In addition to the prize money and trophy for winning the 39th National Car Rental PGA Assistant Championship at PGA Golf Club in Port St. Lucie, Fla., this weekend, the victor also gets one additional perk: an automatic invitation to the 2016 PGA Professional Championship.
PGA Professional Karen Paolozzi of Druid Hills Golf Club in Atlanta doesn't need to worry about that. She stamped her ticket to Turning Stone Resort in Verona, N.Y., next June by winning this year's Georgia PGA Championship. In doing so, Paolozzi became the first woman ever to win the Georgia PGA, and only the second -- joining Suzy Whaley in 2002 -- to win a PGA Section title.
2015 PGA ASSISTANT CHAMPIONSHIP: Complete coverage
After a scorching 6-under 66 on the first day at Dunwoody Country Club, Paolozzi led by two strokes.
"I knew the weather was going to be an issue that week, so I wanted to play well that first day," Paolozzi said. "I think I birdied five holes on the back. I just got on a hot streak, had a couple of chip-ins and make a couple of putts."
Playing with the lead hasn't necessarily been Paolozzi's strong suit, so when she found herself in that position, she needed to regroup mentally and revisit the strategy that had worked so well up to that point. That she did, carding a 72 in the second round for a two-round total of 138, two strokes better than runner-up Mark Anderson of Brunswick.
"I prefer to be the one chasing the leader, so being the leader and being chased, I was just happy to hold on and play well all the way to the finish," Paolozzi said. "That was a big thing mentally for me.
"You can’t get too wrapped up in what others are doing. You have to stay within your game plan and try to hit the best shots you can, and give yourself as many birdie chances as you can without being too aggressive. It’s a mixture — you don’t want to lay back too much but be too aggressive, either. You want to stick to your game plan and keep yourself in play."
So now Paolozzi heads for the Wanamaker Course at PGA Golf Club, a place she knows well. In her first visit to the PGA Assistant Championship in 2010, Paolozzi finished in a tie for 10th. She'd like an even better result this time around.
"I’ve played the Wanamaker several times, dating even all the way back to college at Indiana, when we would come down for some of our Spring Break trips," she said. "It’s a good course. It’s not an easy course. You need to know where to place the ball.
"I know it pretty well, so that’s a huge advantage. The biggest thing is to look out for the wind. When you get down here in south Florida in the wintertime, you have to see how windy it’s going to be. That’s when the course becomes a real challenge, when the wind picks up."
Paolozzi played several sports growing up, but her golf game improved tremendously a few years after she began taking lessons. And Paolozzi impressed enough during her high school career to earn a scholarship to Indiana University.
Playing golf against men? Paolozzi said she's used to it. And that won't affect her this week. If anything, it may give her a little motivation to play better. Plus, she's paired with 2014 PGA Assistant Champion Grant Sturgeon for the first two rounds.
"Even going back to my junior high days when I was the only girl on the boys golf team," she said. "Being in sports my whole life, I’m used to hanging out with guys. But it doesn’t bother me one bit, being the only girl.
"I know I stick out like a sore thumb, but all the guys know who I am and that I’m a threat. Most of them treat me great, with respect and I don’t get any different treatment when I’m playing at these events."
Paolozzi had a chance this summer to play against the best women golfers in the game when she made the field at the KPMG Women's PGA Championship, and that was a real experience.
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"I played in one LPGA tournament back when I was in college," Paolozzi said. "And I played a couple of seasons on the Futures Tour. So it had been a while since I had been on a stage like that, with grandstands and all the fans. It was really neat. I enjoyed the entire week. I look forward to playing again next year."
With a return trip to the KPMG, coupled with the PGA Professional Championship, June 2015 promises to be a busy month.
"We have our member-guest tournament at Druid Hills," Paolozzi said. "Then I'll head straight to the KPMG, come back for a week, then out to the PNC. It’s a big month."
One goal down. Two to go. That's what's motivating Karen Paolozzi this week in Florida.
"We’ll just have to see what the week brings," Paolozzi said. "But my No. 1 goal is to make the cut and No. 2, to finish in the top 10."
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