GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP, N.J. - A year ago, South Jersey amateur Joanna Coe was showing up at the Dolce Seaview Resort, doing her best to soak in everything that goes with playing in your first professional tournament, when someone approached her about getting a game.
Well, not just anyone. It turned out to be LPGA Hall of Famer Karrie Webb.
"I didn't know how it worked with practice rounds," Coe said. "I thought you signed up. So I did. Then I saw my name was crossed off [the list]. She tapped me on the shoulder and asked, 'Do you mind if we play together?' I was like, 'Are you kidding? Absolutely!' Can you imagine that? She came over to me.
"It was awesome. She's a season-ticketholder with the Florida Marlins and the Dolphins. So we just talked sports the whole time. She was very down to earth, very personable. It was something . . .
"Growing up, I'd always dreamed of playing in [the ShopRite LPGA Classic]. I was a volunteer there. It was so cool to see the best women in the world in my backyard. I hoped one day maybe I would be part of that too."
Now, the graduate of Oakcrest High and Rollins College (Winter Park, Fla.) is back at Seaview to tee it up with the best once again. Only this time, she'll be making her pro debut.
Last June, Coe made it into the field through Monday qualifying. This time, she received one of the event's three sponsor exemptions.
"That was the best week of my life," said Coe, who opened with a 75 before she caught a cold and shot a second-round 81 to miss the cut. "I really couldn't believe [I qualified]. There were 11 pros and another amateur [vying for] for two spots. I just kept thinking, 'This can't be happening to me.' I had, like, 100 people watching me, family and friends. One official said, 'Do they know it's only a Monday qualifier?' It felt like the real thing to me.
"[In the tourney], I teed off No. 10 both days. When they said 'From Mays Landing,' and then my name, there was a huge roar. I kind of forgot that I had to hit. I played with Sarah Jane Smith and . . . I've forgotten the other women's name [it was Marcy Hart]. It was very nerve-racking, but a lot of fun. I hit both [opening] tee shots right down the middle. It's a whole new level of golf. It's just different. You have to hit tricky shots in front of a lot of people. The second day, I'd only slept a couple of hours, I felt like crap, so it's kind of a blur."
Coe, who just qualified for a spot in her first U.S. Women's Open (July 7-10 at The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, Colo.) after being an alternate a year ago, won the 2008 NCAA Division II individual national title as a freshman. But soccer was her first love.
"I didn't get into golf until I was 11 or 12," Coe said. "My dad and two older sisters played. But I was into fast-paced things. I had a lot of energy. I thought golf was boring. Those Olympic soccer players, Brandi Chastain and Mia Hamm, they were my idols. Then I started hitting balls. That, to me, was the most athletic part of golf. My strength to this day is hitting it long and straight. I played a lot of sports. But I started getting really good in golf.
"By about my sophomore year of high school, I realized I could probably go far with it. In soccer, it's hard to judge who's the best. In golf, you just go by the numbers."
She chose Rollins, a D-II power, over Maryland and North Carolina. She has dealt with some "rough patches" the past few years, including a wrist injury. The next step of the journey is upon her.
"I've always wanted to be a pro athlete," Coe said. "I think I'd regret it the rest of my life if I didn't try."
She's also scheduled to play in an event in Canada before moving to Orlando to live and train with a sister who works at Sea World. The first stage of LPGA Qualifying School is in late July. There also are plenty of future/mini-tour events both in the Sunshine State and beyond, just in case. Coe understands it can be a process.
"I'm only 21, so I'm not in a rush," she acknowledged. "I graduated from college kind of early. Most people think you've got to be on the tour when you're, like, 17. For me, I started playing my best competitive golf later. I think I'm getting better each year. It's a big challenge, but as long as I can afford to keep doing this . . . I always felt I could be hitting my prime at 24 or 25. I'm a late developer. I was very short. Then I grew 7 inches my junior year of high school. I've gained weight. Now I'm 5-7, 140. And I just keep getting more experience under my belt."
She'll gain more knowledge over the next few days. With a bulging fan club monitoring her every move.
"I think people love to see the homegrown girl who went to public school trying to make it," said Coe, who's worked at nearby Blue Heron Pines Golf Club, where she's been mentored by instructor Bruce Chelucci. "There's just so much pride. We're all supportive of each other. I think that's what makes it a special area. People have reached out to me that I haven't heard from in years, wishing me the best. That really means a lot.
"They could've given [the exemption] to anyone, some with much better credentials than me. So, obviously, I'm thrilled for the opportunity. It's one more experience I'll have. There's going to be a lot going on. Last year, I didn't play in the pro-am. At least I've had more time to prepare. I have a game plan in my head. I'm going to embrace every moment. Who knows if this ever happens again? I want it to happen all the time. But you never know what cards you'll be dealt next. Someday, when I'm 50 years old, I can say I played in [this] . . .
"And each day I get to just drive home. I love my bed. It's a perfect situation."
What: ShopRite LPGA Classic
Where: Dolce Seaview Resort, Bay Course, Galloway Township, N.J.
When: Today through Sunday; first two rounds tee off at 7 a.m.; final round begins at 9:17 a.m.
Purse: $1.5 million
Par: 37-34, 71
Length: 6,155 yards
Format: 54-hole stroke play
Field: 150 players
Cut: low 70, plus ties
Defending champion: Ai Miyazato; defeated M.J. Hur by two strokes
Tickets: $15 daily; $60 full pass includes resort access, including dining options
Parking: $5, at the Municipal Offices Complex, 300 Jimmie Leeds Road; shuttles to the golf course will run througout the day
TV: Golf Channel. Tonight: Midnight-2 a.m. (tape delay). Tomorrow: 5-7 p.m. Sunday: 4:30-7 p.m.
Sponsor exemptions: 1. Joanna Coe, Futures Tour; 2. Alexis Thompson, Pro; >3. Jaclyn Sweeney, LPGA
Monday qualifiers: 1. Young-A Yang, LPGA, 71 (even par); qualified on the 1st hole of a three-way playoff; 2. Jean Bartholomew, LPGA, 71 (even par); qualified on the fifth hole of playoff, defeating amateur Kelly Shon
LPGA rookies in the field: Danah Bordner, Sara Brown, Dori Carter, Tiffany Joh, Jennifer Johnson, Kimberly Kim, Jessica Korda, Jennie Lee, Amelia Lewis, Belen Mozo, Haru Nomura, Ryann O'Toole, Hee Kyung Seo, Stephanie Sherlock, Jenny Shin, Jennifer Song, Jaclyn Sweeney.
Course information: Architect: Hugh Wilson, 1914. Most recent redesign and renovation: Donald Ross, 1914. Grasses: Tees fairways, greens: Bentgrass; poa annua. Rough: Kentucky bluegrass, ryegrass; fescue.
Information: 609-798-0222; www.shopritelpgaclassic.com