It was, perhaps, a daunting third shot off a barren lie in the vacant stretch of land adjacent to the left side of the 18th hole at Royal Canberra for Katherine Hull on Sunday in the final round of the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open. The high carry over trees of 60 metres and she hit her sand wedge with perfection to just outside a metre.
The resultant birdie gave her a four under par 69 for a 72-hole tally of 11 and tied eighth, seven shots behind the champion Jiyai Shin, but she was the leading Australian against the formidable international challenge.
Her smile was broad as she walked to the scorer’s hut but not as beaming as it has been in recent months following her wedding to American financial advisor Tom Kirk last August. Her friends say she hasn’t been on Cloud Nine since then but rather Cloud Ten.
She smiles when I tell her that and says: “That’s pretty right.” Yes, she has never been happier in her entire life. Her media commitments and scores of autographs done on Sunday, she was on the phone to her husband. They talk three times a day when they are apart and as we talk she produces the wedding photograph.
This writer is not a contributor to women’s magazines, but they looked so very much in love.
Yes, their story is the stuff of a women’s magazine, or even a Barbara Cartland romantic novel. There’s the meeting of Tom, who was married at the time, the friendship that began between them as just good friends with nothing more than friendship involved, a period of then going their separate ways for six months and then the reunion and then the very private wedding attended by family only plus the celebrant and his wife. – just eight others.
But, before we go back to the beginning, let’s just go back a couple of years to earlier 2011. Hull was home playing our tournaments and she wasn’t her normal effervescent self. It was though the life had been sucked out of her. As a friend, I asked if all was well and she replied: “It’s just a relationship problem.”
That’s where we left it. Her personal life is clearly hers unless she wants to make it public.
She came back home a couple of weeks ago as Katherine Hull-Kirk accompanied by Tom. He caddied for her in the Ladies Masters but is now home in the States where Katherine is Mrs Kirk off course but Hull-Kirk on it.
She tells us of those tormented times in 2011 - “My now husband was only separated when we started seeing each other (romantically) but that conflicted with my religious beliefs, so I was very torn over that and that conflict followed me wherever I was – on the golf course off the course. It was eating away at me,” she said.
They ended up deciding not to talk with each other for what became a six month period – “I said to Tom, ‘You’ve got to get your life together and I’m not going to talk with you until you’re single or you figure the situation out.’ He had actually filed for divorce, but it was taking longer.”
She told Kirk the only time he could call her was when it was done. The day he got the divorce papers he called.
Kirk lived in Wichita, Kansas and they first met when Hull played the US Amateur Championship there in 2011. Kirk was a member of the host club, Flint Hills National, and he caddied for her. She became friends with the Kirk family and they offered her their home as a base through the years as she began her professional career, probably eight to 10 weeks every year.
“Absolutely, there was no other relationship between us through those years,” she says.
Hull bought her own house in Wichita in 2009 simply because she loved the area. They’d often play golf, but that was that.
“In 2010 Tom was going through problems with his marriage and our friendship grew. Still nothing serious but it was getting that way,” she said. Then came the no speaking period until late in 2011. He came down here in January last year and we were actually looking at wedding rings,” she said with her infectious laugh.
“We’d been friends for so long that it wasn’t any surprise when we started dating. There was always that chemistry there.”
It should be said right now Tom Kirk is 53 and Hull turns 31 on February 26. Mrs Kirk says: “It’s funny, when I was young my mother always said I was going to marry someone who was older. And, when he left last year to go back to the States my mum said, ‘You’d be stupid not to marry him.’”
They became engaged on April 7 last year in Wichita on August 4. They went back to Kirk’s home for the quiet reception - “I have never been a princess of a wedding person to make a big deal about anything personal, nor spending a lot of money on a reception,” she said.
Hull was stunned when they came back to the house for the reception. Tom sprinkled a carpet of red and white rose petals from the steps of the house leading into the backyard and that was the aisle that Hull’s father Frank led his daughter down to be married by the Baptist minister.
“It was absolutely beautiful. He surprised me on that. He is such a romantic so I’m very fortunate. Can’t you see how happy I am by my smile. I married my best friend so I couldn’t be happier.”
So, Mrs Kirk is looking forward to a grand year on the golf course as Hull-Kirk. Her husband is such a positive man that she feels the vibes. She’s matured a lot through the years and now realises golf is just a game and, right now, she’s in the best place she’s ever been in her entire life.
“And, it will only get better, too,” Mrs Kirk, or Hull-Kirk said.