By Rory Sharrock
For Mariah Stackhouse, 14, of Riverdale, winning is contagious and she hopes the symptoms continue to spread throughout her body.
While it's still very early in the golf season, she's been perfect this year with victories at the Callaway Junior Classic in Pine Mountain and Bartram Trail Junior Classic in Augusta.
Now, this Southern Crescent golf prodigy, and 2007 Georgia Girls' Player of the Year, has her eyes set on defending her crown at the 11th-Annual Georgia Women's Match Play Championship, which tees off today and runs through Friday at Sunset Hills Country Club in Carrollton.
"I look at it as going out and playing like I did last year," said Stackhouse. "Match play is always challenging. It offers a lot of opportunities. I'm just going to stay focused, play my best and try to perform the way I've been practicing."
The Georgia Women's Match Play Championship features a field of 64 players divided into six flights by handicap index. There will be 16 competitors in the Championship flight and eight in each remaining flight.
All first-round matches take place today. Quarterfinal and semifinal matches in the Championship flight, as well as semifinal action in the other flights are scheduled for Thursday, April 17. The finals and consolation match convene on Friday, April 18.
Stackhouse plays as a No. 3 seed in the Championship flight and will compete against No. 14 seed Claudeen Lindberg of Atlanta at 9:52 a.m.
During last year's competition, Stackhouse overcame a three-hole deficit after 11 to edge Erin Packer of Tyrone 1 up. This win made her the youngest champion in the 10-year history of the event.
"I just dug deep down inside of me. I had my dad (Ken) there to get me motivated. I made a few birdies and got back even with Erin (Packer). I fought and I played well enough to come back," she said. "This is a pretty big tournament in Georgia, so, it's a good feeling."
Along with Stackhouse, the Southern Crescent will be represented by Eleanor Kirkland of Stockbridge. Kirkland is a No. 4 seed in the second flight and tees off versus No. 5 seed Dorothy Beckler of Mableton at 8:08 a.m.
Sunset Hills Country Club, which was designed by golf legend and Georgia native Robert Trent Jones, opened in 1948.
The club has played host to the Georgia Women's Play Match Championship every year since its inception in 1998.
For all players competing in the Championship flight, the course is set for par 72 and will play at 5, 976 yards.
All other flights are par 72 and stretch to 5, 291 yards.
Entries were open to female amateur golfers who are members of a Georgia State Golf Association affiliated club with proof of state residency.