Emma Whitaker stuck to her guns, even while she was in awe of the competition.
Whitaker, a Kapaun graduate in 2017, won the Prairie Invitational and Kansas Amateur Championship at Indian Hills Country Club in Mission Hills on Wednesday. She shot a 77 on the final day and won a two-hole playoff against LPGA golfer Kristin Samp. Whitaker said just to meet players like Samp was an honor.
To win was a bonus.
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Indian Hills presented tough challenges through the week, Whitaker said. She shot a 77 on Tuesday and didn’t find a birdie. Getting near or on the green was easy. The putts just didn’t fall, she said.
“Putts were not falling for me this week, but it was kind of the same for everybody,” Whitaker said. “The course was playing difficult around the greens.”
After the second round, she was two shots off the lead in a tie for fourth with Olathe’s Chloe Kraus. Whitaker said her approach changed.
“I knew I wanted to go as low as I could,” she said. “I didn’t want to think about the outcome or where I stood compared to everybody else. I knew if I did my best, I’d be OK with that.”
Whitaker said she expected more players in the playoff, but when she saw it was only her and Samp, she knew she just had to “play my game.”
“I was looking back at my notes like it was day one,” she said.
Wednesday marked Whitaker’s first win since leaving Kapaun, where she won the Kansas Class 5A title as a senior. She has since played in a handful of tournaments, including the U.S. Amateur, where she missed the qualifying cut by one stroke.
Whitaker is now at Oklahoma State and recently finished her freshman season with the No. 17 Cowgirls.
“The LPGA is a for sure goal for me, but what’s neat is there’s so many things to accomplish before that,” Whitaker said. “There is so much growth from where I am to where Kristin is. I have all of that to look forward to.”
The transition to OSU has been up and down. Whitaker didn’t play as much as she hoped as a freshman but said a part of her is glad she didn’t. Watching her teammates, including three seniors, play and maneuver courses taught her more than she expected, she said.
OSU is one of the most storied golf schools in the country, with more than 70 All-Americans and its men’s team coming off a 2018 national championship. She said though she respects her environment, she doesn’t see that as pressure.
“I think everyone takes it as inspiration,” she said. “Seeing the names on the wall, we just want to replicate what they did. They paved the path and showed us what it takes — that we can do the same thing.”
Whitaker said playing with such talented players in a strong program has humbled her but pushed her to improve. That improvement showed with the win.
“It was cool to play with all different kinds of players at different points in their careers,” she said. “ You can’t trade anything for that. You can’t practice that. It’s just special that you get to experience that.”