Meet the Division II golfer, who won 12 times and put Tampa on the map. She also earned her LPGA card for 2023.

Oct, 2022

Kiira Riihijarvi was once concerned that her Division II digs might need some upgrades. She wanted a better place for her practice. Missey Jones, the University of Tampa’s head coach, fulfilled that request. Riihijarvi stayed five years and won 12 times. She also earned a master’s in entrepreneurship.

Jones said that she could play professionally and play Division II, pointing out the large number of NFL players who have made it from small schools.

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Riihijarvi (25 years old) proved Jones wrong quickly. The Epson Tour’s first season saw the Finnish player finish fourth on the money list, earning her LPGA card in 2023. In her three previous starts, she won once and was in the top five.

Riihijarvi said Golfweek that he enjoyed his time in Division II. “When I first started college, I wasn’t the best player. It allowed me to play, compete and improve my game. It’s an option that many people don’t consider.

World Golf Hall of Famer Hollis Stacy, and Peggy Kirk Bell are two examples of Division II players who made a name for themselves. Both were from Rollins College in Winter Park. Sandra Changkija, Nova Southeastern’s Division II player, and Florida Southern’s Jackie Stoelting are two other recent LPGA players.

Jones said, “The grass is greener where it’s watered.”

Two golf courses are located in Oulu, Finland. Riihijarvi, aged 9, started playing at a junior clinic at Virpiniemi. She said that golf has seen a boom in Finland since the COVID-19 pandemic. The golf season in northern Finland, where Riihijarvi resides, lasts approximately five months.

She wanted to play all year round golf so she enrolled at the Darlington School in Rome. Riihijarvi was accompanied by Paavo, Riihijarvi’s brother. Jones knew of a Swedish player who had attended Darlington. Jones learned about Riihijarvi from Jones’ friend, who was a Georgia high school golf coach, and asked him to provide a Scouting report.

Word was back: “Oh, she is going to be a football player.”

Riihijarvi was 78 years old at the time. She was learning English and went down to see what she saw.

Xiaowen Yin of China, Gabriella Then of USA and Yan Liu of China celebrate their LPGA cards at the card ceremony that followed the Epson Tour Championship at LPGA International’s Champions course on October 9, 2022 in Daytona Beach. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images).

Jones created the program at Tampa in 2010. In 2017, Riihijarvi became a Spartans player to be eligible for a bid to NCAA South Super Regional. She won. Riihijarvi promised to return with her team before she left regionals. She did so in 2019.

Riihijarvi was not happy about the prospect of her college career ending abruptly after the pandemic that cut Tampa’s 2020 season short. With the goal to lead her team to its first NCAA Championship appearance, she decided to return for a fifth year.

Riihijarvi was able to schedule additional practice sessions around her goals, as organized practices were only held three times per week. Her sophomore year brought her a new golf swing, which could produce different ball-flights. She was driven and focused, which carried over to the rest of her team. She won several national amateur titles back home.

Jones said that Jones has an inner quality that is different.

The Spartans won their first NCAA regional championship in spring 2021 under Riihijarvi, and earned a spot at the national championship. Riihijarvi was again named NCAA Division II National Player.

Riihijarvi said, “I think that I just kept getting better each year.” She has cut her average by nearly six strokes in four years. Riihijarvi will be working as an assistant coach at the Rollins Invitational.

Clockwise: Kiira, Emily Montagnino and Emilie Berge, Sophia Cadavid and Heather Kipness (courtesy photo).

Riihijarvi won’t be able to compete in the first LPGA event for 2023 until March. She is currently taking some time off from practice.

Jones speaks a lot about Riihijarvi’s 5-foot-11-inch walk. It is like Jones knows exactly where she is going. Confident, but not arrogant.

Jones stated that either people were going to believe in her work ethic or not. It didn’t affect Riihijarvi or her keen attention to detail.

Riihijarvi is a proven winner and heads to the LPGA as a prolific winner. Matilda Castren, a player who helped pave the way for her, is also an advantage. Castren was the first Finnish player to win the LPGA last year. Castren was also a key participant in Europe’s 2021 Solheim Cup win, where she went 3-1-0. Castren was supportive and has offered assistance.

Riihijarvi, who is a winner, said that “I do believe it’s an ability.” It’s something that you must learn.

Riihijarvi also received an advanced degree in Division II.

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