BETHESDA, Md. – Eight years ago, Patrick Tait thought his daughter Ashley Tait-Wengert gave him the most special Father’s Day gift she could ever give him. (Hint: It wasn’t a necktie.) She was leading a Symetra (now Epson) Tour event into the final day, so Patrick scrambled to catch a flight from Colorado to Illinois, arrived to the course as she reached the third hole, and felt that swelling pride that fills a father as his daughter – the one he started in golf when she was 3 – chased a big trophy.

Fate was unkind that afternoon. Ashley led with two holes to play, made a late double bogey, and eventually lost the Decatur-Forsyth Classic to young Madison Pressel, Morgan’s little sister, on the first hole of a playoff. Nonetheless, If you’re Patrick Tait, father and coach to four children who all played college golf, it cannot get much better than that.

Well, check that. Maybe it could.

This week, he is here at Congressional as Ashley, now an LPGA Player Development and Teaching Professional at Baltimore Country Club, competes not only in her first LPGA event, but in her first major championship, teeing it up at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship. Ashley, who is 35, tees off in the last group on Thursday, off the 10th tee at 2:29 p.m. It will make for a long morning, but she knows the wait is worth it. She has been waiting for this day her whole life. And her dad is elated to be along for the ride.

Ashley is one of nine PGA/LPGA Club Professionals in this week’s KPMG field. None made the cut a year ago. Patrick got to play Congressional alongside Ashley in a practice round on Friday, and that was a special treat. “That was his real Father’s Day gift,” Ashley said, laughing, as she stood next to the massive practice green at Congressional, a golf course filled to the brim with rich history. “Now he has to work.”

“Work” this week for Patrick entails looping for his daughter, which is something that Patrick has done for all of his children through the years. He retired after 35 years as a PGA of America head professional and coach, his time spent mostly at Raccoon Creek in Littleton, Colo.

First LPGA start? At a major championship, no less? This was new-level stuff.

“It’s our first LPGA event, which is extremely exciting, and then for it to be a major, that even adds another bonus to it,” Patrick said. “I’ve caddied for her quite a bit, caddied for her on the Epson Tour, and over the years at different events, but this is the highlight of our time together, for sure.”

Ashley Tait was a very good player at North Carolina-Wilmington. She had an interesting story in how she landed there as a high school player from Colorado. She first committed to Tulane, and showed up to campus to begin her college career the same weekend in 2005 that Katrina, a Category 5 hurricane, ripped through New Orleans. Ashley evacuated to Florida with her coach and another player; Patrick and his wife hurried west to get back to Colorado. The next day that Ashley saw campus was three months later when she showed up to retrieve her Honda Civic from a parking garage. Her recruiting process would begin anew, and she headed to UNC-Wilmington.

She gave playing professionally a determined run. Ashley won the Texas Women’s Open, and won twice on something called the Grasshopper Tour. She knows a lot about the KPMG, having watched her good friend, Joanna Coe, the PGA of America’s 2019 Women’s PGA Professional Player of the Year, play in four straight. Coe, who recruited Ashley to BCC, didn’t qualify this year, but Ashley grabbed her baton, tying for seventh at the LPGA Professionals National Championship at Kingsmill to earn a spot.

Now that she is teaching full-time (in addition to being a mother to a young son, Charlie, who is nearly 2), Ashley sees the game with a different lens. The competitor inside her still burns, for sure. She prepared diligently and wants to play well this week in front of her family, who will be watching, and in front of her dad, who will be alongside on the bag.

“It’s funny, I do things differently now than when I was playing (full-time),” she said. “I have a lot more knowledge of the game. My swing, with Trackman technology, has gotten a lot better. I play differently. I find it’s fun to watch, and I pay a lot more attention to what is going on around me. I watch how other people practice, and swing.

“I’m always learning. It’s just a different mindset.”

Patrick says Ashley’s consistency is probably her biggest overall strength. She hits it long enough, and “her short game usually keeps her together.” Adds Patrick, “She knows a lot of these players, so she’s very comfortable in this environment. Thursday, she’ll be a little edgy, I’m sure, but I think the nerves will wear off real quick, and she’ll start playing golf.”

Ashley said she and her dad will butt heads a few times when he is on the bag, but eventually, they get on the same page and proceed from there. There are times he wants his daughter to get more creative with shots, while Ashley steadfastly leans more toward steady and relatively risk-free play.

“I’m pretty conservative, and part of that is I don’t get to practice as much as I used to,” she said. “Hey, we’ll have fun. I give him a hard time, for sure. You’ve got to blame someone, right?”

She is joking, of course. Ashley knows what it means to her father for him to watch her compete on one of golf’s grandest stages, a major championship that boasts a purse of $9 million. Her dad will be watching with a spinning reel of memories rolling through his head as his oldest daughter competes.

Patrick looks back to that Father’s Day memory from eight years ago in Decatur and never knew it could get any better. Ashley and he will compete hard this week and hopefully get to the weekend. Lots of LPGA players on site have complete teams – instructors, trainers, mental coaches. Patrick is all of those. (“I’m Dad, coach and caddie,” he says, “but always Dad first.” Next Tuesday, father and daughter will play a round at prestigious Caves Valley. Yes, for Patrick, it will be a bucket-list visit.

“I always told her that time in Decatur was my greatest Father’s Day gift, ever,” Patrick said. He took a long look around Congressional. “This year is pretty darned special.”

Related News