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Kirkbrae's Eaton sisters square off for spot in RIGA Women's Amateur quarterfinals

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Former Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Mark Eaton watched his daughters Kylie, far left, and Adriana, far right, square off in the RIGA's Women's Amateur "Round of 16" at Wanumetonomy Golf and Country Club. Kylie secured a 7-and-6 win that earned her a berth in Wednesday's quarterfinals.

MIDDLETOWN – In emphatic fashion, Kylie Eaton concluded Tuesday’s match-play proceedings. Tasked with an eight-foot putt, Eaton navigated the slight uphill slope for a birdie on the par-three 12th hole at Wanumetonomy Golf and Country Club.

In Eaton’s possession was a 7-and-6 victory that clinched a trip to the quarterfinals of the Rhode Island Women’s Golf Amateur. The scene that ensued upon picking the ball out of the hole was straight out of the parents’ guide to siblings who get along. 

One of golf’s most common etiquette rules is to acknowledge your opponent in a proper fashion, while standing on the green of the final hole. Eaton took several steps past the flag before coming face-to-face with said person.

The post-round handshake was quick, yet don’t read too much into that. Eaton opted to go full-embrace mode. You too would probably hug your opponent if she shared the same last name.

A bit of bipartisan sisterly camaraderie was in order with Kylie, 16, enjoying a nice moment with her younger sister, 13-year-old Adriana. Both play out of Kirkbrae Country Club. Both have played numerous rounds together at the Lincoln-based course with their father Mark, a 13-year NHL veteran.

The stakes may have been raised Tuesday, yet neither Eaton sister was caught up with the significance of squaring off against each other with a spot in the Amateur’s “Elite Eight” on the line. To each of them, there was only a “Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore” vibe. Instead of contending with Kirkbrae’s tree-lined landscape, Kylie and Adriana hit shots with the Newport Bridge in the background.

“Honestly, it wasn’t that different,” said Kylie, a junior-to-be at Moses Brown who finished second during this past spring’s RIIL girls’ golf championship. “The whole round sort of felt like it always did. We were playing together. It didn’t feel like a tournament, but I had a good time.

“There’s never a lot of stress in match play. A hole is a hole and then you’re done. That’s why I felt pretty relaxed,” added Kylie.

Adriana will be entering eighth grade at Moses Brown. She put an early scare into her sister when she parred the second hole (par-four, 281 yards) and Kylie came away with a bogey.

“I missed a six-footer for par,” noted Kylie.

The elder Eaton sister wasted little time in turning the page following her early-round wakeup call. She went on a par binge – five straight from holes 3-7 – that enabled her to seize firm control. All told, Kylie won six holes in a row before Adriana put a stop to the momentum on the par-four, 293-yard ninth – a hole each bogeyed.

The lead was stretched to six holes after Kylie won No. 10 (par-four, 328 yards) with another bogey. The match went to the par-three, 153-yard 12th after the sisters halved the 11th (par-four, 388 yards). Kylie’s accuracy off the 12th tee left her in prime position to close out Adriana, who needed to get up-and-down and hope that her sister would struggle mightily with her putter if the match was to press forward.

Instead, Kylie was dialed in and ready to claim her first birdie of the round, which she did.

“I didn’t hit too many fairways, but I also wasn’t in deep trouble. I didn’t find myself in the short grass very often,” said Kylie, who can strike it a country mile off the tee.

Time was on the side of the Eaton sisters when it came to preparing for Tuesday’s 8 a.m. match. The bracket shook out in a fashion where Kylie was the No. 5 seed while Adriana was seeded 12th, a development both were aware of prior to departing Wanumetonomy early Monday afternoon following the stroke-play portion of the Women’s Amateur.

“Before the tournament, we were like, ‘What are the chances we play each other?’ All the hours leading up [to Tuesday], we just looked at each other and laughed,” said Kylie. “Getting up and getting ready was fun.”

Added Adriana, “She told me about it, but I didn’t believe her at first.” 

Kylie has a few appearances at the Women’s Amateur under her belt. The 2021 edition of the tournament marked Adriana’s first foray into the RIGA event. In the younger Eaton's case, her mind was at ease upon realizing that she would be going up against her older sister, not a stranger.

“Going in, I was really comfortable. For me, it felt like another practice round,” said Adriana.

A 2009 Stanley Cup winner with the Pittsburgh Penguins, Mark Eaton was part of a two-person gallery as he walked the Wanumetonomy fairways with his wife Dorrie. A year ago at the Women's Amateur, Mark served as Kylie’s caddie. For obvious reasons, such a luxury was not afforded to Kylie on Tuesday morning – not with someone from the same gene pool in the same twosome.

No way was dad going to play favorites. If one of the Eaton sisters needed some advice or to blow off steam, Mark was right there to play the role of shot coach and psychologist.

“I always like having my dad around and having my mom watch, too. They bring different aspects to the game,” said Kylie. “He was more of a mediator. If I needed something, he was right there and vice versa with my sister.”

Faced with a choice of calling it a day, Kylie and Adriana opted to keep playing the remaining six holes. For Kylie, it was a low-stress situation that allowed her the chance to better acquaint herself with holes that may come into play when she tees off against Alpine’s Lauren Dohoney on Wednesday morning.

“It was nice to finish and play some holes that I didn’t play as well as I would have liked during the qualifying round,” said Kylie, who advanced to the semifinals of the 2020 Amateur. “Also, we love to play golf.”

In Adriana’s case, there too was a tangible benefit to pressing forward even though the match was in the books. The opportunity to continue to get better was at hand. Adriana may not have the length off the tee that Kylie possesses, yet the former makes up for it with a keen sense of how to hit her approach shots.

“I’m always hitting long clubs in, but it’s important that I get in the fairway first, said Adriana, who claims her three-wood as her favorite club because “I hit it almost all the time on par fives and par fours.”

A two-time Kirkbrae Women’s Club Champion, Kylie Eaton is still waiting to enjoy one of the perks of claiming said prize. She doesn’t have her driver’s license, thus she can’t reap the benefit of a prime parking spot that’s in close proximity to the clubhouse.

Perhaps someday, the aforementioned grandeur will come down to a sisterly act with one of them faced with a got-to-have-it putt on the 18th green at Kirkbrae. After the pressure-packed sequence, you can take it to the bank that Kylie and Adriana will hug it out.

In their case, that’s what sisters do once the round is complete.   

Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03

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