GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP — Alison Walshe is free for a Memorial Day barbecue.

Walshe earned a spot in this weekend’s ShopRite LPGA Classic by shooting a 5-under-par 66 on the Bay Course at Stockton Seaview Hotel and Golf Club to win the Battle on the Bay on Sunday.

Joanna Coe, a 2007 Oakcrest High School graduate and Mays Landing native, shot a 75.

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“This is one my favorite tournaments of the year,” Walshe said of the Classic. “To get to play in it means a lot.”

If Walshe did not win the Battle on the Bay, she would have been one of more than 40 golfers competing for two Classic berths in the tournament’s qualifying round for nonexempt pros Monday.

The odds of winning a tournament berth obviously were a lot better Sunday.

“This (Battle on the Bay) is beneficial to those of us who were not in the tournament,” Walshe said. “I think it’s really cool.”

Sunday was the first time the Classic held the Battle on the Bay. Nine golfers teed off. At stake was a sponsor exemption, which carries an automatic invitation into the Classic’s 144-player field.

“It felt like a tournament,” Walshe said. “You’re out there competing for one spot, and there’s some great players playing.”

Tournaments often give sponsor exemptions to popular players or golfers with a local connection.

The Classic has three sponsor exemptions this year. The tournament gave one to popular LPGA Tour player Natalie Gulbis. Indian golfer Sharmilla Nicollet won the second sponsor’s exemption by winning a Twitter poll.

Tournament organizers came up with the idea of holding a mini-tournament for the final exemption.

The players invited to play Sunday either had connections to New Jersey golf or were professionals with close relationships to tournament officials.

Walshe played with Megha Ganne, a 13-year-old from Jersey City, and Kelly Sim, a junior at Academy of Holy Angels in Bergen County. Sim shot an even-par 71, while Ganne shot a 79.

“This gives these girls who are a local a glimpse (of an LPGA event),” Walshe said.

The Classic even had a trophy for Sunday’s winner. Walshe posed for pictures with it in front of the 18th-hole grandstand.

“I thought to myself, ‘Should we get a trophy for this?’” tournament manager Bill Hansen said. “I said, ‘Why not? Let’s make it official and cool.’”

Walshe, 31, joined the tour in 2010. She struggled last year, making the cut in just two of 18 events. She shot 71-73 and missed the cut in last year’s Classic.

She has not played in an LPGA event this year. Walshe has played in four Symetra Tour events, but the last one of those was April 28. The Symetra Tour is the LPGA developmental circuit.

Without playing in tournaments, how has Walshe kept her game sharp the past month?

“A lot of gambling games with my friends,” she said with a laugh. “Just practicing and playing.”

Brynn Walker, a University of North Carolina freshman, shot a 69 to finish second Sunday.

Walshe started her round with a bogey on the 351-yard, par-4 first hole. But she created some positive momentum when she sank a 7-foot putt to eagle the 492-yard, par-5 third hole. Walshe finished her round with three straight birdies.

“I just really didn’t make any mistakes,” she said. “I was just patient. I was fortunate. I know this golf course pretty well.”

The $1.5 million, 54-hole Classic starts Friday. The field will be finalized Monday when 41 golfers, including Coe, compete for the final two spots in a qualifying round for nonexempt players. Players earn exempt status, which grants them automatic entry into tournaments, based on past performances.

The qualifying round will begin at 1 p.m. Coe will tee off at 1:36 p.m.

But Walshe can rest easy. She grew up in Westford, Massachusetts. The Classic is almost like a hometown event for her.

“It’s as close as we get to (her home),” she said. “Everyone stays (at Seaview). There’s good crowds. It’s a fun week.”

Battle on the Bay results

Alison Walshe 66

Brynn Walker 69

Kelly Sim 71

Emily Gimpel 74

Joanna Coe 75

Maddy Herr 75

Kaylin Yost 75

Julieta Granada 78

Megha Ganne 79

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Contact:

609-272-7185 MMcGarry@pressofac.com Twitter @AcpressMcGarry

I've covered high school sports and variety of other events and teams - including the ShopRite LPGA Classic and the Phillies - since 1993.

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