Maryland product Ashley Grier gears up for Women’s PGA Championship

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The last time Ashley Grier won a tournament at Congressional Country Club, she leaned on her short game.

A tricky approach shot and stunning birdie putt on the first playoff hole of the 2014 Maryland Women’s Open left Grier atop the leader board at the hallowed Bethesda course — the site she returns to this week for the Women’s PGA Championship.

Drive 60 miles northwest of Congressional, and you’d happen upon the place where Grier honed that short game: Yinglings Golf Center, a par-3 course on the outskirts of Hagerstown, Md., with no hole longer than about 110 yards.

David and Judy Grier bought Yinglings in 1990, when Ashley was 5. It wasn’t long before she was traversing the course with her mother, father or her grandfather — and it wasn’t long before her two younger sisters were old enough to play, too.

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“A playground,” David calls it. A playground regularly at his daughters’ disposal — during the days while David, a PGA professional, was giving lessons and in the evenings after the course was closed.

“The next thing you know, they weren’t bad at it,” David said.

That’s a knowing understatement by a father who would later watch his three daughters grow up to forge something of a dynasty at Smithsburg High School. With no girls’ golf team at the school, Ashley and her two younger sisters played on the boys’ team, earning the nickname of the “golfing Grier girls.”

Grier won a Maryland state championship in 2000 and went on to play college golf at the University of Central Florida. Then, while her sisters forged their own collegiate golf careers, the eldest Grier sister turned professional in 2006, making an appearance in the 2007 U.S. Women’s Open. She spent five years as an assistant professional at Columbia Country Club in Chevy Chase, Md., just a few miles from Congressional. After five years at Overbrook Golf Club in Villanova, Pa., Grier came home to Yinglings.

She continued to teach — and play, competing in the 2018, 2019 and 2021 Women’s PGA Championships. She was named the 2020 National Women’s PGA Player of the Year and earned her way into this event with a top-eight finish last July at the LPGA Professionals National Championship at Kingsmill in Williamsburg, Va.

But while Grier has competed in four major championships, returning to Congressional has a slightly different feel to it.

“It definitely makes it feel more special,” Grier said. “It feels like it’s my hometown. I’m back in my area.”

Her career has taken her to some of the country’s top courses, but the short-game wisdom gleaned from Yinglings has become an integral part of her game. Her father said Grier equates tournament situations to those she might encounter in Hagerstown.

Grier’s short game is her strength, but Congressional’s distance does not faze her.

“The older you get, the more you figure out the smart play,” she said. “You don’t have to always attack the pins.”

Managing her workload became increasingly important after a car accident on Super Bowl Sunday four years ago left her with lingering back pain. She played the front nine Tuesday and will practice the back nine Wednesday before her 7 a.m. tee time Thursday.

At Congressional to follow her round will be her parents and other assorted family members, as well as friends from local courses, including Columbia. David laughed when he pictured the swarm of people — about 75, by his estimation — that will likely watch his daughter at the first tee Thursday.

Teeing off after Grier will be the world’s best: Nelly Korda, Jin Young Ko, Minjee Lee, Lydia Ko and Lexi Thompson, among others. For Grier, this week requires a balance of confidence and measured expectations. Her goal is to make the cut, a mark she has yet to accomplish in a major championship.

“They’re the best players in the world,” Grier said. “So they do this all day, every day for a living, and I try to cram about a month out and get ready to go. But just sticking to my game and enjoying the experience, that’s my ultimate goal.”

Players participating in the Women’s PGA Championship received an unexpected email Tuesday afternoon from LPGA Tour Commissioner Mollie Marcoux Samaan informing them the total purse this week would be increased to $9 million, doubling the total payout from last year’s event.

It’s the second highest total purse in LPGA Tour history behind the U.S. Women’s Open earlier this month at Pine Needles in Southern Pines, N.C.

“I haven’t had a chance to go through all my emails,” Marcoux Samaan said. “But I’ve looked at a few of them, and they have been hysterical. They’ve been some, ‘Holy s—,’ you know, and, ‘Oh my God.’ ”

By far the most followed group at Tuesday’s pro-am included two familiar faces in the D.C. sports scene. Ryan Zimmerman, the former Washington Nationals’ star whose No. 11 was retired this past weekend, and Washington Capitals defenseman John Carlson played together with Megan Khang.

Zimmerman’s brother Shawn rounded out the foursome.

“This is fun,” said Ryan Zimmerman, whose plays to a 4 handicap. “I was telling Johnny I’ve never been able to do this stuff in the summer. A whole new world has opened up to me. ”

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