Eight PGA & LPGA Club Professionals prepare to take on Aronimink Golf Club
NEWTOWN SQUARE, PA. – Stephanie Connelly Eisworth’s phone has been buzzing his week with texts and well-wishes from her students and members of her ladies group back home at Eagle Harbor Golf Club in Fleming Island, Fla.
Connelly Eisworth, 33, who played the Symetra Tour for seven years, now teaches full-time at Eagle Harbor after spending the last four years as an assistant coach for the women’s team at the University of North Florida. Connelly Eisworth, one of eight LPGA and PGA club professionals in the field at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, doesn’t get to play competitively as much as she’d like these days. But early Thursday morning at Aronimink Golf Club, that familiar cocktail of nerves and excitement will churn inside as she heads to the 10th tee to begin her first round at 7:21 a.m.
She’s been playing golf tournaments since she was 5, and some things never change.
“It’s funny, golf is golf, and though it changes every day, it’s still tournament golf. I do have a lot of experience, and that helps,” said Connelly Eiswerth, winner of the LPGA Teaching & Club Professionals National Championship in 2018 and 2019. “I’m always a little more nervous and anxious than I used to be when I was playing full-time. That’s been something new to deal with. It makes it fun. It brings you back to why you play, and why you compete. You compete because it’s exciting, and because anything can happen at any time.”
Representing the club professionals in the 132-player KPMG Women’s PGA field this week alongside Connelly Eiswerth are Joanna Coe, PGA, the inaugural Women’s PGA Professional Player of the Year; Jennifer Borocz, PGA; Ellen Ceresko, LPGA; Dr. Alison Curdt, PGA/LPGA; Jordan Lintz, LPGA; Samantha Morrell, LPGA; and Seul-Ki Park Hawley, PGA.
The representation in the field by those who now teach the game, or hold leadership positions in the industry, is an important piece of the partnership between KPMG, the PGA of America and the LPGA. These players who don’t play full-time can compete on one of the biggest stages in women’s golf, against the very best players on the planet, and then return to their clubs and jobs with an experience than only enhances what they can pass along to others as they help to grow the game.
“There's nothing like that feeling of standing on a first tee at a major championship, and when you do this in the industry for a living and get that kind of opportunity, it's something you just cherish,” said PGA of America President Suzy Whaley, an excellent player herself. “Their members at their facilities and their customers where they work should be so incredibly proud that they are doing this. It's courageous. It’s brave. But they want to play well, too, and they're looking to do that.”
Coe, a former standout at Rollins College who went on to compete on the Symetra Tour, is now assistant director of instruction at Baltimore (Md.) Country Club. Given that this year’s tournament is being staged in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, she says the experience will be a little different than when she competed in the KPMG Women’s PGA at Hazeltine National Golf Club a year ago. Without thousands of fans watching on and filling grandstands, Coe, who learned the game not too far away in South New Jersey, said she hasn’t felt the level of nerves she did a year ago when playing practice rounds.
“I think my heart rate stayed the same as it was on the practice tee,” she said with a smile. When the competition starts, she’ll be focused and ready to go, though an incredibly busy summer presented its challenges to get her game ready.
“I love challenging myself every year to try to do this,” Coe said. “It’s difficult when it’s been probably the busiest year in the history of golf instruction. It wasn’t easy making time to practice and play. But the competitor in me will always want to do this, and it’s such a thrill.”
Mike Whan, LPGA Commissioner, says the benefits of having club professionals at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship is a two-way street. Sure, the club pros benefit, but so, too, do the tour players whose LPGA playing careers will one day end, and there will be life decisions made on the next direction in their lives. Whan likes to tell his players that they are their own individual corporations, and at KPMG they not only witness success on the golf course, but off it, as well, in events such as the KPMG Leadership Summit that brings together some of the world’s top female business executives.
“It definitely plays both ways, and it means a lot to my athletes to have these people be part of this field,” Whan said. “They see women at the absolute top of their game in a lot of different professions. They see great former players that are teaching, they see women that pursued a teaching path right out of school, they see women on their way to the C-suite at the Women's Summit.
“There's a lot of ceiling breaking going on, and it's not just inside the Women's Summit, it's happening all across the golf course.”
Connelly Eiswerth missed the cut last summer at Hazeltine, shooting 81-76, but having shifted to full-time teaching this year, and being able to set her own schedule, she’s been able to play a little more to get ready for Aronimink. It’s major championship golf, and Aronimink will be a lengthy and brutal test. Whatever score she signs for, she already knows there will be great value in her experience.
“You’re put in all sorts of different situations when you play in a major championship that you don’t have on an everyday basis at your home course,” Connelly Eiswerth said. “That ’uncomfortable’ situation? I’m in that. It helps me to understand and be patient with the students and be able to tell them to be patient with themselves. I think the fact that I still play so often helps me to relate to what my students are going through.”