Friday, April 1, 2011

Opening Day

“Golf provides us with many special opportunities,” quipped Joe Steranka, the Chief Executive Officer of the PGA of America, as we walked through the bowels of Busch Stadium in St. Louis on Thursday prior to Opening Day for the Cardinals.

A few minutes later, our PGA delegation found itself standing on the field behind the batting cage. Albert Pujols stood a few feet away. The sun glistened down on the newly mown grass and the downtown skyline featuring the famed Arch was magnificent. Mike Shannon, Cardinals’ great and long time announcer stopped by to chat about golf.

Several hours before, we had met civic leaders at the famed Bellerive Country Club- host of both the PGA Championship and United States Open. Among those we talked with was Ozzie Smith, Baseball Hall of Fame member and legendary Cardinal’s shortstop. Smith is now a champion for the Gateway PGA Golf Foundation.

Yes, golf has certainly provided me with great opportunities and experiences that I otherwise would not have had. I view this essay as my inaugural literary tee shot of the 2011 season! Next week I head south to Augusta National for my third stint as a rules official at The Masters.

I will love sharing those experiences with you. A few weeks ago I played Augusta National. The course was in the best shape that I have seen it in my times there. Based on the winter weather in the South, the flowering trees and plants should be spectacular at The Masters. There will be a rules committee meeting on Wednesday morning. That is when I find out what my assignments will be.

There is never a bad day at Augusta National. When I finish my tenure as a PGA Officer in 2016 I will have spent approximately 90 days either being a spectator, playing the course or serving as a rules official. Think about that. I will have spent almost three months of my life at Augusta National Golf Club- you never take that for granted.

This golf season promises to be compelling and exciting. We are in an era where new stars are emerging every week. The Tiger Woods story line, changes but never goes away.  Woods will get it sorted out and it will be sooner than later. Even though odds makers have him listed as the favorite at 7 to 1 to win The Masters, I don’t see Woods winning next week.

After three-putting six times at Augusta National on March 11, I have a renewed appreciation for what it takes to win. Avoiding three putts in The Masters will mean putting the ball in the proper place on the green with great iron play. I wouldn’t call Augusta National a tight driving course, which allows players like Woods and Phil Mickelson to always be in the hunt for a green jacket.

That being said, Woods and Mickelson have been replaced at the top of the World Golf Rankings by players such as Martin Kaymer, Lee Westwood, Luke Donald and Graeme McDowell. This is the first time since the early 1990’s that no American player has been among the top four ranked players in the world. My picks next week will be Kaymer and Matt Kuchar, a Georgia Tech grad, who is positioned to grab a major championship sometime soon.

You can expect my Masters reports on Thursday, Friday and Saturday next week. I hope to pass on the flavor and intimacy of everything about this magical place. Those of us in the golf business feel that The Masters is the official beginning of the northern golf season. I look forward to bringing Amen Corner to the doorstep of your mind.

As far as the rest of 2011 golf season goes, we will just have to wait and see what happens. It’s like holing that fairway shot for an unexpected eagle. In golf, you just never know when a great moment is going to happen!

Two years of Ryder Cup build up allowed me to get to know Corey Pavin like a brother. Being up close with the American team last year was incredible. I forged friendships with Matt Kuchar, Steve Stricker and Jim Furyk. I became an admirer of Rickie Fowler who is one of the brightest and most humble stars that golf has to offer. The Ryder Cup experience gave me a better understanding of Tiger Woods and the real person that he is. Like all of us, he made mistakes and we owe him the chance to rectify the error of his ways.

An unexpected round at The Old Course on the day after the British Open will always be one of my greatest memories. I made three birdies that day, including two straight on #9 and #10 after driving the green on the opening hole of the back nine. Knowing that I was walking in the foot steps of Old Tom Morris at Saint Andrews was almost too much to bear. Downing a pint in the Royal and Ancient clubhouse a few feet from Young Tom Morris’ champions’ belt and the original Claret Jug was priceless.

Winning the pro-am at The PGA Grand Slam of Golf in Bermuda last October was unexpected. Our team set the pro-am scoring record with a score of 16 under par. Ian Baker-Finch, former British Open champ, was one of my teammates. His outstanding play was only surpassed by his gentlemanly demeanor.

Graeme McDowell, U.S. Open champion joined us for six holes and he might have had the greatest line of 2011. “Being in the final group at the Ryder Cup with everything depending on that match made the final day at the U.S. Open feel like a Sunday afternoon round with my dad,” laughed McDowell.

And that folks- says it all. This promises to be a great golf season and no matter what transpires I am excited to take you on the journey with me!       
A day at Augusta National! 
From left to right Derek Sprague, PGA Secretary, Gene Howerdd, Augusta National Member,
Ted Bishop, PGA Vice President, Allen Wronowski, PGA President


  1. Nicely done, Ms. Ashely!
    Thanks for sending us the link!

  2. Winning the pro-am at The PGA Grand Slam of Golf in Bermuda last October was unexpected. Our team set the pro-am scoring record with a score of 16 under par. Ian Baker-Finch, former British Open champ, was one of my teammates. His outstanding play was only surpassed by his gentlemanly demeanor.