Ashley Holder has wanted to become a professional golfer since she was knee-high to her father, Joey, who is the reason she picked up the clubs.
When the UCF women’s golfer laces her shoes and takes the course Friday at Alaqua Country Club in Longwood, she’ll be one step closer to her dream. She’ll be playing in the IOA Golf Classic on the Symetra Tour, which is one tier below the United States’ top women’s tour, the LPGA.
“I’ve been wanting to be a pro for my whole life,” Holder said. “[I’m] very excited to be able to come out here and play with pros.”
Although the junior will be competing as one of two exempt amateurs in the 120-player field, negating the chance to earn money but keeping her collegiate status intact, her family knew the day she’d be playing in a professional event would come. They just weren’t sure when.
“Whether it happened this weekend, it happened next year or it happens after she graduates, we expect it from Ashley because of her progress in the game of golf and how well she’s been doing each year,” her father said. “It’s something that we’ve really worked on for a long time with Ashley when we knew she had the potential of being a great golfer.”
Holder, who is the No. 62-ranked women’s amateur golfer in the world as of Wednesday, according to the World Amateur Golf Ranking, has led UCF in each of its three events this season, including two top-10 finishes.
The back-to-back American Athletic Conference Women’s Golfer of the Year is no stranger to competing in high-profile events. She played in the 2013 U.S. Women’s Amateur and the 2014 and 2015 NCAA Regionals. But this professional event will certainly bring new experiences.
“Yes, this is a pro event and it’s bigger … [But I’m] not trying to focus on anything specific or anything more just because it’s a pro event. I’m just doing what I usually do and hopefully coming out here and playing really well,” Holder said. “This is kind of opening my eyes to seeing what it’s going to be like after college.
“[I’m] just taking away as much as I can and seeing their games versus mine and seeing what I need to get better at to compete against them.”
Last year, senior Fanny Cnops played in the event, so UCF head coach Emily Marron has been in the same shoes. Marron has been emphasizing that what Holder takes away from the tournament is far greater than the place that she finishes in.
“She has nothing to lose. Some of these girls are playing for their career, for their money to help pay the bills, [but] she’s playing just for the experience,” Marron said.
But she believes Holder will do very well in the 54-hole tournament.
“If anything, she’ll see that her game compares really well with these girls,” Marron said. “She can compete anywhere with her game. She’s such a good ball striker, she’s so consistent [and] she’s been playing so well. If she plays her game here, who knows ... In two years, she’ll be playing with these girls, and I think Ashley probably has a really good shot to make the LPGA.”
Jarrod Heil is the Sports Editor for the Central Florida Future. Follow him on Twitter at @JarrodHeil or email him at JarrodH@CentralFloridaFuture.com.