FORT WAYNE – Rare is the instance when a person can pinpoint that one, particular moment when choice or fate or serendipity – or a concoction of all three – takes that individual by the hand and guides them down their life’s path. It’s even more extraordinary to have two, which is the case with Kristi O’Brien.
It was a Sunday, June 14, 2009, when then 19-year-old O’Brien walked away from an accident on I-69 while returning to IUPUI, where she was to be a sophomore. Although her Toyota Celica rolled over several times, spraying shattered glass at O’Brien, the golf clubs in the trunk of her car weren’t even scratched.
I remember everything while it happened, O’Brien said. It was like slow motion. I was like, When am I going to get knocked out? When am I not going to remember this? When am I going to die?’
It was a Monday, July 19, 2010, when O’Brien was tied for first place in the final round of the Women’s City Golf Tournament at Brookwood. Her second shot – an awkward one from beneath a pine tree – landed in tall, thick grass behind the green.
After a study of the predicament, O’Brien’s caddy told her, I know you’ve been working on your short game a lot, so right now you’ve got to trust you can do the shot.
O’Brien nodded. The ball came out clean, rolled 15 feet, and dropped in for a birdie.
From that moment, O’Brien would later say that day, she relaxed. That led to a course-record 64 and a 10-shot win.
Puffed with confidence, she would win the Women’s City the following year, then capture the Indiana amateur championship. That would lead to her receiving the Indiana Women’s Golf Association Alice O’Neal Dye Player of the Year Award.
Because she is ready for another challenge and another life, O’Brien recently announced that she has turned professional. With the State Am title on her résumé to go along with pair of city championships, and owning the best career stroke average at IUPUI (80), the former Bishop Luers standout threw her newer clubs in a newer car and moved to the Tampa, Fla., area, where she competes in the Sun Coast Ladies Series in and around Orlando.
It was scary at first, but it’s exciting, O’Brien said over the phone. I’m embracing it, just trying to get comfortable out there again. I’m just excited about starting something new – a new chapter after college. I’m excited to see where it takes me.
It was a Monday, Feb. 4, when O’Brien began her new chapter at the Orange Tree Country Club in Orlando, where she shot an 85 on the first day of her first event as a pro.
I was nervous the first day, she said. Then I had a 78 and a 71. It was a good learning experience.
She tied for 18th place in a field of 45.
Tom O’Brien doesn’t recall the exact day, but he’ll tell you that the first golf course he and his wife took Kristi on was the par 3 at Lakeside. The course was short, and so was Kristi, who had taken her first whacks on a driving range.
She just loved it, said Tom, who was his daughter’s coach at Luers. The very first one she hit, it went down the middle. She already had a good swing.
Kristi says her parents do what they can as far as financial help, but turning professional isn’t cheap when it costs $485 for each entry fee into a Sun Coast event. Then there are living and travel expenses.
If I had a full season, and played almost every week, it’s about $37,000 to play, Kristi said.
She has no agent, no primary sponsor. Callaway helps with equipment. Loudmouth Golf provides some of her clothes.
The reality is she’ll be looking for financial help from nearly anyone who offers.
It’s really hard for me to sit there and ask somebody for money, Kristi O’Brien said. I’ve had a couple people from Fort Wayne that have been very generous and given me some money just to help start me out. That’s been very sweet. It’s been that type of stuff. This summer I need to write letters to more local businesses and some other people that I don’t know but would like to meet and see if they’d like to back me up.
Although she doesn’t have the reputation, IUPUI assistant coach Colby Huffman – a disciple of famed instructor Hank Haney – is sure that O’Brien has the game to play on the LPGA tour.
I think she can get to the next level because her best is good enough to compete with the best in the world, Huffman said. Her distance is good and she has a great mind set.
She uses a lot of feel in her game and has avoided becoming too technical, which a lot of college golfers get into and search for some technical fix.
She’s been able to balance working on technique with being able to feel a shot, which is important. Her distance is good and she’s a great putter. When you put all those things together, she’s got what it takes, and it’s going to take all she’s got.
And became her path was chosen long ago, she’s willing to give it all she has.
I really do think I belong, O’Brien said. I notice when I’m out there, I hit my irons really well, and I just need to know that I belong out there; be mentally comfortable out there. After that, it should be good.