The Learning Curve for Finnish LPGA Tour Pro Kiira Riihijärvi
Success for a tour professional can be elusive, but Kiira Riihijärvi, a player-ambassador for Mission Resort + Club, is hopeful that lessons learned while competing on the LPGA Tour last year can set her up for a rewarding 2024 campaign.
Having survived the roller-coaster experience of the LPGA Q-Series in December 2023 to earn LPGA Tour status for this season, Riihijärvi believes she is now much better equipped to tee it up against the game’s best players.
The 26-year-old Finnish professional golfer also knows she benefited hugely by playing the full 2022 season on the Epson Tour, the official qualifying series for the LPGA Tour.
“It was very good for me to be able to play there,” said Riihijärvi, who finished fourth on the Epson Tour money list to earn LPGA membership for the 2023 season. “It’s a good tour, and it’s a good preparation for what’s coming because I think I would have had an even harder time going from college straight to the LPGA because that step is really big.
“I felt the step up to the LPGA is also big because there’s so many girls that you’ve looked up to your entire life. You see all the Kordas and everybody, major winners, and you’re playing with them and it’s different. So, I am very excited for this year to come. I feel like I have learned from last year and I am more well prepared for the upcoming LPGA season.”
Riihijärvi, who played collegiate golf at the University of Tampa, struggled on the LPGA Tour last year before tying for 59th at The Ascendant LPGA benefiting Volunteers of America in her final event of the season.
Then in early December, she rallied to share 27th place with an 11-under total after six grueling rounds in the LPGA Q-Series hosted by Magnolia Grove in Mobile, Alabama – an experience which should serve her well on the 2024 LPGA Tour.
“The Q-Series is very tough because it is six days in a row, and you know that you have to keep being patient with it because you have a lot of holes left,” said Riihijärvi. “So even if you do poorly, you know you have time to get it back. But it is very tiring.
“There is a cut after four rounds and I had to make birdie on the last hole to make the cut. I didn’t know that I had to make birdie. I thought I was already out, but I made birdie – my putt just dropped in – and that got me through the next two days. And then I played well. I felt a little calmer, more relaxed and I am hoping that will show me what this year is going to bring.”
Riihijärvi has served as player ambassador for Mission Resort + Club in Central Florida for the past year, and she always enjoys returning to the luxury destination resort whenever her busy tournament schedule allows.
This week she practiced with her coaches and even conducted a Sunday afternoon golf clinic for members on the driving range.
Only a 35-minute northwest of Orlando or 80 minutes northeast of Tampa, Mission Resort + Club is home to two championship golf courses, El Campeón (The Champion) and Las Colinas (The Hills).
“I looked up my schedule for last year, and I think I had 150 nights in a hotel, which is a lot of travel!” said Riihijärvi. “You get used to it, but it’s different from amateur golf: you play almost every week, and you’re always traveling, and you’re never home.
“You kind of have to appreciate it as an opportunity that not a lot of people get to have. I get to go all over the United States, see different places and see different cities and enjoy what this country has to offer. It kind of depends on the way that you look at it.”
Even though there is still a massive gap in prize and sponsorship money between the men’s and women’s games, Riihijärvi is encouraged by the current trajectory.
“It’s definitely different if you compare the LPGA with the PGA TOUR,” added Riihijärvi, whose victory on the Epson Tour came at the 2022 Ann Arbor’s Road to the LPGA. “Luckily, the LPGA keeps growing, the purses keep getting bigger, and the players have more eyes on them, which is very exciting. If you do poorly on the LPGA and you really are struggling, you need great sponsors – which I luckily have – to help you out and get you through the season.”
“It’s different than a lot of other sports: you don’t get paid if you play badly. But if you play for a professional team, they will pay you even if you are doing poorly. They will still give you money to live. In golf, it’s different and you kind of get used to it. You just must plan out your year and make sure that you have all the funding before the year even starts because you don’t know what golf is going to bring you at times. It kind of just hits you.”
Whatever hits Riihijärvi this year, she certainly feels ready for it. Her three seasons on the Epson Tour, bumpy rookie LPGA Tour campaign, and gutsy, determined display during the LPGA Q-Series have left her battle-scarred but very well-prepared. “I am ready!” she said with a broad smile.
Photos Courtesy of Mike Wolfe and McNeilly Communications