Golf season was definitely in full swing this year for Tullahoma High School senior Ashley Gilliam, whose skill and talent on the links earned her the opportunity to travel the country, participating in a variety of high-profile tournaments.
Those strong and in some cases, record-setting, performances did not go unnoticed. On Nov. 21, the Tennessee Golf Association announced Gilliam had been named the 2018 Tennessee Women’s Golfer of the Year.
At the time of the announcement, Gilliam was actually on the course down in Florida, playing in the Rolex Tournament of Champions, at the PGA National Resort & Spa- Champion and Fazio Courses in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida.
“It’s really cool and I’m excited about that [to be named the Tennessee Women’s Player of the Year],” Gilliam said. “I didn’t know that I had got that. I was at a tournament in Florida and then one the AJGA workers came up to me and said ‘Congrats.’ I was surprised and didn’t know. It was really cool to figure out that I got that.”
Before her most recent honor, Gilliam made history — even some family history —on her way to capturing her third-straight win during the 2018 Tennessean/Metro Parks Schooldays Golf tournament on June 7.
The THS golfer was just the third female to win the tournament three consecutive times. Her mother, Jennifer Haley, won the same tournament three-straight times in between 1989 and 1991.
In the tournament’s history, there has never been a female who has won the tournament four consecutive times. Gilliam will have an opportunity to claim that record all by herself when she is eligible to compete next year.
Following the Schooldays tournament, Gilliam qualified for the U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship, which took place on July 16-21 at Poppy Hills Golf Course in Pebble Beach, California. She qualified for that tournament after nabbing third at a qualifier at Purdue University in Indiana on June 17.
During the national tournament in California, Gilliam advanced as far as the quarterfinals. In total 156 players qualified for the U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship, with 64 advancing from the first two rounds, which consists of two 18-hole competitions.
Gilliam scored a +6 in her 18-hole rounds, placing 44th and guaranteeing herself a spot in match play. She went on to notch three-straight wins, before seeing her tournament end with a loss to Gina Kim in the quarterfinals matchup.
A couple of weeks later, Gilliam was once again taking part in a national tournament, this time in the U.S. Women’s Amateur. The national tournament took place at The Golf Club in Kingston Springs on Aug. 6-12.
In order to qualify for that tournament, Gilliam needed to finish within the top four at a qualifier in Lawrence, Kansas on June 27. Gilliam did one better, taking the top spot on the way to locker her spot in the national tournament.
During the U.S. Women’s Amateur, Gilliam saw her tournament end right after making it into match play. After combining to score a -3 during her first two 18-hole rounds, Gilliam dropped her opening match to Yuka Saso from the Philippines.
Despite getting eliminated, Gilliam said the highlights for her this season were getting to be part of those national tournaments.
“The U.S. Girls Tournament was probably the most fun tournament that I was a part of,” she said. “The USGA tournaments are run so well, so that’s one of their biggest of the year. I got to quarters there, which was really cool. The U.S. Am was also exciting because it was in my home state, so all of my family got to come watch me. They really don’t get to go to the bigger tournament, so it was really nice to have them there. To make it to match play was really awesome.”
Before taking off to those national tournaments, Gilliam brought home her second-straight Tennessee Girls’ Junior Amateur Title on July 12. She did so in record-breaking fashion, turning in a final round of -6, finishing 14 strokes ahead of runner-up Kara Carter from Kingsport.
Gilliam’s two-day performance set tournament records. First, she set the tournament record for lowest final round score, adding the lowest combined total, carding a 134 in her two rounds.
With that performance in hand, Gilliam has made it a goal to try to win her third-straight Tennessee Girls’ Junior Amateur Title next year.
After competing all over the country, Gilliam returned to Tullahoma, helping lead the Lady Wildcats to a District 8 Title as well as a state tournament berth.
During the district tournament in Lawrenceburg, Gilliam took the top spot, carding a 72 on the day.
A week later, Tullahoma locked up its state tournament spot by claiming the Region 4 Championship in Murfreesboro on Sept. 17. Gilliam again put together a special performance, carding a 67, finishing -5 under par. Gilliam’s performance earned her the top spot individually during the region tournament, finishing 10 strokes ahead of her nearest competitor.
At the TSSAA State Tournament, the Lady Wildcats saw their second day washed out due to rain and scores were determined based off first-day efforts. Tullahoma concluded its state tournament run with a fifth-place finish.
Gilliam led the Lady Wildcats, putting up a +3 during the tournament, carding a 75 overall, tying her for eighth overall in the individual standings.
“It was really cool,” Gilliam said of her first season as a Lady Wildcat. “I had to sit out last year because I transferred. I love the team that we had and loved the girls on the team. It was a really fun to get to play with them at state and try to compete and win there.”
On Nov. 14, Gilliam signed her letter of intent to continue her golfing career at Mississippi State.
“I love the program and the coaches there are amazing,” Gilliam. “Also, the whole team atmosphere is great as well. I love all the players there and their practice facilities are great. There’s a family atmosphere there at Mississippi State that is really cool.”