By Jeff Babineau (PGA of America)

BETHESDA, Md. – It was pitch black outside when Ashley Grier’s alarm sounded to start preparations for the opening round of the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship just 45 minutes or so from her home in Hagerstown. Already she had an inkling a challenging day might lie ahead.

Where should we start?

“I woke up with a jammed, swollen finger, a sore back, rain for the first 12 holes, and a soaking-wet 6,900-yard golf course,” said Grier, who is a PGA Assistant Professional at Yinglings Golf Center in Hagerstown, Maryland, a facility her parents have owned and operated since 1990. Grier now coaches there.

“It was just one of those days. It just wasn’t going my way. I was tight, it was early and wet, I got off to a bad start, and it’s hard,” she said. “It’s playing like 8,000 yards out there.”

She wasn’t complaining, mind you. She enjoys being here. Grier is one of nine PGA, LPGA and PGA/LPGA Professionals in the field at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship at historic Congressional Country Club. The day was not very kind to those nine, nor was it very kind to a majority of players in the field – which include the top performers in the game – who found Congressional just too tall a task to handle on this particular day.

Grier, playing in her fourth KPMG, struggled to a round of 85. But still, there were positives to take away.

For one, the local professional earned the honor of hitting the tournament’s opening tee shot, and she piped it. (“I was pretty pumped up,” she said. “I was nervous, but I was excited. I had a lot of family here, and I thought, ‘You know what? I play with them all the time. They’ve seen me hit this shot a lot of times. It’s not that big of a deal.’ ”)

And better yet, Grier was teeing it up in a major, the fifth of her career, something that always provides experiences to bring back to her students. When she finished signing her card on Thursday, three young male golfers she knows waited to talk to her along a nearby fence, wanting to ask her everything about her day.

“I’m playing in a major championship, and that’s pretty special,” Grier said. “I didn’t play great, but I feel like I can go out and play good tomorrow, and finish with a strong round.”

Of the nine PGA/LPGA Professionals competing, Alisa Rodriguez of Texas has the best shot of making it to the weekend, trying to become the first Club Professional to get there in three years. She shot 76, and has a shot with a good round on Friday. Rodriguez, PGA Associate Teaching Professional at Balcones Country Club in Austin, Texas, is playing in her second KPMG PGA Championship. She captured the 2021 LPGA Professionals National Championship by two shots.

Stephanie Connelly Eiswerth is playing in her fourth KPMG Women’s PGA this week. She got off to a rocky start Thursday – bogeys at five of her first five holes – but then settled into a nice little rhythm. On a long and testing track, she made eight consecutive pars from holes 7 through 14. Then Congressional flexed its muscle once more. Her final four holes included two bogeys and a double on the way to 81.

“I didn’t putt well today, and usually I count on my putting. I hit it OK – not great, but OK,” said Connelly Eiswerth, PGA/LPGA Teaching Professional at San Jose Country Club in Jacksonville, Fla.

“It is difficult to hit those very precise shots when you need them. I didn’t feel I was too far off. I missed a couple of fairways that got me into a poor position. I just didn’t make any birdies. When you’re not playing all that much, you’re not always going to make a bunch of birdies.”

Connelly Eiswerth played on the Epson Tour from 2009-2016, collecting six top-10 finishes in her career. Despite teaching full-time, still has plenty of game when she is able to compete. She won back-to-back titles in 2018-19 at the LPGA Teaching & Club Professionals National Championship.

Jennifer Borocz is playing in her second KPMG Women’s PGA, and unlike 2020 at Aronomink, in the midst of the pandemic, this time she was able to take her family along for the experience. Her mom and dad are here, walking with her son. Her husband, Matt, is on the bag. They took a nice tour of Washington, D.C., earlier in the week, seeing many of the national sites.

She struggled to make birdies, too, finding Congressional to be a long and tough test. Get out of position and pay the price. She shot 89.

“This is probably the longest golf course I’ve ever played,” said Borocz, who is the North Florida Section’s PGA Chapter Coordinator. She finished sixth at the LPGA Professionals National Championship to earn her way to Congressional.

“A lot of long irons in,” she said. “The shortest club I hit into any green today was an 8-iron into a par 5.”

Told that there was an 8-under-par score on the board (In Gee Chun’s remarkable first-round effort), Borocz chuckled.

“It’s definitely humbling to see what they (LPGA tour pros) do out here week in and week out,” she said. “It’s a tough challenge. I’m glad I have a day job to go back to.”