Demarco Moore, Sports Writer
On one of the biggest stages in the world for a junior golfer, one Manchester teenager will compete for a spot on the LPGA tour.
Coffee County Central High School sophomore Ashley Gilliam was one of 40 girls to qualify for the ANA Junior Inspiration on March 27-April 2 at the Mission Hill Country Club in Rancho Mirage, California.
The winner of this event will earn the final spot in the ANA Inspiration, the LPGA tour’s first major of the year.
The ANA Junior is a two-day, 54-hole invitational recently sanctioned by the American Junior Golf Association. The top 40 golfers worldwide qualify based on their AJGA Junior Polo ranking, which is determined by “global mileage points” earned from AJGA tournaments played from Feb. 12 of 2016 to Jan. 16 of 2017.
As of Sunday, Gilliam ranked 39th with 13,744 points, qualifying her for the Junior Inspiration.
“It was really hard to get into,” said Gilliam, who alongside sister Savannah Quick and Sophie Vinson finished as runner-up in the TSSAA State golf tournament this past fall.
“It’s crazy just to think about it. There’s so many good golfers and to be in the top 40 in the world, it’s really an honor.”
The first 36 holes of the ANA will be played on the Pete Dye Challenge course, with the final 18 being played on Dinah Shore Tournament Course. For Gilliam, the real challenge – aside from the 39 other golfers – will be playing on LPGA-distance courses.
“[I’ve been] trying to dial in my longer irons since I’m not used to using them as much,” she said. “[The Ana] will be a great learning experience, and with the 40 girls in one spot, anything can happen.”
Gilliam and the other golfers will also have the opportunity to play with former LPGA legends on the final day of the tournament.
The AJGA also released a full list of qualifiers for the ANA.
Reach Demarco Moore at firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow him on Twitter @iam__demo