Maryland product Ashley Grier prepares for PGA Women’s Championship

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The last time Ashley Grier won a tournament at Congressional Country Club, she relied 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 leaderboard at Bethesda’s hallowed course — the site she returns to this week for the PGA Women’s Championship.

Drive 60 miles northwest of Congressional, and you’d stumble upon where Grier perfected this short game: Yinglings Golf Center, a par-3 course on the outskirts of Hagerstown, Maryland, with no holes over about 110 meters.

David and Judy Grier bought Yinglings in 1990 when Ashley was 5 years old. It wasn’t long before she was hitting the course with her mum, dad or 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 available to his daughters – during the days when David, a PGA professional, was teaching and in the evenings after the course closed.

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

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

Grier won a Maryland State Championship in 2000 and later played college golf at the University of Central Florida. Then, as her sisters forged their own college golf careers, the eldest of the Grier sisters turned professional in 2006, making an appearance at the 2007 US Women’s Open. She spent five years as an assistant pro at Columbia Country Club in Chevy Chase, Maryland, a few miles from Congress. After five years at Overbrook Golf Club in Villanova, Pennsylvania, Grier returned to Yinglings.

She continued to teach and play, competing in the 2018, 2019 and 2021 PGA Women’s Championships. She was named the 2020 PGA Women’s National Player of the Year and qualified for that event by finishing in the top eight l summer at the LPGA National Professional Championship at Kingsmill in Williamsburg, Virginia.

But while Grier has appeared in four major championships, returning to Congress has a slightly different feel.

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

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

Grier’s short game is her strength, but the distance from Congress doesn’t faze her.

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

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

In Congress to follow his tour will be his parents and other family members, as well as friends from local courts, including Columbia. David laughed when he imagined the swarm of people – around 75, by his estimate – who are likely to watch his daughter on the first tee on Thursday.

After Grier, the best players in the world will leave: 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, which she has yet to accomplish in a major championship.

“They are the best players in the world,” Grier said. “So they do this all day, every day for a living, and I try to prepare for about a month and get ready to go. But staying true to my game and enjoying the experience is my ultimate goal.

Players competing in the PGA Women’s Championship received an unexpected email on Tuesday afternoon from LPGA Tour Commissioner Mollie Marcoux Samaan informing them that 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 US Women’s Open earlier this month at Pine Needles in Southern Pines, North Carolina.

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

By far the most watched group at Tuesday’s pro-am included two familiar faces from the DC sports scene. Ryan Zimmerman, the former Washington Nationals star whose number 11 was retired last weekend, and Washington Capitals defenseman John Carlson played with Megan Khang.

Zimmerman’s brother Shawn completed the quartet.

“It’s fun,” said Ryan Zimmerman, who plays with a 4 handicap. “I was telling Johnny that 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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