How Oklahoma Christian University's Abi Rigsby went from being denied entry into a golf tournament to making history
Abi Rigsby didn't set out to make history.
Being a trailblazer?
Not her intention either.
But when she tees it up in a couple weeks at the amateur qualifier for the Oklahoma Open, she will become the first woman to attempt to make the field. The Open has been around for more than a century, running annually with the exception of war years since 1910, and never before has a female golfer played in it.
"I think it's pretty cool," Rigsby said. "It's always pretty cool when you're the first person to do something."
Groundbreaking wasn't on her agenda, though, when the summer began.
Last spring as her junior season at Oklahoma Christian University wound down, she registered for a variety of summer tournaments. She wanted to play several in the region, but to cut down on travel and lodging costs, she looked at playing as many as possible in Oklahoma.
The Women's Oklahoma Golf Association State Amateur was an obvious choice. Rigsby filled out the registration form, sent in her money and added the tournament to her calendar.
Two months later, she got a phone call from WOGA. Rigsby is from Canada — Cortenay, British Columbia, to be exact — and because she isn't a resident of Oklahoma, she wasn't eligible under WOGA rules for its tournament.
Rigsby and her coach immediately started scrambling, looking for other tournaments she could enter.
Lynn called Mark Felder, executive director of the Oklahoma Golf Association, to see if Rigsby might be able to qualify for the men's state amateur tournament.
"Well, I wouldn't mind," Felder remembers telling Lynn, "but we already had the qualifiers and the field's been set."
"What about the Oklahoma Open?" Lynn asked. "Her distance isn't a problem."
When Rigsby first arrived at Oklahoma Christian as a freshman, she was a good player but not a big hitter. She hit her driver around 220 yards, her 8 iron about 125 yards. Not bad by any means but largely average for a collegiate golfer.
After her first fall season, Lynn went to her with an idea.
"You've been hitting this hook for quite a while, and you're not getting better," he said of a swing which she describes as "this weird inside-out path." "You need to change your ball flight."
That spring, Lynn rebuilt her swing to hit a fade ala Brooks Koepka. Rigsby added a weight-lifting program that increased her strength and transformed her body. She is only 5-foot-5, but she now hits her driver 270 yards.
That kind of distance off the tee would rank in the top 25 among players on the LPGA Tour.
"It's kind of scary when ... someone looks at you and goes, 'If you want to be better, you have to change everything you do,'" Rigsby said. "But golf would not be my focus had I not made that change. I wouldn't have any intentions of going pro."
But now, that's absolutely what Rigsby plans to do in a year.
In the short term, though, she wants to qualify for the Oklahoma Open, then make the cut. She believes both are possible; both the qualifier and the tournament will be at Oak Tree Country Club where she plays regularly. Earlier this week, she played the West Course, where the qualifier will be held, and from the back tees, she finished 3-under.
"And that makes it by a bunch," Felder of the OGA said. "I think she's going to qualify. Boy, I hope she qualifies because I think it would be really, really cool if she does.
"I'm her biggest fan, I think, right now."
Rigsby sees playing in the Oklahoma Open as a chance to build both her brand and her confidence before turning pro next summer. She knows the transition won't be easy. She'll likely need endorsements and sponsors to help pay the bills, and there will be times when belief will be in short supply.
Being able to think back on the time she made history could come in handy, even if this wasn't her plan.
"But," she said, "it's kind of working out for the better."
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 405-475-4125 or email@example.com. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK or follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok.
Amateur qualifier: Aug. 15, Oak Tree Country Club (West)
Main tournament: Aug. 22-24, Oak Tree Country Club (East)
All days of the tournament are open to the public and free of charge. For more information, see OKGolf.org.