College Golf: Short-game guru Strijek leads Siena
If Kylie Strijek ever finds herself stranded on a deserted island, she wants her wedge and her shag bag close by, so she can spend most of her waking hours working on her short game.
Luckily, the Siena College senior golfer would already have her other most precious possession — her mind — to keep her occupied the rest of the time.
Strijek used her excellent course management skills and superb short game to capture the McLeod Memorial Award as the women’s individual champion in last weekend’s Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Championship in Orlando, Fla. Strijek shot a three-day total of 239 and led the Saints to their 13th MAAC title in the last 14 years.
Siena advances to the NCAA regionals in Stillwater, Okla., May 8-10 at the Karsten Creek Golf Course. Joining her will be fellow Saints Victoria Nyugen, Katie Nelson, Kristen Bromley and Valerie Wijaya.
Strijek shot rounds of 75, 78 and 86, and was 23-over-par for the tournament. A year ago, she finished tied for 10th.
Strijek’s performance was even more impressive considering she missed the final two tournaments of the regular season.
“One of the big things was that I struggled the last couple of weeks of the season because of tendonitis in my right wrist,” said the 5-foot-7 native of Linwood, N.J. “I took off the last two tournaments so I could heal in time for the MAAC tournament. I definitely wanted to play in the MAAC championships in my senior year,” she said. “I healed up enough where I could play.”
But once Strijek got down to Florida for her practice round, she noticed her game wasn’t in top condition.
“I was struggling with my ball flight because my right side was weak,” she said. “I talked to my dad on the phone the day of the first round, right before I started warming up. He talked about changing my stance a little and slightly adjusting my grip on the club to accommodate the weakness in my wrist. I ended up hitting the ball dead straight. My putting was stellar the first two days, and my short game was great. I didn’t play great my last round, but I did make two great up-and-down pars to keep my round going.”
“Kylie’s experience and mental game were the keys for her,” said Siena women’s coach Dave Wronowski. “She’s a pretty confident player and can take almost five weeks off and still play well. That says a lot about her mental game. It’s come a long way. Technically, not a lot separates players top to bottom, but in college golf and championship golf, it’s the mental game that does.”
Strijek said her father, Michael, a scratch golfer who used to play 180 rounds a year, has been her primary instructor her entire career. A club-pro friend of his built her swing when she was only a 3-year-old.
“That’s when we were living in Santa Fe, N.M., for a while,” Strijek said. “My dad has been working with me non-stop ever since.”
Strijek, winner of the 2013 ECAC Championships, said she wasn’t surprised she performed so well after missing the last two Siena tournaments.
“For me, it was all about my mental focus,” she said. “I felt if I could get through it mentally, I would be OK. I was working on my mental skills during the last couple of weeks when I wasn’t playing.”
Strijek, a huge New York Giants and New York Rangers fan, is an intern in the Siena College business office. Her career goal is to become a director of marketing for a major sports organization.
“Depending on what kind of job I get and where I end up, it will impact how much golf and what kind of golf I play from here on out,” she said.
“Golf has been a fun activity for me throughout my whole life. It’s been my release, especially during the past two years, when I had some difficult things to get through. If I tried to make it my career, it would be too much stress, so even though I’ll keep playing, I’ll do it for fun.”