With an impressive performance, Tullahoma High School golfer Ashley Gilliam nabbed third place at the USGA Girls Junior Am Qualifier Tournament held at Purdue University on June 17 in West Lafayette, Indiana.
That third-place effort assured Gilliam a spot in the U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship, which will take place on July 16-21 at Poppy Hills Golf Course in Pebble Beach, California. In order to automatically qualify for the national tournament, the 16-year-old Mississippi State commit had to finish in the top five during the Indiana competition. This is the second-straight year that Gilliam has qualified for the national tournament.
“Last year, [the national tournament] was one of my favorite tournaments that I played in and it took place in Missouri,” Gilliam said. “I’m really excited to play in this year’s tournament. This tournament is two stroke play rounds and then it goes to match play. It’s just a really fun tournament and it’s one that we all look forward to playing in and qualifying for every year.”
During the U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship, the field will consist of 156 players. Qualifiers were held at 40 different sites across the country starting on June 11 and continuing through June 28. All competitors during the national tournament will be 18 years old and under.
Competing against 60 other golfers on June 17, Gilliam went on to put up a -2 at the Kampen Course qualifier, putting up a total of 70 shots on the day. On the front nine holes, the incoming THS senior made par on eight holes, while hitting a bogey on the fourth hole.
Following that effort, Gilliam went on to birdy three of the final nine holes. She first hit a birdy on the par-3 13th hole, following that with another birdy on a par-4 14th hole. She ended her day on a positive note, concluding the tournament with a birdy on the par-4 18th hole.
“The course was pretty hard and the wind picked up in the afternoon,” Gilliam said. “It was 18 holes, so in 18-hole qualifiers, you really have to make sure you limit your mistakes and focus on every hole and every shot and not let one mistake ruin your whole round for you. I played really well. I was able to limit my damage … I played really well though. I hit the ball really well and putted really well too.”
Unfamiliar with the course, Gilliam had just one practice round, taking place the day before the tournament, to familiarize herself with her surroundings as quickly as possible. After hitting +1 on the front nine during the qualifier, Gilliam said her goal was to just stay calm and try to knock in a few birdies on the final nine holes.
“I knew that the course wasn’t playing easy. So, I knew that there weren’t going to be many low scores,” she said. “I knew that if I kept it together on the back nine and made a few birdies toward the end, or even get it back to even or -1 or -2, then I thought I had a pretty good chance. I just made sure to not let that +1 on the front nine affect me on the back nine and just focused on the final nine holes.”
While there is still some time before she leaves for California for the U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship, Gilliam will be playing in some upcoming tournaments to continue to practice beforehand. Included on those tournaments is a trip to Kansas to take part in the U.S. Amateur qualifying tournament in early July.
Heading into this year’s U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship, Gilliam said her only goal was to improve her overall standing from when she qualified in 2017.
“Last year, I made it to match play, but I lost in my first match. One of the goals this year is to make it back to match play first and hopefully do a little bit better than I did last year. I’ve just got to take it one match at a time and get to match play first before I even start thinking about the match play or the format.”