Q&A: Catching Up With Defending Champion Margaret Shirley October 1, 2015 | Far Hills, N.J. By Joey Flyntz, USGA

Margaret Shirley helped Georgia capture the Women's State Team title a month before defending at the Women's Mid-Amateur. (USGA/Steven Gibbons)

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Margaret Shirley, 29, of Roswell, Ga., was part of one of the rarest of USGA championship occurrences last year when she faced Julia Potter in the U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur Championship final for the second consecutive year. The rematch was only the third in USGA championship history and the first in the Women’s Mid-Amateur. A year after falling to Potter in 19 holes, Shirley claimed victory, 5 and 3, at Harbour Trees Golf Club in Noblesville, Ind. It’s been a whirlwind year since. Shirley, who recently got engaged, is the executive director of Atlanta Junior Golf, where she oversees 1,000 members from ages 7-18 and helps conduct 115 tournaments annually. She competed in the U.S. Women’s Amateur at Portland (Ore.) Golf Club in August and was a member of the victorious Georgia squad in last month’s USGA Women’s State Team Championship at Dalhousie Golf Club in Cape Girardeau, Mo. She recently spoke to us about a variety of topics leading into the 29th U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur, which begins Saturday at Squire Creek Country Club in Choudrant, La.

How often do you reflect on last year’s Women’s Mid-Amateur victory and the rematch with Julia?

Shirley: It was really neat. It’s been a cool talking point and a lot of people, even people I don’t know, will bring it up to me. Hopefully, we can do it for a third straight year. The thing people don’t talk about that’s also interesting is that Julia was the medalist in 2013 and I finished third, then last year I was the medalist and she finished third, so we swapped spots in that regard, too. I talked to [USGA President] Tom O’Toole Jr. last year and he told me he tells that story a lot, so it’s really cool to be a part of that.

The Women’s Mid-Amateur field seems like a tightly knit group. Do you agree with that?

Shirley: Absolutely. Everyone wants to win, but everyone is friends at the end of the day. I became really good friends with [four-time Women’s Mid-Amateur champion] Meghan Stasi this year. We traveled to Peru together [for the South American Amateur]. There are so many great people out there who come from different places. The golf is fun, but it’s also fun to see your friends and meet new friends every year. It’s definitely my favorite event by far.

Your role with Atlanta Junior Golf puts you in a position to get kids interested in golf? How is that best accomplished?

Shirley: It’s hard. The players in the Mid-Am are all here because they love the game. I try to convey that to my juniors as much as I can, that they have a great opportunity to go out there and play the greatest game there ever was. If you enjoy it and have fun with it, you can go far in this game. Don’t treat it as life or death. I wish I could tell my 16-year-old self that. I probably would have played a lot better a lot sooner had I just enjoyed the game and not treated it like a job.

The Women’s Mid-Amateur field includes some players who have only been playing seriously for four or five years.

Shirley: That’s one of the great things about this event. You have some players who have played their entire lives and some who have just started to pick it up. That’s one great thing the USGA does; it has championships for players of any age and gender. You can pick up the game any time in life and compete for a national championship. That’s not realistic in most sports.

Has your job helped your golf game?

Shirley: Yeah, if anything, it has helped me enjoy the game more. Once I got out of college [at Auburn University] and played professionally (she is a reinstated amateur), it was more of a job. I kind of lost the love for it a little bit. But now it’s really cool to go out to tournaments that we run and see the joy on kids’ faces, especially the little ones just getting started. They’re so excited to be there. It makes me really grateful for the opportunities I have to compete for national championships and I try to keep that with me at all times.

What’s your mindset coming into this week as the defending champion?

Shirley: It’s going to be a fun week, regardless of how I play. I already have a title, so no one can take that away, so I don’t feel that pressure. I think I played with a lot of pressure last year, but I think it helped me, made me a little more hungry for it. Obviously, I want to win another one and that’s never going to change. But I’m not going to put pressure on myself. I’ve had the experience of having the gold medal put around my neck and I have hoisted that trophy, and that’s a great feeling.

If you couldn’t play golf, how would you stoke your competitive fire?

Shirley: I have no idea. I want to beat the person who I’m running next to on the treadmill. That’s how competitive I am. I played powderpuff football as a kid and I came home one day after practice and my mom had to calm me down because I was so mad that the other girls were not taking it as seriously as I was. I was told I was not allowed to play the next year, because I played so hard, if that gives you any indication of the competitiveness in me. That’s just my human nature.

At what point did you realize golf was the sport you wanted to focus on?

Shirley: I played soccer and softball until I was about 12 or 13, then I started taking golf seriously when I was 13, 14. I started playing golf when I was 10. My dad was a course superintendent, so he took me out and my second time hitting balls I hit a bad shot and there’s actually a home video of me getting upset and slamming my club on the ground. I think my parents were worried they had a problem on their hands.  

Joey Flyntz is an associate writer for the USGA. Email him at jflyntz@usga.org. 

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