Mariah Stackhouse has been waiting for this moment since she was a little girl, going to the range to hit golf balls with her father. That’s why this next step into the world of professional golf is far from intimidating for the Riverdale native.
She has the resume; a four-year starter with a national championship at Stanford University. She has the results; the putt that won the NCAA title for the Cardinal in 2015 and an appearance on the Curtis Cup team. She has the Rolodex; not many people can have Michelle Wie or Condoleezza Rice on speed dial.
But none of that really matters as Stackhouse prepares for her first full season as a professional golfer.
That’s why she was more than willing to spend several hours at the range, striping 6-iron after 6-iron into the bright blue sky, even though temperatures were in the high 40s and brisk winds caused her to zip that Stanford jacket to the very top.
Stackhouse has never backed away from a challenge, but this one – a chance to compete on the LPGA tour – is the greatest yet.
“This is the next step for Mariah,” said Chan Reeves, the PGA professional director of instruction at the Atlanta Athletic Club, who has been her teacher for nearly a dozen years. “The competition gets tougher every step, from Atlanta Junior Golf to American Junior to Stanford and now the LPGA. There is a period of adjustment.”
It’s all part of the process for Stackhouse, who has had dream to play professional golf since she was a teenager.
“You start to think of doing something professionally when you realize you love it and you’re good at it,” she said.
Stackhouse is one of the most heralded junior golfers produced by Georgia in years. She was a four-time Georgia State Golf Association Junior of the Year, a streak interrupted in 2008 only because she was the GHSA’s Women’s Player of the Year. In 2009 she teamed up with Dori Carter (also on the LPGA tour) and Georgia Golf Hall of Famer Laura Coble to win the USGA Women’s State Championship.
She went off to Stanford – that phone call from a former Secretary of State may have sealed the deal – and was a three-time All-America selection. After graduating from school with a degree in communications, Stackhouse competed in the LPGA qualifying school and missed a full exemption by one shot.
“It’s all about acclimating to the next level,” Stackhouse said. “With each level, the competition is higher. It propels you to perform better. The more comfortable you can get, the better you can score.”
She made her season debut in February after receiving a sponsor’s exemption into the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open. After some planning mistakes set into motion a series of errors that almost upended her trip Down Under, Stackhouse was able to arrive at Adelaide. She shot 76-72 and missed the cut by two shots, thanks to some uncharacteristic short-game woes.
Because of her status, she’ll mix some LGPA events and qualify in others. She’s also exempt for the Symetra Tour, the LPGA’s version of the PGA Tour’s Web.com Tour, and this week competed in that tour’s opening event in Florida. She could end up concentrating on the Symetra Tour this season and use it as a way to earn one of 10 cards that carry a full exemption.
Stackhouse said this season is about figuring things out – where to play, where to stay, how to structure competition and travel.
“There are things I want to focus on, things I want to stick to,” she said. “If I have a regimented schedule, when I look back I’ll be able to determine whether something is good for me. I have performance goals, but I want to focus more on doing the things that will allow me to perform the way I want.”