My name is Debbie Curran. This is a story of my experience participating in the 2022 Shoprite LPGA Classic Pro-Am held at the Seaview Golf Resort in New Jersey. I am a member of the Northern New Jersey Chapter of the LPGA Amateurs League. Let me preface by saying that for more than 10 years, I have been a volunteer at various LPGA and PGA Tour Pro-Am events, starting my shift at 5:30 a.m. which meant leaving my house in the middle of night to arrive at my various destinations. And I worked the required three shifts in one day, working through breakfast, lunch, and staying through dinner to hand out parting gifts to amateur participants.
My first adventure was at Seaview and as I drove down, I anticipated meeting all the LPGA pros. That year, I met Annika Sorenstam and Julie Inkster. I even stayed overnight as the trip was too long in one day. I received a recommendation and was called back the next year, and the next, to golf courses all in New Jersey, from Upper Montclair Country Club, Plainfield Country Club, and Hamilton Farms to Ridgewood Country Club and Liberty National in Jersey City. A few days I left my house at 4:30 a.m. to arrive there at 5:30 a.m. It was thrilling to meet and take pictures with some of the pros. I was able to attend the entire week as a spectator at those events but had to park quite a distance away and take a bus to the golf courses.
Now after all these years, I had the most wonderful week of golf as an Amateur golf participant.
I want to share my story to hopefully inspire those of you who are cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatments, persevering through recovery after being operated on, and for those of you who have someone suffering from cancer, to let you all know that there is light at the end of this horrible dark tunnel. I am proof. I am a cancer survivor. Like most, I have a bucket list. Participating in the week-long Shoprite event was definitely on it.
The day I went to be signed in was such a thrill. To be signed in as a player instead of signing in the players as I had done as a volunteer was such a unique experience.
The first day we arrived we were able to drive right up to the Seaview hotel. They took our golf clubs and checked them in. We were free to roam the course, watching the pros like Lydia Ko play a practice round. As players approached the par-3 17th where we sat in bleachers, they took more than one shot. We also watched these players practice putting; they stayed as long as an hour and kept repeating their putts. While watching on the driving range, we saw their caddies behind them advising on their swings. It is truly amazing to see how much time these players put in and the repetition they go through.
We were invited to attend a cocktail party at the Seaview with other participants. This was followed by another cocktail party in the evening at our hotel, one many of the LPGA pros attended. I introduced myself and they actually took pictures with me. They were so warm and friendly. We shared a few laughs. They included Brittany Benvenuto, Jenny Coleman, Michele Piyapattra, and Marissa Steen.
The next day was the first day of our Pro-Am. We arrived at the Seaview Hotel and walked into the Pavilion filled with different breakfast foods from hot eggs and pork roll to fruit and French toast. I usually eat oatmeal for breakfast but there I ate everything. It was delicious.
Luckily, we had nice weather all day. I had a 9:30 a.m. tee time with a wonderful Pro. Her name is Kathleen Ebey. As we approached the black tees for the first hole, there were many people around and an announcer who called our names. When he announced into a microphone, “And now we have Debbie Curran, from Northern New Jersey, on the tee,” people clapped and my picture was taken. I laughed at the joy of these wonderful moments that I will never forget.
Of course, there was also a moment of trepidation. Before meeting the pro, I asked myself, ‘Will I play well? Will I be able to hit the ball?’ Then I met her. We spoke for a few minutes and she made me feel so relaxed. She said, ‘We are here to play and have fun.’ And she helped make it just that.
Kathleen’s drives were so long. I was in awe of her total golf game. She made sure we all participated as it was a scramble. As the day went on, she even gave me a few tips, and in reality, my game did improve when I returned home. We played The Pines course, tree lined on every hole, it was not easy but with Kathleen’s help, we had a fun day. I learned not to rush in setting up to take a swing. She also helped me with my chipping swing.
That afternoon we had lunch in the Pavilion. It was a wonderful buffet with both hot and cold foods. We then were shown to a room upstairs that offered gifts for all the amateurs. I chose a gift card for Callaway clubs. That was followed by a cocktail hour in the lobby of the Seaview. We returned to our hotel and got ready for another party in a beautiful ballroom. The music was lovely and as we went by tables we stopped and chatted with our pro, Kathleen, and saw some of the pros we met the night before.
I am so glad I have pictures to share. There was a video screen up above us that showed pictures from that day’s pro-am. Unlike other LPGA tournaments, the ShopRite LPGA Classic gave us two days of Pro-Am tournament play.
The following morning, we arrived at Galloway Golf Club, a private course. We had a very early tee time. On our way, we saw lightning and wondered if we could even play. But thank goodness, it passed through. We arrived at 6:00 a.m.to enjoy a wonderful buffet breakfast with a made to order omelet, fruits, bacon, muffins, French toast, of which I ate it all and enjoyed every bite.
Our tee time was the first of the day, and it was nice and cool at 7:00 a.m. We were greeted enthusiastically by our pro, Lisa Ferrero, and she helped us get started. Again, we hit off the black tees and as I heard my name being announced, people clapped. It was so thrilling.
Lisa made us feel welcome and at ease and we so enjoyed playing all 18 holes as she was so full of energy. She fired drives down the fairways, playing with a sense of humor that made our round all the more enjoyable. As we approached the first green, the view was incredible, the bay in the background and so much greenery eclipsed in fog that I felt like I was in Ireland. I made a putt on the first hole and on every green after that, my team asked me to putt first.
Lisa was so encouraging to me saying she couldn’t believe how I swing through my shots from top to finish. That encouraged me to keep hitting it with a full swing. We even used my drive three times that round, the last one being on the 18th hole, as I hit from the red tees while everyone hit from the blacks.
Then we sat overlooking the 18th hole as we enjoyed a delicious BBQ lunch with our pro. I kept looking at the following groups, hitting from approximately where we had. It was a happy reminder that we used my drive there. I shared this whole experience with my husband Steve. He so enjoyed the week as well, hitting some great shots both days. I’m so glad he did, as he went through every day of my illness and recovery. I couldn’t have gotten through my cancer without his love and support.
Our wonderful time extended into the weekend as we attended the three-day LPGA Tour event. The weather got hot over the weekend, and we were lucky to have passes to the air-conditioned ShopRite Pavilion, which had doors leading out to bleachers we sat in to watch as the players came up the 18th hole.
As the first hole was so close, I walked around and watched Anna Nordqvist, Christie Kerr and the tournament’s winner, Brooke Henderson, hit great shots off the first tee. There was a photographer with a very long zoom lens. I asked him where I could see these pictures. He replied they were for the LPGA website. I said I am a member of the LPGA Amateurs League. He said let me take your picture and he had me stand in a certain spot and shot away pictures of me. I couldn’t believe it. I was laughing walking back to the Pavilion.
It was a wonderful conclusion to a week that turned out to be one of the best weeks of my golfing experiences.