Things went pretty well for Mariah Stackhouse in her first tournament start in Georgia as a professional.
Stackhouse, who grew up in Riverdale and now lives in Alpharetta, made her first pro start in her home state April 28 in the Symetra Classic in Atlanta National, and when she completed her round, was in first place after a 6-under 66.
Shortly after she signed her scorecard, Stackhouse lost the lead to the highest-ranked player in the tournament, but that did not detract from her outstanding opening round.
Stackhouse took a while to get going, beginning her round with five straight pars, the last two of which required considerable effort. She needed a 25-footer to save par on the fourth hole at Atlanta National (No. 13 for the tournament) and holed a 10-footer for par after hitting her second shot over the green on the uphill par-4 fifth.
That got Stackhouse going, as she recorded five birdies on her next six holes to move to the top of the leader board. She hit her tee shot on the short par-3 sixth within a few feet of the cup and added birdies at 7, 9, 10 and 11 to quickly move to 5-under for the day, with the last four birdie putts all 12 feet or shorter.
Stackhouse said a number of pin positions in the opening round were in bowls, which rewarded approach shots that landed in the proper spots.
“I took advantage of some opportunities,” Stackhouse said after her round. “I was in some good places on the greens.”
Stackhouse said landing the ball in the correct spots was her top priority at Atlanta National, and as a result, she was “thinking less about outcomes for the week. I didn’t know I was leading until I came off the 17th green.”
Stackhouse went to 6-under with a birdie on the short par-4 16th, but suffered her only bogey at 17 when she 3-putted after facing her only putt of serious length. She came right back on the par-5 18th, hitting the green on the converted par 4 in two and 2-putting for birdie to close out her 66, just her second round in the 60s in six combined tournaments this year on the Symetra and LPGA Tours.
In her first full season as a pro, Stackhouse will be playing on both tours after narrowly missing out on earning exempt LPGA status in her first attempt at qualifying. She shot five rounds of par or better in the 90-hole qualifying finals in Daytona Beach, but her lowest score was 70 as she finished 3-under to tie for 21st, one shot above the top 20 finish required for exempt status.
“I was a little disappointed in the immediate aftermath,” Stackhouse said, but she got over it pretty quickly. She has limited status on the LPGA Tour and has appeared in two tournaments on the largest stage in women’s golf, missing the cut in Australia and Hawaii.
The tournament at Atlanta National is her fourth this season on the Symetra Tour, with Stackhouse placing 25th or better in two of the four. She came into the Symetra Classic 48th on the money list, and a strong finish would go a long way to getting Stackhouse into the top 10 in earnings and a spot on the 2018 LPGA Tour.
After shooting an 80 in her first Symetra Tour round of the year in Florida and missing the cut, Stackhouse played well in events in California and Arizona, where she competed extensively during her four years at Stanford.
Among the things Stackhouse is getting acclimated to in her first full year as a pro is the significant amount of travel, with her membership on two tours adding to her scheduling concerns.
Because of her LPGA status, Stackhouse has begun a few weeks on the alternate list for tournaments, and was third alternate for the LPGA event in Dallas played the same time as the Symetra Classic. She withdrew from the alternate list a few days before the start of the tournament in Texas to focus on the Symetra event, and would not have gotten into the LPGA tournament had she stayed on the list.
Stackhouse says she has to decided not to be play the waiting game each week, and will play LPGA events only if she is in the field at the outset of tournament week.
“I’m not so focused getting into LPGA events. I don’t want that last minute call.”
In her first six tournaments of 2016 prior to her hometown appearance (she now lives only about 15 minutes from Atlanta National and is playing out of Golf Club of Georgia), Stackhouse says she has “not played badly, but I haven’t shot the numbers I’m capable of putting up. I’ve been up and down, but I played well today. It’s fun to play well anywhere, but it’s especially fun to play well at home.”
Stackhouse has a great deal of experience in winning tournaments in the metro Atlanta area, dominating the state junior and women’s amateur ranks before heading to California for her college education.
For five straight years from 2007 to 2011, Stackhouse was the GSGA Girls Player of the Year, winning the state Girls Championship in ’07 and ’08 at the ages of 13 and 14. She moved up to the American Junior Golf Association and women’s amateur events and continued to excel. Stackhouse was a 3-time Rolex Junior All-American, with one of her AJGA wins coming at Country Club of the South in north Fulton.
Competing against older opponents, Stackhouse won the GSGA Women’s Match Play in 2007 and ’08, the Georgia Women’s Golf Association Championship in 2008 and ’09 and the Georgia Women’s Open in 2009. She was the GSGA Women’s Player of the Year in 2008 and shared the organization’s top award the next year with Dori Carter and Laura Coble after the trio combined to win the USGA Women’s Team Championship.
Stackhouse has excelled in team competition during her young golf career. She went 2-0-2 as part of the winning U.S. Curtis Cup team in 2014, and led Stanford to the 2015 NCAA Championship with a memorable clutch performance in the deciding match.
With Stanford and Baylor tied 2-2 in the title match, Stackhouse was 2-down with two holes to play. She birdied both, sending the match to extra holes when she holed a 15-footer on the 18th. She parred the first playoff hole to win a match she appeared out of on several occasions, erasing a 3-hole deficit on the front nine and chipping in for a winning eagle on the short par-4 12th after her opponent drove the green.
After winning two tournaments each in her freshman and sophomore seasons and earning first team All-America honors both times, Stackhouse did not play quite as well her final two years. But she more than made up for it with her play at nationals, going 5-1 in match play, including 3-0 to close out her career when Stanford lost in the 2016 finals.
The Symetra Classic, which sports a $150,000 purse with $22,500 to the winner, concludes April 30, with free admission for spectators.