By Ken MacLeod
In an alternate universe, Kaitlin Milligan is spending this week preparing to stroll through the redbuds and azaleas at Augusta National, where she had been invited to play in the second annual Augusta National Women’s Amateur April 1-4.
In this COVID-19 reality, the University of Oklahoma junior is holed up in her parents’ home in Norman, binge watching All American, taking online classes, giving the tendinitis in her wrist time to heal and trying not to go stir crazy.
“My sister and I are running out of things to do,” Milligan said earlier this week. “I watched all of All American in two days. It’s been a good time to take a step back and let my wrist heal, but . . .”
While her collegiate season came to an abrupt end, the Augusta trip may still happen at a later date. And a second huge honor, that of being selected to represent the United States at the Palmer Cup July 3-5 at Lahinch Golf Club in Ireland, is still on schedule, though as we’ve all learned things change by the minute these days.
Either way, the tumultuous times we live in can’t erase the accomplishments and growth as a player of the long-bombing Milligan, who was averaging a Sooner record 70.18 strokes per round when the season came to a screeching half after a practice round for the Clover Cup in Mesa, Ariz.
“We got back to the hotel and suddenly not just that tournament but the whole season was over,” Milligan said. “The way to look at it now is that it’s okay. It gives us time to regroup, grow mentally and physically and come back even stronger.”
Strong is an appropriate word for Milligan. When on top of her game and if the course allows, she can overpower most fields with her 300-plus year drives and the length of her irons. She can hit driver-wedge on holes where others are approaching with a mid to long iron.
Yet it has been an increased concentration on her putting and short-game skills that has lifted Milligan from a bomber to one of the nation’s best golfers, one with nine top-10 and 16 top-20 finishes in less than 2.5 seasons.
“I finally realized that putting is how you get the ball in the hole,” Milligan said. “I’ve really worked hard on my stroke, having better speed, and that’s made a big difference. That was a big step for me. I still believe that driver is the best club in my bag and when I can control it, it takes so much pressure off me.”
Since the women play courses in the 6,300-yard range, there are some courses where she can only hit driver a few times. Her iron game has also improved, however, and she is in love with a new fitted set of PXG GEN3 irons.
Milligan works on her swing with Joey Wuertemberger, a teaching pro from Rangers Golf Club in Arlington, Texas, and said the new clubs have helped her increase her distance and accuracy.
“They are so good,” she said. “My coach (Veronique Drouiin-Luttrell) was watching me hit them on Trackman and she was like in shock.”
When the course permits her to hit driver on nearly every hole, the results can be scary. Milligan shot a 10-under 62 in the opening round of the Westbrook Invitational at wide-open Vistas Golf Course in Peoria, Ariz., as a freshman and finished second in that event at 17-under, the lowest individual score in Sooner history. She has designs on shooting a 59 in competition.
For now, however, it’s back to letting that nagging tendinitis heal, social distancing and battling boredom. There will come a time when the golf world will be marveling at her booming drives, crisp irons and improved putting again, hopefully sooner than later.