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Student Driver - Grier goes for on-the-job training at Futures

July 18, 2004|by TIM KOELBLE

koelble@herald-mail.com

Young toddlers like big back yards where they can play.

Ashley Grier was able to play in an extremely big yard when she was six years of age, and 14 years later, still uses the big, green pasture as her playground.

Grier's stomping grounds cover the acreage at Yingling's Golf Center, where she first began hitting golf balls after her father, Dave, purchased the golf business. It was easy access with the family already living on the Yingling property.

Now, she is beginning to come full cycle.

"I was six and just starting to go down the hill and hitting balls because all the other kids were there," Grier said. "I just messed around for about seven years and then got involved in the junior program."

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That was the beginning of Grier's early resume that will soon include her first professional golf event on Aug. 20-22 when she plays in the Hunters Oak Golf Classic, one of the stops on the Futures Golf Tour.

As an amateur and ineligible for any prize money, Grier was extended a sponsors exemption and will tee it up for what she hopes will be a 54-hole event at Hunters Oak Golf Club in Queenstown, Md.

"My goal is to make the cut for the final Sunday round," Grier said. "I want to prove the exemption was worth it. It will be more serious golf because these golfers want to win money, not just a trophy."

Leading up to the Futures, Grier will be working on her chipping and putting while continuing to try to get physically stronger, something needed to compete at higher levels of golf.

"Ashley is going to gain some big experience," said Dave Grier, a Class A PGA professional in the Middle Atlantic Section. "She is going to watch players on the pro level and she'll be able to see where she stands. I think it will spur her on."

Will this lead to bigger and better things?

"I think she has pro potential," said Dave Grier, who has been her caddy at recent tournaments. "She knows she has to get stronger. She can get by with 235-, 240-yard drives and you've got to be able to birdie par 5s."

Her most recent accomplishment was a top-16 finish in the United States Golf Association's Women's Amateur Public Links in Williamsburg, Va.

Grier qualified with excellent rounds in stroke play and won twice in match play before losing to Ya-Ni Tseng, of Taiwan, the eventual champion, which Dave Grier said was "a big plus for her ability."

As she neared the age of 14, Grier began to get more serious about competing in golf tournaments, entering and succeeding in Tri-State events. Soon, she was playing in the Titleist Junior Tour.

"I didn't do well the first year, I won a championship in the second year and was the Titleist player of the year the next two years," she said.

By that time, as a junior at Smithsburg High, she captured her first memorable tournament title with the Maryland girls state crown. As a senior, she did not defend her title, instead moving into the American Junior Golf Association events and winning the Fieldstone Junior Classic in Wilmington, Del.

During this growth period she emerged under the guidance of her father.

"He's always given me the encouragement," she said. "He didn't really push me into playing golf ... I just love the game. My swing is my own swing and he helps me mold it."

Ashley is the oldest of three Grier girls playing golf.

Andrea, 17, a senior-to-be at Smithsburg, is faring well this summer in junior golf. Alicia, 15, who will be a sophomore at Smithsburg, is taking aim at adding to the family tradition.

When her appearance in the Futures tournament concludes, Ashley Grier will head abruptly to college. If Grier has anything to do with the travel plans, it will be a quick jump into the car from the final round on Aug. 22.

The first day of classes at the University of Central Florida are Aug. 23 when she continues her studies following a move from Jacksonville University. She received a scholarship from UCF and will play against stronger competition in Conference USA.

At that time, she'll have a better understanding of where her Future lies.

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