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Hurricane Headliners: Sara Byrne

Hurricane Headliners: Sara Byrne

by Christy Cabrera Chirinos

In Hurricane Headliners, Christy Cabrera Chirinos spotlights some of Miami’s top performing student-athletes as they look to continue excelling in and out of competition.

CORAL GABLES, Fla. – Sara Byrne can laugh about it now – and actually does, often.

But on that bright, sunny day last October when she stepped up to take her first swing at the Hurricane Invitational, there wasn’t much thought of laughter or anything else.

Instead, Byrne was consumed by exhaustion.

A day after taking a 15-hour flight from Abu Dhabi, where she’d just represented her native Ireland in the World Amateur Team Championship, Byrne was back on Miami’s home course at the Biltmore Golf Course battling warm conditions, fatigue, and jet lag.

She knew all that stood between her and another chance to try and get a good night’s rest were 36 holes, 36 holes she wanted to play to the best of her ability in an effort to help set the tone for the Hurricanes.

Turns out, Byrne would do more than just play well.

She’d make Miami golf history.

As tired as she was, the fourth-year junior shot a school-record 63 during her second round of the Miami Invitational in a performance that included eight birdies and an eagle on hole 18.

Her combined 36-hole score of 129 on the day tied another Miami record and helped set the tone for the Hurricanes who, as a team, would set a school record of their own with a combined 36-hole score of 20-under 556.

A day later, Byrne and the Hurricanes celebrated a pair of titles, both individually and as a team.

All of it left the golfer somewhat amused.

“I think I was so exhausted that I wasn’t able to think. I just got on the course, I saw the ball, and I hit it,” Byrne recalled of her record-breaking day. “Then I went to the next shot and hit it. I went into autopilot. … In the end, I think that really helped me. I couldn’t overthink anything.

“It’s kind of comical how it all worked out.”

Now, as the Hurricanes prepare to kick off their spring season on Saturday at the UCF Challenge, Byrne is determined to not only build on the success she had last year, but make sure the Hurricanes move forward right along with her.

Byrne’s performance in the Hurricane Invitational was just one of several 2023 highlights for the golfer who earned a spot at the NCAA Golf Championships after finishing third at the Palm Beach Regional, posted five top-20 finishes while competing for Miami, won the AIG Irish Women’s Close and, in December, was named the Irish Women’s Amateur of the Year for the second time in her career.

She credits a newfound, more relaxed approach – and working with Miami head coach Janice Olivencia and former Hurricanes assistant coach Marcelo Huarte, who is now the head coach at South Alabama – with helping her dramatically better her game.

“I was at a point where I was stuck in my golf game. I just couldn’t seem to improve and get to the next level, so when they came, I just said to them, ‘I am open to change whatever I need to change. Push me to my limits, tell me when I’m wrong. Call me out on stuff,’” Byrne said. “I was very open to that, to learning from them. I was just open to whatever they had to say. I put my trust in them, and it really paid off. … Coach Janice pushes me every day and that’s exactly what I asked her to do. It’s improved me so much. It helped me mature as a person, mature as a golfer and you can see the improvement it has made in my game.”

Said Olivencia, “I think one of the reasons Sara had that phenomenal year she had last year was because she wanted to succeed. She wanted to get better, and she knew there were changes that needed to be made. This is her dream. Her dream is to be the best collegiate golfer and also, be the best golfer in the world. Her demeanor, her willingness to change, her willingness to put in the hours that are necessary, to do the little things and the hard things no one is willing to do, just took over. She understood there had to be discipline, there had to be a routine and a way for her to really succeed.”

"Coach Janice pushes me every day . . . It’s improved me so much."

Hurricanes golfer Sara Byrne

For Byrne, the journey to this moment began during her childhood in Ireland.

It was there that she learned the game thanks in large part to her father, Derek, who’d often take her to the driving range or would have her tag along when he played in amateur tournaments. Eventually, Byrne began caddying for her father and after seeing him win a local tournament wondered what it would be like to fully dive into golf herself.

“I loved the competitiveness of it all and it got me really into the mindset of this is what I want to do, especially from an early age,” Byrne said. “I think from then on, I had this goal in my head that I wanted to be a professional golfer and every day, I kept reminding myself of what I wanted to get out of the game and what I wanted to do.”

As she worked her way through junior events and eventually began representing Ireland at tournaments throughout Europe, Byrne began considering the prospect of one day playing collegiately in the United States – especially after seeing the success Irish golfers Leona Maguire and Olivia Mehaffey had while playing at Duke and Arizona State, respectively.

She came to Miami on a recruiting visit in 2018 and realized she belonged in Coral Gables.

“People always said to me, ‘You’ll know it’s the right place for you. You’ll get a feeling,’ and as soon as I came on campus, I knew this was definitely the place for me,” Byrne said. “We had a house in Orlando for like 10, 11 years throughout my childhood, so Florida felt a little bit like home for sure. That helped a lot. I’d been playing golf in Florida for a long time, just on vacation. So, coming to Miami was supposed to be.”

She enrolled at Miami during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, got her career started and began working toward an accounting degree.

Now, she’s set to graduate in May and is hoping to continue making a difference for the Hurricanes on the course and beyond.

“Honestly, it has exceeded any expectation. I think this has been the best part of my life. I’ve met the most amazing people. I’ll have friends for life and family for life after this experience,” Byrne said. “And thinking back to the person I was before I came here, it’s [like I’m] a different person. This place, this athletic department, the whole University have helped me grow as a person and mature and learn who I want to be and who I want to grow up to be.”

Super Bowl Bound

Hurricanes fans will have reason to celebrate during next week’s Super Bowl, whether or not they’re fans of the Kansas City Chiefs or the San Francisco 49ers.

No matter what happens in the game, at least one former Hurricane standout will bring home a championship, with former Miami teammates Deon Bush, a safety for the Chiefs, facing off against Jon Feliciano, an offensive lineman for the 49ers.

Bush, who played in last year’s Super Bowl with the Chiefs, will be bidding for his second title and had a key, late-game interception in Kansas City’s 17-10 win over the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Championship.

Feliciano, meanwhile, has been a key contributor for the 49ers, who rallied from a 17-point deficit to beat the Detroit Lions and earn their eighth trip to the Super Bowl.

Off to an Impressive Start

Hurricanes jumper Russell Robinson, who had an All-American season last year, has started the indoor track and field season on a good note.

At last week’s Corky Classic in Texas, Robinson posted a mark of 16.59m in the triple jump, a number that leads the ACC and ranks second in the nation. That helped him earn recognition as the ACC Men’s Field Performer of the Week for a second consecutive week.

What to Watch

Along with Miami’s golf team, plenty of Hurricanes will be competing this weekend, both on campus and beyond.

Miami’s women’s basketball team – which picked up a 72-54 win over Wake Forest on Thursday in a key ACC matchup – travels to Tallahassee for a rivalry game against Florida State on Sunday. The men’s basketball team, meanwhile, will host Virginia Tech on Saturday at the Watsco Center.

Also in action are Miami’s men’s and women’s tennis teams, who will both compete at the Neil Schiff Tennis Center. The Hurricanes women will host Texas A&M on Friday and UCF on Sunday, while the Hurricanes men will face USF on Sunday.