Last year’s FireKeepers Casino Hotel Championship winner, Fernanda Lira suits up this week to defend her title. Lira comes into Battle Creek, Michigan with experience, returning to a golf course she’s played well before, which affects her mindset more than the win.
“I made the mistake earlier this year of playing good on a course and assuming it’d be the same this year,” said Lira. “It didn’t happen. But it’s still really nice to come back and remember the good shots. I’m going to try and play as free as I did last year and just take it one hole at a time.”
Her win last year included the tournament’s low 18-hole record, 10-under 62. Lira’s tournament total of 19-under par also holds the low 54-hole record. However, the win did not come easy.
“I played my first 18 and was playing very defensive,” said Lira. “My caddy, who’s also my fiancé, asked why I was being defensive and said I needed to play more aggressive.”
After a delay to the first round, she finished the rest of her 18 in the dark. The following morning, the group was thrown another curve ball when competitor, Nannette Hill had to withdraw due to injury. Lira felt bad for Hill but used the injury to find positivity on the day.
“I thought I don’t have anything that’s stopping me, so why am I playing so defensive,” said Lira. “It was kind of like a wave of being grateful that I had the opportunity to even compete. It allowed me to free up, play more aggressive and go for pins.”
After two weeks off, Lira is ready to try and defend her title this week. She spent her time working with her coach, pinpointing what parts of her swing needed improvement. The sessions also included her fiancé, who doubles as her caddy.
“It’s really nice because he understands every trend,” said Lira. “When I go see my coach, he’s also there so he understands my swing. It really helps to have another set of eyes.”
Lira’s fiancé doesn’t just understand her swing, but also her mentality on the course. Sometimes, he knows her better than she knows herself, which leads to tough love.
“I feel like because he knows me so well, he’ll tell me what I was thinking,” laughed Lira. “My instant reaction is ‘No I wasn’t,’ but I know I was. I’ve gotten a little bit better about it.”
Although Lira doesn’t want to assume her results will turn out like they did last year, she feels comfortable playing on this course, putting her mind at ease on the practice round days.
“Coming back to a course we’ve played already is really good,” said Lira. “I feel like this course really suits me, so that’s also nice. I don’t really have to change a lot for it.”
Along with the course, Lira enjoys returning to the FireKeepers Casino Hotel Championship. She says that everyone and everything about this event makes it special.
“It has a lot of the little things that the players really enjoy,” said Lira. “You can tell there’s a lot of work and time put into this event, so we really enjoy it.”