Barrier breaker: Stackhouse keeps rising

Stanford’s Mariah Stackhouse appreciates the significance of her historic Curtis Cup selection -- it's one more step in the 20-year-old golfer's journey (shown here during the 2014 NCAA D-I Women's Championship).

Women's Rankings »

RankNameSchoolRating
1Sandy ChoiDuke  68.32 
2Bronte LawUCLA  68.65 
3Alison LeeUCLA  68.65 
4Jenny HahnVanderbilt  69.28 
5Regina PlasenciaArkansas  69.32 

Women's Team Rankings »

RankNameRatingEvents
1Arkansas 70.81 
2Northwestern 71.13 
3Vanderbilt 71.24 
4UCLA 71.40 
5Duke 71.65 

Mariah Stackhouse starts her warmup late at Stanford Golf Course, hitting no more than 15 balls on the range and a few rolls on the practice putting green. The Stanford freshman stripes her first drive down the middle, knocks her second shot onto the opening par 5 in two and drains an 11-foot putt for eagle.

Birdies on Nos. 2, 4 and 5 follow.

She hooks her drive so much on the dogleg-left, par-5 seventh that it sails through the trees, leaving only a hybrid to the green for her second shot. Stackhouse converts a 30-footer for eagle and then promptly sticks it to 4 feet on the par-3 eighth. She’s now 8 under.

On the par-4 ninth, Stackhouse sizes up the downhill slider for birdie from 30 feet. (Stackhouse would say later, without hyperbole, “I had made every putt I had seen that day.”) With perfect speed, Stackhouse drops the testy putt and throws her hands into the air, letting out a big laugh.

Nine-under 26.

Nine putts. Two eagles. Five birdies. Two par saves.

“I felt the back nine is actually my better nine,” Stackhouse said of her mindset making the turn. She went on to shoot an NCAA-record 61 at the Peg Barnard Invitational, with former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, a Stanford faculty member, in the gallery.

“And anyone who can shoot 61 has my admiration!” Rice wrote to Golfweek in an email.

• • •

Stackhouse was an accomplished player before that near-perfect day. The 61 enhanced her profile and put her in the record books. But it didn’t define the college sophomore.

In March, the U.S. Golf Association named Stackhouse to the 2014 U.S. Curtis Cup team. When the Americans face Great Britain & Ireland June 6-8 at St. Louis Country Club, Stackhouse will be the first black player since the cup’s inception in 1932.

Stackhouse, 20, looks to Rice, a mentor the past two years, for perspective on breaking down barriers.

Barriers are broken because of what you do, Rice wrote, not as a goal to be reached.

“Being the first African-American to be selected to the Curtis Cup team is very special,” Rice said. “It speaks well of our country and the tremendous changes that have taken place.”

Stackhouse enjoys having the chance to be the first. But she’s mindful of the fact that it’s not the goal.

“What I want is plenty of African-Americans to do the same thing,” she said, “to get to the point where it’s not such a unique accomplishment.”

From the beginning, Stackhouse has seen the big picture.

Ken Stackhouse started taking his daughter to the range at age 2. In the early years at Atlanta’s Browns Mill Golf Course, Mariah and her younger brother John practiced as long as they wished, then abandoned their clubs to chase geese.

That philosophy continued throughout Mariah’s childhood. She worked hard, but if she wanted to go to the mall or skip a junior tournament to take a trip to Disney World with her cousin, well, fun won out.

“If you force the kids to give up too much,” Ken said, “they are going to regret.”

Mariah was 9 years old when Ken called Chan Reeves at Atlanta Athletic Club and asked if he would teach his daughter. Reeves immediately thought, Great. Glorified babysitting.

Ken Stackhouse offered to send a resume.

“I started laughing,” Reeves said. “Resume? She’s 9!”

Two pages worth of youngest-to-ever-type accolades followed, and they’ve been working together ever since.

Reeves’ favorite story about Stackhouse dates to the 2006 U.S. Girls’ Junior in Charlotte, N.C. The instructor knew his 12-year-old student wasn’t long enough or strong enough to really compete. She shot 89-84. A couple of weeks later, he asked about her favorite part.

“Oh, the best part was you could go to the locker room and get ice cream for everybody,” Mariah told him, “as much as you want.”

This kid gets it, Reeves thought.

For a player who long has been ahead of the curve in so many ways, Stackhouse was never on a fast track.

“Life is better experienced in its totality rather than bursts,” Ken said when explaining why Stackhouse chose to skip the LPGA’s Kraft Nabisco Championship to play in a college event.

Stackhouse is the antithesis of a one-dimensional golfer.

When she played for captain Meg Mallon in the 2011 Junior Solheim Cup in Ireland, Mariah’s brother and a friend ran her campaign for homecoming queen.

Stackhouse, twice a class vice president, was named queen of North Clayton High School when she returned.

“When she talks, people listen,” said Alabama sophomore Emma Talley, a Curtis Cup teammate who introduced herself to Stackhouse at that 2006 Girls’ Junior. “I think the reason why is, she’s very respected.”

Calculated, independent, eloquent, funny, intelligent, loyal. These are the words Stanford coach Anne Walker uses when describing her best player.

“It’s almost like coaching a professional athlete rather than a college kid,” Walker said.

When a 6-year-old Stackhouse played in her first event against older kids, her father calmed her nerves by telling her the biblical story of David and Goliath. She marked her ball with an “Md” – Mariah and David – that day to remind her that size isn’t everything.

“I’m still pretty tiny,” said Stackhouse, who at 5 feet, 3 inches continues to mark her ball with those two letters. “I want that (message) to always be with me.”

In January, Stackhouse had the opportunity to introduce Rice, the keynote speaker, at the Stanford Women in Sports Reception in front of a packed banquet hall. Walker was nervous for Stackhouse, but she needn’t have been. The golfer, articulate and impassioned, touched every heart in the room.

Suddenly, Walker found herself receiving praise for the presence that Stackhouse displayed.

“Actually, she showed up that way,” Walker said.

The complete package.

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