The Road of 8 PGA and LPGA Teaching & Club Professionals to the 2021 KPMG Women’s PGA Championship
By Bob Denney, PGA Historian Emeritus
(From left to right: Stephanie Connelly-Eisworth, Joanna Coe, Ashley Grier, Sandra Changkija, Allie Knight, Moira Dunn-Bohls, Alisa Rodriguez and Samantha Morrell) (Photo by Rachel Harris/PGA of America)
For eight PGA and LPGA Teaching and Club Professionals competing in this week’s KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, there’s a unique path they’ve each carved to join a 156-member field at Atlanta Athletic Club.
Whether making their major debut like PGA Teaching Professional Allie Knight of Knoxville, Tennessee, or a veteran like LPGA Teaching Professional Moira Dunn-Bohls of Tulsa, Oklahoma, who’s making her 56th career major appearance -- yes, that’s right -- there’s shared excitement.
Knight, 27, earned PGA Membership last November and made her niche at Fairways and Greens Golf Center in Knoxville. She’s also made two U.S. Amateur appearances and a bid to advance through LPGA Tour Q-School.
“From playing college golf at Middle Tennessee State and then going through Q-School, where there’s so much pressure, I’ve had big tournaments to draw from,” said Knight. “I love the flexibility I have with my students that gives me the chance to practice. It has been rewarding helping so many different students.”
Knight comes to Atlanta Athletic Club knowing some things in the game happen by magic. On June 8, 2020, she needed only 21 putts on her way to recording a 14-under-par 58 to win a Pro-Am at Dandridge Golf and Country Club in Dandridge, Tennessee. It was a round for the ages, regardless of the fact she played a course measuring 5,069 yards.
“It was unreal. I was in a zone and made every putt I looked at,” said Knight. “I even chunked a chip on the last hole, but made a 20-footer for birdie. It was hard coming back after that. It was the best golf I ever played in my life. I wondered if I am ever going to do that again?”
LPGA Teaching & Club Professional Dunn-Bohls, 49, competed for more than two decades on the LPGA Tour, appearing in 55 majors from 1995 through 2014. This will be her 20th appearance in the Women’s PGA Championship and first since KPMG became title sponsor in 2015. She tied for her career-best finish in a major in this Championship in 2005, earning a share of seventh place.
Dunn-Bohls also carries a dose of course knowledge in her pocket. She was 22 when she stepped onto the first tee at Atlanta Athletic Club to compete in the 1994 Women’s Eastern Amateur.
“It’s a wonderful golf course, with beautiful with trees, doglegs, great greens and designed by one of my favorites, Robert Trent Jones Sr.,” said Dunn-Bohls, who resides in Tulsa during most of the year, but teaches during the golf season at Cedar Lake Club in Clayville, New York, where she grew up and played most of her life.
Dunn-Bohls earned her spot in this week’s field by sharing fifth place in the Women’s PGA Stroke Play Championship last February at PGA Golf Club in Port St. Lucie, Florida.
“It’s exciting. When you retire you tend to lose your competitive feel,” Said Dunn-Bohls. “It’s great to have this opportunity. Though I retired, I never lost that competitiveness.”
This week marks Joanna Coe’s fifth major appearance. As the PGA Director of Instruction at Baltimore Country Club, she averages 10 hours of teaching per day and has lessons booked several months in advance. It will be Coe’s fourth consecutive KPMG Women’s PGA Championship and each time she has taken away something invaluable.
“It’s not really possible to completely transform myself into a tour pro for the week, because I’m not,” said Coe. “At the end of the day, I’m going to leave and go back to being an instructor. I want to soak in everything during the week and watch the players, see their tempos and how they are approaching different shots. I’ll still be a student of the game and bring that back to my students.
“I just try to focus on tempo and rhythm. I can be a great ball striker when I let myself be a ball striker. If I can get the feel for the greens, and make a few putts you never know. But I can’t all of a sudden change who I am. It will be interesting this week.”
Coe said that without time to acclimate to Atlanta Athletic Club, she needed an experienced guide. She sought a caddie who was a club member and could handle a staff bag -- Jacob Calamaro, a collegiate golfer at East Carolina University.
Ashley Grier, a PGA Assistant Professional at Overbrook Golf Club in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, is making her third Championship appearance, having competed in 2018 and 2019. She was the 2020 Women’s PGA Professional Player of the Year. This week, her boyfriend, Bud Lintelman, is her caddie.
“Going into my third Championship, I know a bit more what the golf courses are going to be like and what to expect,” said Grier. “For the first time or two, I was very excited to be there. But now I go in feeling like I have a chance to play well.”
Grier is the daughter of PGA Professional David Grier, owner of Yingling’s Golf Center in Hagerstown, Maryland, which is literally in the front yard of the Grier family home. David and his wife, Judy, purchased the center in 1990. The Grier family home has a miniature golf driving range and an 18-hole putting par-3 course in the front yard.
“My dad always helped me, and he loves the game of golf probably more than anyone I know,” said Ashley. “He has passed that on to me. He has been a big influence on me since I was age 5. But, he probably gave me a club before that.”
Since Grier has been working at Overbrook Golf Club, she’s also had a second coach in a familiar friend since her youth. Overbrook PGA Head Professional Eric Kennedy grew up working for David Grier at Yingling’s Golf Center.
“I’ve known Eric since I was 10 years old,” said Ashley. “He has helped me now that I am in Philadelphia. We teamed last week to tie for first in a Section Pro-Assistant Championship. I’ve been able to play in some Section events in an attempt to get ready for this week.
Stephanie Connelly-Eiswerth, a PGA/LPGA Professional from Fleming Island, Florida, earned PGA Membership in April, and is a PGA Teaching Professional at Eagle Harbor Golf Club. This week marks her fourth career major, including her third straight KPMG Women’s PGA Championship.
Connelly-Eiswerth graduated from the University of Central Florida and competed for seven years on the Symetra Tour, but came up short in qualifying for the LPGA Tour.
“It was a good experience and had some great finishes,” she said. “It was a great life and I wouldn’t trade it.”
Connelly-Eiswerth is a former golf coach at the University of North Florida. She is married to former PGA Professional Adam Eiswerth, who attended Florida State University and is now a government contractor for the U.S. Navy. Adam will caddie for his wife this week.
She also has ties to some of her fellow competitors.
“I know Joanna (Coe) and Ashley (Grier) well, and we have played some local events together as juniors,” Connelly-Eiswerth said And, Joanna, has been a good mentor for me as I began the PGA program and completed it. We played on the Symetra Tour with her for a few years.”
PGA Teaching Associate Alisa Rodriguez of Austin, Texas, said this week “is a great opportunity for me to go out and compete against some of the best players in the world and for my students to see me as an instructor. To go out and compete in my first LPGA event, and that it is a major and the chance to test my game.”
Rodriguez is the Lead Instructor at Balcones Country Club in Austin. She earned a Championship berth by finishing fourth in the 2021 Women’s PGA Stroke Play Championship. Recently, she tied for 13th in the Texas Women’s Open in Dallas, and shared 36th in her most recent Women’s All-Pro Tour event in Anna, Texas.
“Everyone is cheering everyone on, but we all have a shared goal,” said Rodriguez, who gave up softball to pursue golf. “I now have several mentors. My college coach Jere Pelleitier at UTEP was a great influence, and PGA Associate Chris Taylor has played a huge role in my teaching side. I worked for him for a few years at TopGolf.
“J.J. Jennings, Director of Instruction at Balcones Country Club, who I work for now, has helped me so much teaching-wise. I am in a special situation.
“Being in the PGA program has given me so many pathways that I can choose. “I don’t know exactly what I want to do professionally -- teach professionally, at a country club or at a college.”
LPGA Professional Sandra Changkija of Kissimmee, Florida, anticipates completing the PGA program by the end of the year. She qualified for the LPGA Tour in 2012 and had four career top-10 finishes before she began working as an LPGA Professional last year at Walt Disney World Golf. She won 16 tournaments at Nova Southeastern University in Davie, Florida, and was the second four-time Division II Player of the Year (2008-11).
This is her 13th career major start and sixth appearance in the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship.
“I’m thrilled to be playing in the KPMG,” said Changkija, who cruised to a five-stroke win last February in the Women’s PGA Stroke Play Championship. “I’ve played in several KPMG Championships, and I think they are always good, tough courses. I’ve never played the Atlanta Athletic Club, but I like Georgia courses that are hilly and tree-lined.”
LPGA Teaching Professional Samantha Morrell, runner-up in the 2021 Women’s PGA Stroke Play Championship, is making her second consecutive start in the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship. She is employed by TPC Treviso Bay in Naples, Florida. A native of North Kingstown, Rhode Island, Morrell was the 2018 Metropolitan PGA Section Women’s Stroke Play Champion.
“I’m excited to be making my second Championship (appearance),” said Morrell. “Even though 2020 was a COVID year and a lot about the tournament was different, I was still taken by the grandeur of it all. This year, I will stick to my own game plan to be prepared for the event and spend less time trying to make the preparation and level of detail match that of a seasoned tour player.”
PGA of America
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