Ashton Poole (Photo by Tim Cowie)
In Ashton Poole
’s golf life, Atlanta has been the setting for two important chapters. Call the first a prologue.
Poole, now 22, was 8 years old when his dad first sent him to Atlanta to work with Jon Tattersall, an instructor he had met through a golf outing with Morgan Stanley, where he worked. Poole, who was living with his family in New York City at the time before an eventual move to Charlotte, N.C., spent a day with Tattersall.
“He told me to hit it as hard as I could every day and come back when I’m 15 and he’d straighten it out,” Poole remembers.
This was the groundwork for Poole’s game, which he describes as not very mechanical, hit it, find it, hit it again.
“My game is built around just feeling loose, feeling happy, seeing the shot, visualizing it and hitting it,” he said.
The 6-foot-2-inch Virginia graduate has a fair amount of length. He’s a lefty with a strong grip and one who is most confident with a driver in hand. Cue the next important chapter in Atlanta: the 2018 Dogwood Invitational. The long-running event at Druid Hills Golf Club in Atlanta is an early staple on the summer amateur schedule. For Poole, his June 9 victory was validating.
Poole, then a rising senior at the University of Virginia, had entered the week with relatively low expectations. He had won the Northern Intercollegiate in September, but struggled after that.
“My expectations were sky high after winning but I really didn’t have the game to back it up,” Poole said. “I just wasn’t there.”
It pushed Poole to a point where he questioned whether he still wanted to pursue golf. He and his dad, Ashton Poole Sr., had a heart-to-heart. The older Poole honed in on his son’s summer-tournament lineup.
“Go play like you’ve got nothing to lose, play as freely as you can and enjoy the process of it, enjoy the experience,” he said. “Every day you play, remember you’re on a wonderful venue with the best players in the world.”
Poole opened the Dogwood with a 3-under 69 at Druid Hills that turned out to be his highest score of the week. He went 22 under for the week and won by four. It was like a switch went off. Poole backed up that week with a top 10 at the Monroe Invitational and a top 5 at the Carolinas Amateur.
“You have to love it and I found the love again,” he said. He will tee it up this week as the defending champion.
A lot of things about Druid Hills set up well for Poole’s style of play. He went 14 under on the par 5s last year, which played a major role in his win. It started on the tee, but he managed the greens well, too. Poole gives Druid Hills the ultimate compliment: Good shorts are rewarded and bad ones are penalized. You can “make a mess out there if you find the wrong side of the hole.” Poole, for the most part, didn’t.
Poole was something of a late bloomer, coming to Virginia as a preferred walk-on in the fall of 2015. He had qualified for the 2014 U.S. Junior, missing match play in a playoff after making a great run to get to that playoff. When Virginia coach Bowen Sargent showed up in his gallery that day, Poole remembers, he ran off four consecutive birdies.
Poole says he improved tremendously his first year in college and tried to soak in as much as he could from older players on the roster. He has also worked with Bob Rotella, a sports psychologist, to gain some perspective.
“You (watch golf) on TV and all they show is the best shots,” Poole said. “You see these people as if they’re robots … but in reality, we’ve been able to get the perspective that these people struggle with the same things we struggle with.”
But perspective comes from other places, too. Poole is lucky to count among his friends amateur golf legend Vinny Giles. Poole’s grandfather John Bassett III introduced him to Giles while hosting his grandson for a round at Seminole Golf Club.
“For anybody who is trying to play professional golf and it doesn’t work out, you can only hope that your golf abilities will translate in the business world,” Poole said of Giles, a two-time USGA champion. “He is the absolute role model for what it means to be a Virginia gentleman and a role model in the game.”
Part of Poole’s journey reflects Giles’ journey, which is to say that competitive golf has given him a story – one that reflects hard work and, from time to time, failure. Poole imagines he’ll give Giles a call when it’s time to make the jump from amateur golf to the next level. In the meantime, Poole will take a gap year of sorts to work on his game and pursue a master’s degree in marketing.
There is, however, potential for another Poole run this summer – potential even for a better
one. He’ll follow the Dogwood with the Sunnehanna Amateur, Northeast Amateur, Players Amateur, Southern Amateur then U.S. Amateur qualifying. He'll work with Tattersall in the in-between times.
“We’ll be getting after it,” Poole said, “and there are no excuses.”
• • •
THE MOMENT WE’VE BEEN WAITING FOR:
The winners of the Annika and Haskins Awards will be revealed Tuesday June 4 on Golf Channel now that votes have been received an counted from players, coaches and golf media.
Hall-of-Famer Annika Sorenstam will join Golf Central on Tuesday during a 6 p.m. ET broadcast to announce the 2019 Annika Award presented by Stifel winner. That player will receive an exemption to compete in the 2020 Evian Championship. The Haskins Award winner will be announced on the same broadcast, and will receive an exemption to compete in the 2019 Military Tribute Greenbrier Classic on the PGA Tour in September.
Arkansas senior Maria Fassi
, Wake Forest senior Jennifer Kupcho
and Florida State freshman Frida Kinhult
were finalists for the Annika Award, while Oklahoma State teammates Viktor Hovland
(junior) and Matthew Wolff
(sophomore) and Georgia Southern senior Steven Fisk
were finalists for the Haskins Award.
• • •
TOURNAMENTS TO WATCH
Dogwood Amateur, Druid Hills, Atlanta, Ga. June 5-8
Poole returns to defend, of course, but it’s a strong field of collegians who will gather in Atlanta as the summer amateur season begins in earnest. Also keep an eye out for Tony Romo, playing his first major amateur event since the Byron Nelson last month.
Palmer Cup, the Alotian Club, Roland, Ark., June 7-9
Consider this the Presidents Cup of college golf. It pits collegians from the U.S. against their international counterparts in an annual co-ed grudge match. This year’s venue formerly hosted the Western Amateur.
Women’s Southern Amateur, Lockwood Folly CC, Supply, N.C., June 3-7
An 18-hole stroke-play qualifier sets up a 32-woman match-play bracket. Consider this the opening women’s amateur event for the summer now that NCAAs and the U.S. Women’s Open are in the books.
• • •
STAT OF THE WEEK
: AND ANOTHER ONE
Make that four Iowa Senior Match Play titles
for Gene Elliott, the West Des Moines native and Iowa Hall of Famer. Inside state lines, Elliott has also won the Iowa Four-Ball five times, the Iowa Mid-Am four times, the Iowa Senior Am three times, the Iowa Amateur three times and the Iowa Amateur once.
He is lacking a USGA title, but Elliott’s national titles range from the Porter Cup to the Jones Cup Senior to the Crump Cup.
Elliott, who was a 2006 U.S. Mid-Amateur quarterfinalist, owns a sanitation and street equipment company, and underwent open-heart surgery in 2000. He was inducted into the Iowa Golf Hall of Fame in 2012.
• • •
TWEET OF THE WEEK:
WHY WE COME IN WHEN THE HORN BLOWS