WHILE the golfing season is yet to start in Cork, Sara Byrne was in action in Orlando last week.
The Douglas golfer is in her first year at University of Miami (UM), and despite being in Florida since August, this was her first event for the Hurricanes.
It was an impressive debut for the 18-year-old, she finished in the top 20 and helped Miami to third place in the team competition.
Having spent the past six years on the Irish scene and working with the ILGU high-performance squads, moving to Miami in August was a big change.
Covid meant the cancellation of the Fall series of tournaments so it was a quiet for the 2018 Irish Close winner.
“When I arrived in August it certainly was very different to what I had imagined it to be” said Sara. “I travelled over by myself and then had to go into quarantine in a hotel near to campus.
“When I got out of isolation I settled in quite quick, I was able to play golf and go to classes.
“The academics here aren’t too hard so far. I’m thinking of majoring in finance but since I am in my freshman year everything is still an introductory class but I’m enjoying it so far.
“It was obviously a slight shock to the system to be by myself living in a different country but some of my golf teammates also came back so I had them to show me the ropes.”
Like everyone else starting college, it was a different experience especially when many of the golf team stayed at home for the first semester.
“There are nine players on the golf team here at UM, but when our fall season got cancelled only myself and two others decided to come back.
“The other six are also European but they stayed back home for the semester. The three of us were able to workout and practice together a few times every week.
Being able to go over and practice in Miami without tournaments was a blessing in disguise.
“I was able to get used to everything from the heat and the grass here to knowing how to balance everything being a student athlete.
“I was able to climatise and get accustomed to everything without the added pressure of qualifying and playing tournaments.”
With no NCAA schedule of events, it was up to the golfers themselves to seek out some competitive golf.
“I played three tournaments individually which was quite tough.
“I really took for granted having somebody with me to organise travel and accommodation so having to learn how to travel to and play in a competition by myself — and in a different country — was certainly a learning experience in itself.
“It was also nice to have competitive rounds on Florida golf courses as they are quite like the courses we play in college tournaments.”
Not only did Sara navigate her way around Florida, she put together a few solid rounds. She finished in third place in the Miami Collegiate Invitational and claimed a top 20 place in the Orlando Amateur. While the first semester golf was limited, Sara certainly gained experience from the three events.
Despite some last minutes changes, Sara did make it home to Cork for Christmas. Covid had a bearing on her travel plans but the break at home, and a chance to do some work with her own coaches was just what she needed.
“It was honestly the best decision I could’ve made to go back home.
“I had made the decision to stay over here for Christmas in early November when my flights home were cancelled. This was because I would’ve had to quarantine when I got to Ireland and then do another two-week quarantine when I got back to Miami.
“But in early December the University of Miami lifted their strict quarantine rules and I was on a plane home on the Wednesday morning.
“I was able to get to see my family, friends and coaches when I got back home which really did help both myself and my game tremendously.”
Byrne was in good form when she returned to the Miami in January, she claimed a top 20 finish in her first official outing for the Hurricanes.
“I really had a lot of fun and was happy with the result. The team came third and I came tied 19th individually.
“All five players play and then the best four scores each day count towards the team score, I was one of the people who counted towards the team score every day so I was pretty happy with that for my first event.”
It was an achievement for the freshman to make the team of five with nine strong golfers on the roster, Sara had to come through a tough internal qualifier to make the team.
“The week before college began in January we all went into a five-round qualifier to see who would make the first team line-up. After a very long and tiring five days I managed to qualify in fourth spot and make the team.
“It’s always going to be difficult to make the team with how good all nine of us are, I will need to be always at the top of my game to make sure I can play all eight tournaments this season.”
The Hurricanes are back in action on Monday when they take on Lousiville, and there’s Cork interest on both sides as Kanturk’s Mairead Martin is in her third year with the Cardinals.
Sara’s team will have six more competitions this term including the ACC Championships.
From there they will be hoping to make it through to the NCAA finals in May.
The Irish and European calendars have yet to be finalised but Sara is hoping that the Irish championships and some European events will feature in her summer schedule.