Listening intently as the guest of honour spoke, 19-year-old Maddie Szeryk was amazed by what she was hearing. The travel, the pressure, the fun — it was everything good, bad and ugly of professional golf. But what made the dialogue so fascinating was from whom it was being delivered: Alena Sharp.
Coming off a career season in 2015, the 10-year LPGA Tour veteran Sharp was visiting a national team training camp in Phoenix to chat with Canada’s next wave of golf talent. And Szeryk was all ears.
“We talked a lot about life on tour; finding a good caddie; she recommended a couple books for us to read; and just the whole mental part because she said it’s totally different from college to playing professional,” explained Szeryk. “You have to stay positive. You have to play well to make money.”
Szeryk has had no trouble playing well lately. She’s entering her second season as a member of Team Canada’s national squad, beginning the year inside the top 40 on the World Amateur Golf Ranking. Taking home the 2015 Investors Group Ontario Women’s Amateur — held at St. Thomas Golf & Country Club, a 20-minute drive for a large contingent of relatives in nearby London, Ont. — provided a big boost, not just for her ranking but for her confidence as well.
“It was really kind of a hometown thing so I had some family come out. I didn’t play very well in the first round and then kind of got up closer and, I think I shot three or four under the last day and won, so kind of came from behind.”
The 73-70-70-68 she posted for the victory delighted the four generations of family out on the golf course, which included aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents and her 101-year- old great-grandfather.
While she considers London her Canadian home, Szeryk is a dual-citizen hailing from Allen, Texas. Her Canadian parents moved to the Lone Star State before planting their roots and starting a family. That hasn’t swayed her national pride though.
“I definitely love representing Canada more because that’s where my family is from,” said Szeryk, who proudly carries a Canadian passport.
Tristan Mullally, Team Canada’s national women’s coach, sees promise instead of nationality when observing Szeryk.
“Maddie is a soft spoken and polite young lady but on the course you can see her grittiness and determination to compete at her best,” he said. “Rarely does she give anything but 100 per cent when it comes to preparing and playing. She comes from a great family who push her to work hard but love her regardless of results.”
Along with her Ontario Amateur crown and a quarter-finals appearance at the Ladies British Open Amateur, Szeryk did most of her damage last season on the NCAA circuit representing Texas A&M University.
The Sports Management major burst onto the scene in her first year setting multiple school records and recording nine top-10 finishes for the Aggies. Arguably the team’s most consistent player, the teenager was named Women’s Golf Coaches Association Second Team All-American, All-SEC and the SEC Freshman of the Year. Winning the conference’s team championship — in which she was runner-up for medalist honours — superseded all the individual accolades.
“It was pretty awesome,” she reminisced. “We were kind of the underdogs going in but we all just played so well and we played great team golf. We’re all really close and we’re best friends and always cheer each other on but it was unreal to win. Especially me being a freshman, I was like ‘Oh my god, we won!’”
Working with Mullally, Szeryk has been able to grow into a more well-rounded player. She’s always considered herself to be a strong ball-striker with her weakness lying on the greens.
“I struggle with speed because normally I’m a pretty aggressive putter. So I’ll have like 10 feet and then maybe leaving four feet (coming back) and just learning from Tristan that if you’re hitting it that firm the chances of you making it goes down.”
“Maddie can get very aggressive,” added Mullally. “We have worked to temper this a little and have the correct speed regardless of how important the putt is. But she is very strong off the tee and gives herself a ton of chances from mid-range. She is lethal from 90 yards.”
If she continues down her current path, there’s no doubt Szeryk will be challenging for LPGA Tour status in a few years. Annika Sorenstam inspired her as a kid due to the Swede’s spectacular play on the course and class off it. Nowadays the young Canadian tries to model her game after another top-ranked superstar.
“I look up to Stacy Lewis a lot. Just because she’s also from Texas and I’ve gotten to talk with her, I met her once and she had surgery on her back and I have back problems so it’s good to see that if she can do it, I can do it.”
Diagnosed with a herniated disc last September, the diminutive right-hander showed no signs of struggle most of the year. Solid runs at the Porter Cup, PGA Women’s Championship of Canada, Canadian Women’s Amateur and a first career LPGA Tour start at the CP Women’s Open made her the easy selection as the nation’s Top Female Amateur in 2015.
Szeryk is currently finishing up her second year at Texas A&M — in which she notched her first NCAA victory this February — before she returns to Team Canada in the summer and resumes her quest to join the Brooke Hendersons and Alena Sharps of the world on golf’s biggest stage.
The reality check from Sharp in that early January encounter hasn’t dissuaded Szeryk from continuing to pursue her dream. If anything, it’s only better prepared her for when it eventually becomes a reality.
This article was originally published in the April 2016 edition of Golf Canada Magazine. To view the full magazine, click the image to the left.