Kira Kazantsev was crowned Miss America in 2015, and her talent of singing while performing with a red plastic cup received a lot of attention. Turns out, she has another secret talent: golf. The former Miss New York sat down with Golf.com to discuss how she first started in the sport, why getting more women into golf is vital to the game's growth and her favorite PGA Tour stars.
How did you first start playing golf? When did you become interested in the sport?
My parents are from Russia, so my dad’s kind of a super serious, staunch guy. So he didn’t really know much what to do with his little girl. So we played golf. I played for the first time when I was about three years old on a vacation in Florida. I really got into it from age seven to twelve. I played really seriously in junior leagues in San Antonio, Texas, and when we moved to California. I didn’t pursue it as aggressively in high school or college. I definitely started out because of my dad. It was just a great way for us to have fun together on the golf course. We didn’t have to talk too much because you have to be quiet on the golf course, so it was perfect.
Have you played golf more often recently?
I played one year of high school golf, since then I really haven’t played that much. But I always still had the skill. I mean I wasn’t as good, but I still had it. When I won Miss America, the first question the security director asked me was: Can you play golf? He runs the security at the BMW Pro-Am in South Carolina. And I said, yes actually yeah I can play golf. And I guess he’s asked that question of every Miss America from the past 23 years and I was the first one that said yes. So I ended up playing in that Pro-Am and then playing a lot of golf tournaments. My love for the sport got reignited. I had lost an appreciation for how valuable the skill was. Now as a 23-year-old, 24-year-old, to see how people reacted to it, how much credibility it gives you, how many more events I can go to and actually play and not just be the pretty girl on the golf course, to really get down and dirty and play golf, has been really cool. Now I take golf lessons two or three times a week at Golf Tech in Santa Monica. I’m working really hard at it. I love it.
What was it like playing at the BMW Pro-Am?
A lot of people ask me, what’s harder: golf or pageants? Hands down, golf. Pageants are totally in my wheelhouse. I can do that. I can walk on stage in a swimsuit on national television in front of millions of people, no problem. But put me on a golf course with the cameraman from the Golf Channel in my face, and it’s a completely different level of terrifying. You get really, really nervous. People are just hoping that I’m not good at it. People just want to make fun of me. Just because I’m Miss America and whatever connotation that has. So I’m already playing against that. And being one of the only women on the golf course is super intimidating. But my partner was Kevin Tway, and he was awesome, he helped me line up all my putts. And gave me really great advice. After the first day I really got into my groove and got really comfortable and just had an amazing time.
Is it important to bring more girls and women into the sport and how can we persuade them to take up golf?
I’ve noticed in L.A. when I go to the golf course by myself to hit balls, inevitably there’s always some guy who tries to talk to me and who thinks that just because I’m there by myself he can come up and interrupt my session at the driving range. You see a group of guys after class or during lunch at work at the golf course. You don’t really see a group of girls doing that. It’s hard for me as a woman to find friends to go to the golf course with. I don’t know anybody else that’s a young twenty-something, who’s not on the LPGA tour, that just wants to play golf for fun. That can be really challenging. I think every young girl should learn to play golf. It’s so valuable. I don’t understand why it’s just this thing that guys do. I think it’s the most amazing networking skill, the best way to get into business meetings that happen to take place on the golf course. It’s so much fun. It’s great exercise. You’re outside, you’re enjoying the beauty of all these golf courses.
Do you have any favorite golfers on the LPGA Tour?
Lexi Thompson. I think she’s really cool. Living the life as this badass golfer and completely embracing the fact that she’s really successful there. And she’s also a woman and posts cute stuff on her Instagram. You could see a young girl looking at that, being like, wow I would love to look up to her and be like her. Individuals like that have a lot of power. Even though I am not an LPGA tour golfer, I can still post all my stuff and people can be like, oh wow, Miss America plays golf, maybe that’s something I could get into.
Any other favorite golfers on Tour right now? Who would you want to play with?
I really like that Rickie Fowler. He’s great. But I also really like Annika Sorenstam, I know she’s not on the Tour right now, but I would love to play a round of golf with her as well. Because of her experience and the things she has overcome and the things she has done as a strong female golfer. I feel like there’s been a paradigm shift from an old man sport that my grandpa plays to...now, golf is cool. These guys are getting sponsored by huge companies, people are getting together to watch the Masters or the Open. It’s like the Super Bowl.
Do you have any opinions on Rickie Fowler’s fashion choices?
He can wear whatever he wants. I think sometimes golfers get stuck. If your pants aren’t exactly three quarters of an inch above the knee or whatever it is, especially for women, it can be really intimidating if you’re worried about the dress codes at certain golf clubs. It kind of cuts down on your individuality. You should respect the sport and respect the places you’re playing and dress appropriately, but I have no problem with just having fun with it and making it a little cooler and easier to digest for the general public.
Do you have a favorite golf course? What courses are on your bucket list?
My bucket list golf course is definitely Pebble Beach. I’ve never played there, so I’m trying to make that happen ASAP. I recently did a three-day golf intensive at Kapalua Bay in Maui, and that Bay course there and the Plantation course as well are just so breathtakingly beautiful. I also really love the Thornblade club in Greenville South Carolina, that’s one of the home courses for the BMW Pro-Am. I also like the Reserve at Lake Keowee, that course is insane. It’s just basically crazy rolling green hills and this beautiful lake. We didn’t really get golf carts that day, we had to walk a lot, but it was worth it because it was so beautiful. Those are my top favorites right now.
What do you like about playing golf?
It’s something that really challenges me as a person. I will always be perfecting it for the rest of my golf playing career. It never ends. And I’m the type of person who needs that type of challenge in my life, something to push myself. I just think it’s a magical game, and the doors it has opened it for me are insane. The rooms I’ve gotten in, the people I’ve gotten to talk to because I can play the sport of golf, is pretty great. I hope that more and more people, especially young women, will get into the sport. Because if it can do half as much for anyone else as it’s done for me, then that’s a life changed. I’m really thankful for it.