2019 PGA Professional Championship featured the largest number of women qualifiers
By Roger Graves
The largest contingent of women in history has qualified to compete in the 2019 PGA Professional Championship presented by Cadillac, Club Car and OMEGA at Belfair in Bluffton, South Carolina.
The foursome of Sherry Andonian of Centennial, Colorado; Alexandra Braga of Denver, Colorado; Joanna Coe of Baltimore, Maryland; and Ashley Grier of Springfield, Pennsylvania, will make history April 28-May 1 when they tee it up alongside 308 fellow competitors in the 52nd edition of the PGA Professional Championship.
The 56-year-young Andonian, a PGA Teaching Professional who splits her time between Valley Country Club in Aurora, Colorado, in the summer and Mountain View Country Club in La Quinta, California, will make a double dose of history by becoming the first woman to compete in the Senior PGA Professional Championship and the PGA Professional Championship. She tied for second in the 2018 Colorado PGA Professional Championship and finished tied for 29th in the 2018 Senior PGA Professional Championship as an alternate after Steve Cox of Hodgenville, Kentucky, withdrew.
Not Men vs. Women Competition
Andonian says she doesn’t look at her participation in the 2019 PGA Professional Championship as a men vs. women competition, but simply as an opportunity to excel on the highly challenging Belfair East and West Courses.
“Everyone in the field, whether man or woman, has played well to earn their way into the Championship. For me, I’ll just be trying to play the best I can and see where that takes me,” explains Andonian.
She was crowned the Colorado PGA Section’s first Women’s Player of the Year in 2018 while competing in the U.S. Senior Women’s Open (missed cut), and the Senior LPGA Championship (tied for 37th).
“As PGA Professionals, we all aspire to play in the national Championship,” says Andonian, who was inspired to teach golf by 2003 PGA Teacher of the Year Laird Small, for whom she worked as an Assistant Professional at Spyglass Hill in Pebble Beach, California. “Now that we have qualified to do so, it’s just a matter of competing on a couple of great golf courses. It’s an experience I’m looking forward to.”
While Coloradans Andonian and Braga, who is the PGA Assistant Professional at Denver Country Club, will be making their debuts in the PGA Professional Championship, Coe and Grier are already accustomed to the pressure of competing nationally. Coe, a PGA Assistant Professional at Baltimore Country Club, is the reigning PGA Women’s Stroke Play Champion, using a second-round 64 on PGA Golf Club’s par-72 Ryder Course in February to win the event. The 29-year-old earned a spot in the 2019 KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, one of the LPGA’s five majors, at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Minnesota, June 18–23, with the triumph. It will be the second straight year she has qualified for the major.
“You don’t really think about it when you’re out there grinding, but playing well the past 18 months has opened a lot of doors,” says Coe. She’s a three-time Middle Atlantic OMEGA Women’s Player of the Year (2016-18), who is also expected to play in the ShopRite LPGA Classic at New Jersey’s Seaview Hotel and Golf Club, June 6-9.
“It’s always challenging to play against the best, whether it’s on the LPGA Tour or in the PGA Professional Championship,” adds Coe, a four-time All-American who was inducted into the Winter Park, Florida-based Rollins College Hall of Fame earlier this year, after winning the 2008 NCAA Division II individual championship. “Every round I play and every championship I compete in is a different experience. “It’s just like the PGA Women’s Stroke Play Championship. I shoot 64 the second day and then shoot 74 – 10 shots higher – the next day. But it was just good enough to win.”
Making History in Philadelphia
Grier, the daughter of longtime PGA Professional Dave Grier, made history and qualified for the 2016 PGA Professional Championship by becoming the first woman in the 95-year history of the Philadelphia PGA Section to win a full-fledged points event, the Callaway Golf TPD Championship at Trump National Golf Club – Philadelphia.
Grier missed the 36-hole cut in her PGA Professional Championship debut in 2016, when Karen Paolozzi recorded the highest overall finish by a woman in the PGA Professional Championship (seventh-place tie) at Turning Stone Resort Casino in Verona, New York. As might be expected, Grier hasn’t always felt comfortable competing against men in PGA of America events. But her recent success in the Philadelphia PGA Section has made her feel right at home.
“It’s sometimes different being the only girl playing,” says Grier, a PGA Assistant Professional at Overbrook Golf Club in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, who played for five years on the LPGA Futures Tour (now the Symetra Tour). “In my old Section, the Middle Atlantic, a lot of the older guys knew my dad and a lot of the younger guys my age knew me, so I think I was friends with everybody. When I first moved here (to the Philadelphia area) last year, it was different.
“But the guys have all been super nice to me. I’m friends with a lot of the assistants,” says Grier. “After I won (in 2016), I got a lot of emails and phone calls saying ‘Great playing and congratulations.’ It was pretty cool to have their respect. They were all very supportive.”
Showing no nervousness in playing against her male counterparts in the Philadelphia PGA Section, Grier birdied the first hole of sudden death to earn a spot in the 2019 PGA Professional Championship at Belfair and has already secured an invitation to the 2019 KPMG Women’s PGA Championship at Hazeltine.