Aditi Ashok, Mariah Stackhouse grind out Women’s Open possibilities

THE COLONY, TX - MAY 05: Aditi Ashok of India watches her tee shot at the seventh hole during the second round of the 2018 Volunteers of America LPGA Texas Classic at Old American Golf Club on May 5, 2018 in The Colony, Texas. (Photograph by Darren Carroll/Getty Images) Darren Carroll/Getty Images

Aditi Ashok, Mariah Stackhouse grind out Women’s Open possibilities

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Aditi Ashok, Mariah Stackhouse grind out Women’s Open possibilities

THE COLONY, Texas – Aditi Ashok took a gamble when she withdrew from a U.S. Women’s Open sectional qualifier. The 20-year-old decided it best to return home for rest rather than stay for a one-day grind in Georgia. Ashok hasn’t had much luck in USWO qualifying in the past, and she’s thinking long-term.

It’s a grind playing a global tour, particularly when home is Bangalore, India. Last year Ashok was out 14 consecutive weeks as a rookie.

“That was too much,” she said.

Mariah Stackhouse qualified for her first U.S. Women’s Open at the age of 17. The former Stanford superstar heads to Cape Cod National Golf Club in Brewster, Mass., on May 16 for her ninth go at sectional qualifying. Last year Stackhouse was 5 under in her first 18 holes and wound up missing by a stroke.

“If I had put a little less pressure on myself after that opening round,” she said, “I would’ve made it easily.”

Stackhouse said she selects a qualifying site by first looking at the locations and dates. She then checks out the slope ratings for each course and picks the hardest test. There are 25 sectional qualifying sites for this year’s championship in Birmingham, Ala. Qualifying began May 2 and extends through May 17. The Women’s Open, which has moved away from its traditional July 4 date, will be May 31-June 3.

After finishing T-33  at the Volunteers of American LPGA Texas Classic, Stackhouse sat on a bench outside the clubhouse with her caddie and dissected what she needs to work on this summer. Her tee-to-green game, she said, has been phenomenal of late. But the putts aren’t dropping.

“It’s not my stroke,” she said. “I’ve looked at my stroke and it looks nice and pure. …. It’s letting it go. I think that I know how well I’m hitting it, and how good my game is and I’m hungry for it. But I think that hunger has turned into trying a little bit, and I’ve got to stop doing that.”

Meanwhile Ashok left Dallas and headed straight to India, where the three-time Ladies European winner will recharge before another long run. She has daydreamed about mom’s home-cooking, particularly her okra and samosas, a pastry with a spicy potato filling. Ashok’s road to Shoal Creek now must come one of two ways: a victory on the LPGA or a spot in the top 50 of the Rolex Rankings.

She nearly accomplished the former at the Texas Classic, where she took the clubhouse lead at the Old American Golf Club in the discombobulated, weather-shortened, 36-hole event. Ashok ultimately finished T-5, the best showing of her promising career.

Ashok entered the Texas Classic ranked No. 71  and should receive a nice bump when the new rankings are released. Like Stackhouse, she’ll skip the Kingsmill Championship and enter the LPGA Volvik Championship, her last chance to secure a spot in the Women’s Open field.

“I’m either going to get in with Rolex,” said Ashok, “or if I don’t it’s fine.”

Ashok, already a history-maker at 20, hopes young girls back home will follow her lead as she establishes a name on the LPGA. No Indian has ever won at this level.

Stackhouse doesn’t necessarily focus on becoming the first African-American player to accomplish any particular feat. But when young black girls come out to watch her play, as they did in Texas, she feels inspired.

“It makes me want to be even better,” she said.

Shoal Creek has a controversial past, nearly losing the 1990 PGA Championship over its discrimination against admitting black members. The club’s membership has evolved over the years and now includes Condoleezza Rice, who happens to be a mentor to Stackhouse through their Stanford connection. Stackhouse is aware of Shoal Creek’s history but said she’ll treat this year’s U.S. Women’s Open like any other major, should she qualify.

“The only thing I can work on is performing as best I can and being mentally and physically prepared,” Stackhouse said. “When things start to come together, as a I feel that they can, anything that comes along with that in terms of being the first black to go do whatever, I’ll embrace it.” Gwk

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