a dilemma. She could have attempted to hit the ball where it was positioned and risk sailing it across the putting surface. The other option would have required her to take a drop, meaning she would have been hitting four off the green while Papa was sitting pretty.
After a brief debate with her caddie Mark, also her father, a 13-year NHL veteran, Eaton decided to concede the hole and subsequently the semifinal match to Papa, who emerged with a hard-fought 2-and-1 victory that earned her a Friday finals matchup against Alexis Florio.
The defending women’s club champion at Kirkbrae Country Club, Eaton’s time at Montaup may have ended on
a somber note, yet there’s no question that she gained a lot of experience that figures to serve her well moving forward. She was two up on Papa after eight holes. Before Eaton knew it, she needed to rally after Papa won holes 9-12 to surge ahead by two.
With his daughter needing to make a move and fast, Mark Eaton reminded Kylie that starting with hole No. 13, three of the next four holes were par fives, her specialty. A birdie on 13 cut Papa’s lead to one, but Eaton found herself once again down by two after bogeying the par-three 14th. The par-five 15th yielded a more favorable outcome with Eaton netting another birdie to trail by one with three holes remaining.
Both parred No. 16 – another par-five – before the scene shifted to the match’s final hole.
“I battled. I didn’t play my best (Thursday), but I was able to hang in there,” said Eaton, who lives in Smithfield and is heading into her sophomore year at Moses Brown. “All of my matches this week went to at least the 17th hole. I got more comfortable as each match went on. Anything that I do, it’s going to help me handle the pressure and be excited rather than nervous.
“Honestly, I’m going to go work on my wedge game,” she added. “I can’t be missing greens completely with a wedge in my hands.”
Born in Nashville, one of the four playing stops her dad made during his NHL career, Kylie and her family have been living in Rhode Island since she entered second grade. It was Mark who introduced Kylie to golf.
“He’s always played golf,” said Kylie Eaton. “He got me into the game and I just love it.”
When it came to match play, Kylie was a neophyte prior to last year’s breakthrough win at Kirkbrae.
“Being able to win that gave me so much confidence. Now I love match play,” said Eaton. “Honestly, what keeps me in check is that match play is you versus the course. This week, it was me versus a girl named Montaup. I have no control over what Gianna does, but I do have control on how I handle the course. It’s pretty much how I go about it.”
Mark Eaton has a ring from Pittsburgh’s Stanley Cup winner in 2009. Now 43, he also suited up as a defenseman who shot lefthanded for Philadelphia and the New York Islanders. Presently, Eaton is the Director of Player Development for the Chicago Blackhawks.
To have a dad who has competed at the highest level is a major asset, particularly when addressing the mental side and the need to have short-term memory when things don’t go your way.
“I’ve learned a lot from the way he looks at [golf] and know there are some moves that I can risk now,” said Kylie Eaton. “You might have a bad hole, but my dad definitely helped me to calm down a lot. He told me to take a few deep breaths.”
The 2020 Kirkbrae Women’s Championship is still ahead, as are a number of competitive tennis tournaments. For Eaton, it’s full speed ahead as the next sporting endeavor awaits.
Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03