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Baltimore Country Club’s Joanna Coe helps U.S. win inaugural Women’s PGA Cup in ‘big moment for women’s golf'

AUSTIN, TX - OCTOBER 26: Joanna Coe of the United States hits her tee shot on the first hole during the final round for the 2019 Women?s PGA Cup held at the Omni Barton Creek Resort & Spa on October 26, 2019 in Austin, Texas.
AUSTIN, TX - OCTOBER 26: Joanna Coe of the United States hits her tee shot on the first hole during the final round for the 2019 Women?s PGA Cup held at the Omni Barton Creek Resort & Spa on October 26, 2019 in Austin, Texas. (Montana Pritchard/PGA of America / HANDOUT)

Having never participated in the Curtis Cup, the Solheim Cup or another team-format international competition, Joanna Coe was understandably somewhat anxious about her involvement in the Women’s PGA Cup, the first international event for female PGA professionals from five nations.

But Coe, a PGA professional and assistant director of instruction at the Baltimore Country Club in the city’s Roland Park neighborhood, said she took solace in the team being captained by Suzy Whaley, who became the first woman since Babe Didrikson Zaharias in 1945 to qualify for a PGA Tour competition when she earned a spot in the 2003 Greater Hartford Open and is the first female president of the PGA of America in the organization’s 103-year history.

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“I just thought, “Wow, this is my first time, and I don’t really know how it’s going to feel,’" Coe recalled. “I just figured I would play the very best golf that I could and soak it all in and have a great time with my teammates and be so engaged with Captain Suzy Whaley. … Just to be with her for a whole week and just get inside her brain, shoot, I didn’t even need to play golf.”

Nonetheless, Coe did play and contributed to the United States team capturing the inaugural Women’s PGA Cup this fall at the Omni Barton Creek Resort & Spa in Austin, Texas. With a 54-hole total of 671 strokes, the Americans outlasted runner-up Canada (675) and third-place Great Britain and Ireland (698).

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Coe said she felt like she could not breathe until the final hole.

“[Canada] made it very interesting,” she said. “I was waiting on the 18th hole for my teammates to come in, and it was a little nerve-wracking. But when we did the math and realized what was happening, it was very exciting. We ran out and doused my teammate with a bunch of water bottles — we didn’t have champagne — and it was cool.”

Whaley said Coe quickly gelled with her teammates and set the tone with her attitude under stressful conditions.

“For sure, every one of them had moments in time when you could see a little bit of doubt creeping in and a little lack of confidence creeping in,” Whaley said. “But what Joanna does best is, she rallies. When she hit a poor shot, she’s a fighter, for sure. I knew instantaneously as her captain that I did not have to worry ever about her giving up on herself.”

Coe, 30, has been playing golf when she was 11 and was introduced to the game by her father. She soon dropped her soccer aspirations and devoted herself to golf where she thrived on the ball-striking nuances of the sport.

“I loved practicing at the driving range and being with the boys on the range,” she said. “I felt like it was the athletic part of golf.”

Bruce Chelucci, 49, met an 11-year-old Coe at Blue Heron Pines Golf Club in Galloway Township, New Jersey, and was enticed by an athletic profile that included her participation in NFL Punt, Pass & Kick competitions. Chelucci said his newest student didn’t blink at a 25-hour practice schedule that included five hours each on Saturdays and Sundays and three hours after school each weekday.

“She absorbed everything,” he remembered. “She couldn’t get enough of it. She just worked hard. If I said, ‘Go work on your shot,’ she would go out and come back and say, ‘Hey, Coach, how does this look?’ And it would be perfect. She just took it all in.”

Recruited by Maryland, Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State, Coe elected to play at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida, to play year-round. The decision immediately paid dividends when, as a freshman, she won the 2008 NCAA Division II title and helped the Tars capture the team championship that same year.

Having dabbled on the LPGA’s Symetra Tour, a developmental circuit for the LPGA, Coe won the PGA Women’s Stroke Play Championship in February at the PGA Golf Club in Port Lucia, Florida, and has qualified for three LPGA majors in the 2011 U.S. Open and the 2018 and 2019 KPMG Women’s PGA Championship.

Hagerstown native Ashley Grier, who was a teammate of Coe’s in the Women’s PGA Cup, has known Coe since 2016 and said her friend is renowned for her length off the tee.

“She’s a great player,” said Grier, an assistant golf professional at Overbrook Golf Club in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. “She’s got a ton of power. She’s definitely one of the longer women that plays golf. She’s a great competitor and good friend, and she’s always good competition.”

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That power proved to be a dilemma on the par-5s at Omni Barton Creek, where the safe play might have been to lay up and hit the greens in regulation. But Coe said Whaley encouraged her to bomb away.

“The par-5s for me were very gettable to hit them in two, and Suzy was like, ‘Jo, just be aggressive. Go for it. Who cares? It’s a team thing,’” she said. “I was probably overly aggressive at times knowing that I had a team to back me up. If it was more of an individual competition, I might have played it a little differently.”

Coe played all three rounds with her second round of 78 counting in that day’s score and finishing overall at a 16-over-par 232. Her memorable hole was the par-4 12th in the final round when she drove the green with a 5-wood and drained a 30-foot putt for an eagle, but Coe acknowledged that she struggled with her iron approaches during the event.

“I didn’t have my A-plus game,” she said, adding that she had played 15 to 20 events since February. “My ball-striking wasn’t an A-plus, but I hung in there. I contributed.”

Joanna Coe poses for a photo after the final round for the 2019 Women's PGA Cup held at the Omni Barton Creek Resort & Spa on October 26, 2019 in Austin, Texas.
Joanna Coe poses for a photo after the final round for the 2019 Women's PGA Cup held at the Omni Barton Creek Resort & Spa on October 26, 2019 in Austin, Texas. (Hailey Garrett/PGA of America / HANDOUT)

Chelucci, who still coaches Coe, said there is little he can teach someone who hits 170-yard 7 irons.

“If she sends me some film, I’ll make sure that it’s OK, but her golf swing and her game are not her issue,” he said. “Her issue is, how does she feel? Is she comfortable so she can perform? If she’s comfortable, she’s going to play a great game of golf. She is, in my opinion, one of the best players in the world. … Most golfers that have played with her know that she’s probably one of the best players that no one has ever heard of nationally.”

Coe said she will take some time off to practice and maintain her conditioning until April when she competes in the 2020 PGA Professional Championship Omni Barton Creek. Coe is banking on her familiarity with that course from the Women’s PGA Cup being an asset for the PGA Professional Championship.

“I will remember to perhaps not be so aggressive on the par 5s,” she said. “It will feel like a walk in the park. Yes, I was a little nervous, but this will feel like nothing compared to that, representing my country. This will feel like a normal event again. It will definitely help in that regard.”

Whaley said she thinks the experience at the Women’s PGA Cup will help Coe confront the important moments in future events.

“Any time you have the opportunity to do something that steps outside of your comfort zone of where you live, when you come back, things get a little easier, and your performance typically heightens,” she said. “So I see her and all of the women that competed in this bringing that confidence and bringing that understanding of what mistakes did I make and how did I improve on them to their games for the next event they have. It will only help them excel.”

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Coe is part of a group text chat with her teammates from the Women’s PGA Cup and owns a plaque signed by every golfer from the event. She said the interaction, plaque and memories of her time there will be something she will never forget.

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“It was the most unique week ever that I can look back to,” she said. “Even when I’m down or I’m feeling depressed about my golf game, which we all feel at times, I can always think back to that week, and think, ‘Wow, that was special, and that was a big moment for women’s golf.’”

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