Professional golfer Joanna Coe spent last weekend on the other side of the gallery ropes.
The 23-year-old Mays Landing native and Oakcrest High School graduate attended the Phoenix Open at TPC Scottsdale in Arizona with older sister Monica and some friends.
After attending a club fitting at PING headquarters, she hung out at the famed 16th hole during the tournament along with thousands of other fans who cheered and razzed PGA pros at what is known on tour as the "rowdiest hole in golf."
"It's definitely one of the best sporting events I've every been to, and I've been to quite a few," Coe said during a phone interview Monday. "I caught one of Bubba Watson's visors and a pair of Hunter Mahan's Oakley sunglasses, got Keenan (Bradley) to wave to us. I was there on Saturday when Phil Mickelson almost aced it and the whole place just erupted. It was a lot of fun."
Coe flew back to Orlando, Fla., where she lives with another older sister, Kristen, on Monday, but in a few weeks she'll return to the desert. Coe's second season on the LPGA's Symetra Tour - sort of a minor-league for the LPGA Tour - begins Feb. 22 with the VisitMesa.com Gateway Classic at Longbow Golf Club in Mesa, Ariz.
The top 10 finishers on the Symetra Tour money list at the end of the 14-tournament season will earn spots on the LPGA Tour for 2014. Golfers can also reach it through the LPGA's qualifying school.
Coe missed out on both avenues for this year. She finished 57th on the money list as a rookie on the Symetra Tour last season, earning $9,580 in 14 events, and then came up short of advancing to the final stage of qualifying school by just one shot after carding a 78-67-75-76 in Stage 2 at Plantation Golf & Country Club in Venice, Fla.
"To be honest, Q-school kind of broke my heart," Coe said. "I thought it was going to be a breeze because I was playing so well at the time, but it seemed like every putt lipped out. I was really bummed for a little while, but I'm just going to take what I learned and move forward."
A rookie's life
Although she didn't earn much money on the Symetra Tour last year, she gained valuable experience.
She learned that the circuit is a mental and physical grind. Playing golf is the easy part. Coe traveled to most of the tournaments in her 2002 Ford Escape. She began the season with 127,000 miles on the odometer and added almost 30,000.
"It was really tough being a rookie," Coe said. "The hardest part was the travel. I had to navigate my way all over the country. There were a lot of 12-hour drives. It got to the point where I considered an eight-hour drive to be an OK trip. I also had to learn how to budget my time, make sure I was eating right, figuring out a different golf course every week while also keeping my golf game together.
"I met a lot of other players and made a bunch of cool friends, but living on the road is tough. It's quite stressful."
Coe primarily stayed with host families, both to save money and to avoid the loneliness of hotel rooms.
"I stayed with a host family in every tournament except the one in Mexico," she said. "It was nice meeting different people and sometimes just having someone to talk to. There were a few times when (the host family and her) practically cried when I left."
There were also some adventures on the golf course. During the Riviera Nayarit Classic in Nuevo Vallarta, Mexico, Coe and Julia Boland were scheduled to play with a third player who didn't show up. Coe and Boland inadvertently forgot to exchange scorecards before the round and wound up writing the other player's scores on their own card.
Both were summoned to the rules trailer the next day. Coe feared getting disqualified but was granted a reprieve because of a rule established at the Master's one year. She wound up finishing tied for 23rd and earning $1,242.
"Every time we saw each other after that, I would call her Joanna and she would call me Julia," Coe said with a laugh.
Occasionally, some of Coe's family - sisters Monica and Kristen, mother Carol, father Dennis - and/or friends from her alma mater, Rollins College, would show up to lend support. Her coach, Egg Harbor Township resident Bruce Chelucci, also attended a few events and even served as her caddie in one tournament.
She went through a bit of a slump midway through the season, missing six cuts in seven events but finished tied for sixth at the Four Winds Invitational in South Bend, Ind. on Aug. 10-12 by shooting a 72-73-70-215. Her final round of the season was her best. She shot 69 on the final day of the Daytona Beach Invitational on Sept. 28-30 to tie for 18th place.
For the season, Coe ranked eighth on the tour in driving distance, averaging 261 yards, and was also eighth with three eagles. Her short game and putting were inconsistent. She ranked 109th with 31.93 putts per round and 112th in sand saves (31 percent).
"Right now, her game is not her problem," Chelucci said in a phone interview. "And her mental attitude is great. I was surprised she didn't make through Q School because her game was exactly where she needed it to be at the time. She just didn't quite put it all together. But I have no doubt she'll be on (the LPGA) Tour either next year or the year after. She basically just needs experience.
"Her game is definitely good enough now and she wants to display it as much as possible. She just needs to put it under the heat lamp and play under pressure as often as she can."
There is a good chance she'll display it at the ShopRite LPGA Classic this year.
Because the Symetra Tour does not have a tournament scheduled for May 31-June 2, Coe hopes to play on the Bay Course at Stockton Seaview Hotel and Golf Club in Galloway Township either through a sponsor's exemption or by competing in the Monday qualifier.
Coe played in the ShopRite in 2010 and 2011, missing the cut both times.
After that, it's back on the road in pursuit of her dream. If all goes well, she'll play the 2014 ShopRite Classic as a member of the LPGA Tour.
"If it doesn't happen for me in four or five years, I'll definitely get on with my life," Coe said. "But I truly feel like it's just a matter of time before I make it. Everyone tells me it's harder to get on the tour than it is to stay on it, so I feel like once I make it, I'll be OK.
"Playing professional golf is not a stable life. But I'm loving it more than I ever have right now."
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