Maryland product Ashley Grier gears up for the Women's PGA 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 a stunning birdie putt on the first playoff hole at the 2014 Maryland Women’s Open left Grier at the top of the leaderboard at Bethesda Court – the venue she returns to this week for the Women’s PGA Championship.

Drive 60 miles northwest of Congressional and you would stumble upon the place where Grier refined this short game: Yinglings Golf Center, a par 3 course on the outskirts of Hagerstown with no hole longer than about 110 yards .

David and Judy Grier bought Yinglings in 1990 when Ashley was 5 years old. It wasn’t long before she was traversing 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 Grier called it. A playground that is regularly available to his daughters – during the day when David teaches lessons as a PGA pro and in the evening after the end of the course.

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

That’s a knowing understatement from a father who later watched his three daughters grow up to forge something of a dynasty at Smithsburg High. Since the school did not have a girls’ golf team, Ashley and her two younger sisters played on the boys’ team, earning the nickname “Golfing Grier Girls”.

Grier won a Maryland State Championship in 2000 and went on to play at the University of Central Florida. Then, while her sisters forged her own college golf career, the eldest Grier sister turned pro in 2006 and appeared at the 2007 US Women’s Open. She spent five years as an assistant professional at the Columbia Country Club in Chevy Chase, just a few miles from the Congressional. After five years at Overbrook Golf Club in Villanova, Pennsylvania, Grier returned to Yinglings.

She continued to teach – and play and compete 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 by finishing in the top eight at last summer’s LPGA Professionals National Championship at Kingsmill in Williamsburg, Virginia.

But while Grier, 38, has competed in four major championships, returning to Congress has a slightly different feel.

“It definitely feels 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 best golf courses in the country, but the short-game wisdom Yinglings gleaned has become an integral part of her game. Her father said Ashley compares tournament situations to those she might face in Hagerstown.

Grier’s short game is her forte, but she doesn’t mind the distance of Congress.

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

Managing her workload became increasingly important for Grier after a car accident on Super Bowl Sunday left her with persistent back pain four years ago. She played on the front nine on Tuesday and will practice the back nine on Wednesday before her 7am start time.

At the Congressional, her parents and other diverse family members, as well as friends from local courses, including Columbia, will be following her rounds. David laughed as he pictured the swarm of people – by his estimation around 75 – who are likely to be watching his daughter on Thursday’s first tee.

After Grier, the world’s best will tee off: 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 hasn’t done in a major championship.

“They are the best players in the world,” said Grier. “So they do this all day, every day, to make a living, and I’m trying to cram about a month’s time and get ready to go. But just sticking with my game and enjoying the experience, that’s my number one goal.”

Players participating in the Women’s PGA Championship received an unexpected email from LPGA Tour Commissioner Mollie Marcoux Samaan on Tuesday afternoon, informing them that the total money will increase to $9 million this week, reflecting the total payout doubled compared to last year’s event.

It’s the second highest total money in LPGA Tour history after the US Women’s Open earlier this month at Pine Needles in Southern Pines, NC

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

By far the most followed group at Tuesday’s Pro-Am included two familiar faces on the DC sports scene. Ryan Zimmerman, the former Washington Nationals star whose No. 11 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 told Johnny I could never do those things in the summer. A whole new world opened up to me.”