Ashlan Ramsey: A Star Is Reborn
A decorated amateur whose brief pro career was beset by injury and disillusionment, Ashlan Ramsey has found peace and contentment as an ambassador for the game
By Jordan Perez
April 6, 2018 is a day that was celebrated throughout women’s golf — the final round of the inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur. The day Jennifer Kupcho was crowned the first female champion at Augusta National Golf Club, shattering a glass ceiling as the women’s game entered a more progressive, inclusive era.
But amid the excitement, one woman had never felt more forgotten.
No, Ashlan Ramsey wasn’t expecting an invite. She wasn’t even eligible for one. It wasn’t the notion of playing Augusta National — she had been there/done that more than a decade before. But curled up in her New York City apartment, the former world No. 1 amateur was on the phone with her father as the images of a revered golf course on her TV stirred up some of her most difficult memories.
“Do you think people remember how good I was?”
It was a painful reckoning that had been a long time coming.
The wonder years
Born to Carla and Al Ramsey, Ashlan had little interest in golf as she grew up in the small town of Milledgeville, Ga. Tennis was faster and more exciting for the 6-year-old. A little more than a year later, the family relocated to Augusta. When Ashlan noticed older sister Taylor was earning trophy after trophy and that Dad was spending more time on the course than the court, she dropped the racquet and committed to the clubs.
The transition proved more complicated than Al could have anticipated. Taylor was a natural who adopted swing mechanics seamlessly. Ashlan, on the other hand, struggled absorbing her father’s years of golf wisdom. “We would go to tournaments and Taylor would win, and Ashlan would come in last,” Al says. “That probably happened in the first five or six tournaments they played in.”
After a couple years of relentless practice, Ashlan started to carve her own success. Instructors told Al that although his older daughter was more experienced, they believed Ashlan would develop into the star. A short hitter, Ashlan struggled to keep up off the tee with her high-level competitors. But she had a strong conviction and a tireless regimen, regularly skipped sleepovers and birthday parties for the opportunity to practice.
At 10, she told her father she would win the U.S. Kids tournament. Even he doubted her. She’d never won anything. A U.S. Kids title? Competing against the world’s best in her age group? Sure enough, she won the U10 U.S. Kids World Championship in 2006. It was then the Ramseys realized they had something special.
By proxy, she started her fifth-grade year declaring her career aspirations for a class project. The objective was to compare the chosen career at the beginning of the year to the career at the end of it. Professional golfer, she proclaimed. That never changed. And it wouldn’t for the next decade.
Al Ramsey made it his goal to do everything to ensure his daughter would live out her dreams. Acting as caddie, mental coach, swing coach, he made trips far and wide to help bolster the junior golf careers of his two daughters. At one point, he even welcomed Shannon Aubert, a rising star from Switzerland, into the Ramsey home and treated Shannon as he would his other daughters. To the Ramsey sisters, Shannon was one of them, bringing her own competitive edge and serving as the occasional mediator in sibling spats. For nearly two years, Al was the “golf dad” to three girls — and subsequently, for the rest of Taylor’s and Ashlan’s childhoods. Al evolved into a manager to two young girls gaining prominence in Augusta. Spring breaks in Augusta meant the Masters. The Ramsey girls had enough local renown to be invited to play Augusta National.
The quiet and ever-polite Ashlan navigated through the junior golf world with her head down, laser-focused, even transitioning into home school in her teen years to allocate more time to the craft. Her sharp short game earned her the title of the “Silent Assassin,” as she would often frustrate older and more experienced opponents with her wedge play and putter. She was named the top junior girl in Georgia from 2011 through ’13, and bumped shoulders with the nation’s best at the Junior Solheim Cup in 2011 and ’13.
When the college golf programs came calling, Ashlan had one caveat: Taylor would accompany her wherever she signed. The Ramsey family toured multiple top-tier programs, from Oklahoma to Texas A&M to Georgia to Arizona, about 15 visits in all. But the sisters felt most drawn to a new program just a few hours from home: Clemson. Several girls from the Southeast junior golf circuit were committing to the program, and Ashlan felt empowered to build a program at which she’d be the de facto leader. Thus, Clemson won the Ramsey sisters lottery, and the No. 2-ranked golfer in her class signed her letter of intent in 2013.
“I was just kind of like keeping my head down and trying to get to where I wanted to be,” Ashlan says. “I had a lot on the line.”
The Silent Assassin
Three titles as a 16-year-old and a runner-up to Kyung Kim at the 2012 U.S. Women’s Public Links were just a warmup for Ashlan’s college career. She was the low amateur at the 2013 Kraft Nabisco Championship, finishing T48 after rounds of 71-75-73-71. Then in the summer before her arrival at Clemson, she went on another run. At the Georgia Women’s Match Play Championship, not one of her matches went past the 14th hole. The following week she teed it up at the Women’s Eastern Amateur and won by three at the Kingsmill River Course in Virginia.
The small state events in Georgia were beloved and close to her heart. But the national stage was something else. At the Eastern she realized this wasn’t junior golf anymore. These were elite amateur events, and she was finally gaining the upper hand on the older girls who had always been longer and stronger.
Ashlan won again at the Western a week later. But the nonstop golf was taking a toll. She almost withdrew from the final at Dayton Country Club, having awakened that morning with neck pain and sciatica in her arm. Even so, she wiped the floor with Jenna Hague, 7 and 6. On the outside, such stellar play lends itself to a lot of intimidation, especially from a girl with few words who often passed the talking duties onto her father. In reality, she was an introvert who for the most part struggled to come out of her shell. “I didn’t have enough confidence to feel like I could really be friends with the other girls,” Ashlan says. “In retrospect, I think that I probably came across as if I wasn’t interested in being friends with any of the other people. It’s because it wasn’t my priority.”
Golf was. She was the medalist at the U.S. Women’s Amateur qualifier and the runner-up at the Trans American Amateur. She bested fellow decorated Georgian Mariah Stackhouse at the Georgia Women’s Golf Association Championship. By the end of the summer, she was Golfweek’s No. 1 ranked amateur in the world.
Al and Carla relocated to Clemson to support their two daughters. With family never far away, Ashlan spent many practice sessions with Dad by her side, just as she had as a kid. The payoff was nearly instantaneous. In her second tournament she earned Clemson women’s golf its first individual win at the Lady Paladin Collegiate. In October she won the Ruth’s Chris Tar Heel Invitational. In a mere four months Ashlan won six tournaments.
With her fall schedule winding down, Ashlan represented victorious Team USA at the Spirit International beside Ally McDonald, Jordan Niebrugge and Scottie Scheffler. But as the weather cooled, Ashlan realized she wouldn’t be long for college golf. The little girl who finished dead last in many of her early tournaments was finally on top of the world. Now it was time to truly chase her dreams. “It’s a big step for me to turn professional,” Ramsey told Golf Channel in April 2014. “There’s a lot of things I need to work on. I think I can do that better outside of Clemson in focusing all my time on my game.”
In her second and final semester at Clemson, Ashlan supported the Tigers as she shuffled between playing professional events, finishing her freshman year with two wins and five top-three finishes. She was named to the Curtis Cup that spring. She made the event her amateur swan song, going 1-1-1 in a Team USA win.
Now it was time for the real world, and life came at her exceedingly fast. She had runner-up finishes in back-to-back state opens ahead of summer Q school. All was well for the bright-eyed, freshly turned pro — until it wasn’t. On the eve of the first round of 2014 Q school, the back pain returned. Ashlan chose to play through it with swing compensations as Band-Aids. She shot rounds of 80-77-71-72, calling it a “harsh reality” as she failed to advance.
Determined and looking to get in as many reps as possible, Ashlan played every event she could. But the agonizing back pain lingered, and after making just one cut in four events, she shut it down for the rest of 2014 in hopes of accelerating her recovery.
The bills and the debt mounted. A sponsor who had promised to support Ashlan when she left school backed out. The Ramseys were suddenly having to financially support their daughter’s lifelong dream. Al, who worked as a hospitality director at an arena in Clemson, suggested Ashlan work catering events by night and day shifts at the local Hilton golf course as a way to earn discounts on hotel stays in 2015. Between doctor visits and MRIs, and selling signed photos and memorabilia, Ashlan put in long hours at both jobs. She opened a GoFundMe to keep the dream alive. This was Ashlan’s new normal. She squeezed in 10 Symetra Tour events (at which she made all 10 cuts) and wins at two state opens. The end goal was a chance at redemption at Q school.
Back to the grind
Motivated, healthier and somewhat financially secure—all the schmoozing in the corporate suites at the arena helped lead to more than $23,000 being deposited in her GoFundMe—Ashlan returned to Q school in December 2015 with her eyes fully on the prize. Exempt through Stage II, she advanced with ease to the final stage. Before Stage III, she deleted all of her social media apps to minimize any distractions and stayed with a family friend to ensure a comfortable host environment. In a surprise move, Al, her loyal caddie, stayed back. “It just becomes too emotional when you’re too close to it,” Al says. He fully understood what was at stake.
Playing during the week of her 20th birthday, Ashlan opened with rounds of 70-71-69-75 to place herself inside the top 30 with the final round looming. Only the top 20 would earn full LPGA status.
Her father called her on the eve of the final round.
“How’d you play?” he asked.
“It’s a miracle I broke 80,” Ashlan responded. “I hit it so bad. I should have shot like 85.”
They texted swing videos back and forth and made some long-distance adjustments. But Al kept mum about a big surprise: an early morning drive with his wife from Clemson to Daytona Beach to surprise Ashlan. Al knew he’d want to be there regardless of the result, and planned to stake out LPGA International behind buildings and bushes during Ashlan’s final round.
“I wouldn’t even go out on the course anywhere,” Al says. “I didn’t want to jinx it.”
On her final nine holes, Ashlan found a blissful calm. “No matter how nervous I was or how much I was trying to combat all of these thoughts, every swing just felt right,” she recalls. She posted the low round of the day, a 5-under 67 that featured six birdies. After she holed out on the 18th green, she was surprised by her excited family.
Clear eyes. Full status. Can’t lose, right?
With a full schedule of events on her docket, Ashlan was ready to embark on her rookie season on tour. But after making only two cuts in 17 events, a year that had begun with such promise ended in a nightmare. Although her back felt fine, her mental health fell victim to internalized pressure in 2016. “I found myself thinking every week needed to be a good week instead of taking things one step at a time like I had done in junior and amateur golf,” she wrote in her blog.
It would only get worse. The back pain returned, and she was slowed by a vertigo attack.
Less than a month before the final stage of Q school in December, Ashlan, straining to make up for lost time, injured her left shoulder. She played the final stage in immense pain, finishing 151st.
The pain lingered, even after being diagnosed with a snapping scapula, which meant a month and a half of physical therapy squeezed in just before the start of the 2017 Symetra Tour season in March. She made three cuts in a tough season and further damaged the shoulder; the pain shot up to her neck. Specialists finally diagnosed neurogenic thoracic outlet syndrome, defined by the Mayo Clinic as “a group of disorders that occur when blood vessels or nerves in the space between your collarbone or your first rib are compressed.” In time, Ashlan would learn the hard truth: There was no therapy for this. No amount of practice or reps, strengthening or conditioning. Myofascial release, physical therapy — she tried everything to alleviate the pain. Her shoulder would never fully recover.
The doctor visits started to make her feel crazy. No one understood the extent of what she was experiencing. “Trying to put my hair in a ponytail or lifting my arm was really painful,” Ashlan says. “If I’m in a room where people are talking loudly or there’s tension, I get a really unbearable pain. If I’m under a lot of stress, the nerve pain in my shoulder will really flare up.”
Suddenly, her golf future was in doubt.
“It has been so long since I had positive momentum with my game,” Ashlan says. “I’m in debt, I’m injured, and I don’t have any status. There’s kind of the writing on the wall. It just comes to a point where it doesn’t make sense.”
Point of no return
Then came a timely phone call. A connection Ashlan had made at an LPGA stop offered her a paid appearance to help market the game in India. So she and Taylor spent the latter half of 2017 overseas, hitting tee shots with actors, politicians and athletes in Pune, Hyderabad and Delhi, participating in fashion shows and sightseeing in between.
“I think that opportunity definitely opened my mind to the fact that there was a world outside of the one in which I had been living,” Ashlan says.
She only had one year of education to fall back on from Clemson, but she knew golf better than anything. So she took on a job with the Krishnapatnam Port, one of the world’s largest shipping companies, as an international marketing ambassador for golf. For the next two years, amid trips to India, Seoul, Singapore and Hong Kong, she’d embark on a jet-setting lifestyle.
“I don’t know who I am anymore,” she recalls thinking. “So let me do something that doesn’t feel like me.”
Competitive golf was no longer her safe haven. New York City would become home. The corporate world was her future.
In February 2020, Ashlan took on a job with Golf & Body NYC as the director of event management for a few months before entering her current position as the event director and membership development for Eligo Club. It is described as a “boutique golf membership that allows its members access to various private clubs in the New York/New Jersey area.” Ashlan manages all of Eligo’s corporate accounts, oversees events and plays golf with its members multiple times a week.
Learning to interact on her own with Wall Street types and hedge fund managers was daunting. For a woman who struggled making small talk with her LPGA pro-am partners, it became obvious good golf alone wouldn’t cut it in the business world. “You have to learn how to put yourself out there,” Ashlan says. “You have to learn how to engage with people. Maybe the only commonality is golf, but that’s the starting point.”
Eligo Club became the perfect marriage of the game she knew so well and essential skills. In a matter of three years, the 20-something who moved to New York with no money and a year of college on her resume had carved out a comfortable new life for herself.
Lost and found
In January 2021, Ashlan received a life-changing phone call from Al.
Her grandmother, Carol (who went by Honey), had been physically struggling to accomplish simple tasks and was rushed to the hospital. She had been battling melanoma for five years, but doctors found that it had rapidly spread to her brain.
A former teacher, Honey went above and beyond to support the Ramsey family her entire life. She rarely missed one of Ashlan’s or Taylor’s tournaments. Normal family dinners with Honey around felt magical, with themed decorations and activities making each one memorable.
The idea of losing such an important part of their family was earth-shattering, and the Ramsey sisters didn’t hesitate to pause their lives, booking the next flights home. For the next two months, they would remain by Honey’s side, helping her get dressed and applying her makeup. Al would regularly beseech his kids to take a mental break, fully aware of the toll of watching their grandmother fade away. The girls always declined.
“She poured her heart into everything she did and made everyone smile,” Ashlan says. She felt it was only right to reciprocate.
Honey lost her battle on Feb. 27. With their matriarch gone, the Ramsey family felt broken. After the funeral, the Ramsey sisters returned to their lives in New York City but nothing felt normal. It took golf to help make things right again.
Ashlan had always maintained an upbeat and engaging social media presence. PXG took notice and invited her for a fitting in July. Taylor and Al accompanied Ashlan as she tested out a variety of PXG clubs. It had been more than a year since her former caddie had seen her swing. Taylor and Al looked at each other in shock. It was almost as if Ashlan had never stopped competing. The finesse and grace of her swing were still there, and she struck the ball with a familiar purity.
“Man, if you were hitting it like that, I would still be carrying a golf bag right now instead of building garages in South Carolina,” Al remarked. Laughter ensued.
Except, he kind of meant it.
Inspired, Al decided to explore which state opens were approaching. He noticed South Carolina’s registration was still open. The possibility of reopening a sutured wound was there. But Al recognized how far Ashlan was from her previous life and how settled into her new world she was. He picked up his phone: “Hey, would you be interested in playing in this?” he asked Ashlan. “I miss being out there. I don’t care if you shoot 100 every day. I just want to be on the golf course, watching you hit it.” He insisted he wanted to see his daughter relax and have fun.
Ashlan accepted the offer with one condition: her family surround her, to revel in the one thing that always brought them together. To heal. The return was dedicated to Honey, one of her greatest supporters.
For the first time in three years, results were irrelevant. Money wasn’t an object. A no-pressure return. It was an opportunity to enjoy golf again. On her terms.
In the first two rounds of the South Carolina Women’s Open, Ashlan shot 77 and 76. She was nowhere near contention and nobody cared. “The good thing is, no one knows who you are at this event,” Al remembers saying. “So we can just go out and have fun.” But someone else in the field had been paying close attention. Paired with Ashlan for the final round was 17-year-old Caleigh Noonan. Caleigh appeared timid and nervous for most of the round. Al and Ashlan didn’t think much of their playing partner. They thought Caleigh was much too young to know who Ashlan was. However, 15 holes in, Caleigh’s mother approached Al. “Don’t say anything to Ashlan, but I just want to tell you that Ashlan is her hero,” her mother said. “She knows everything about Ashlan. She idolizes her.”
Caleigh, whose father is the men’s soccer coach at Clemson, had attended the ACC golf championship in 2014. Taylor, who wasn’t in the lineup for the week, had been following Ashlan and noticed the young girl. Taylor brought a signed ball of Ashlan’s and handed it to Caleigh. Seven years later, she still had the ball and was carving out her own collegiate path.
The chance encounter with Caleigh had a profound impact on Ashlan. Someone remembered how good she had been, that she had once hoisted six trophies in four months. “It just kind of gave us both a new perspective of how she has affected people and can continue to affect people in a positive way,” Al says. That headstrong, persistent girl gave everything she had to realize her dream until she couldn’t give anymore. Her return to golf was never about chasing the high of being No. 1 again. It wasn’t to defy the injuries. It was for the family that supported her in every way imaginable. And it was for herself.
After her final putt dropped in South Carolina, Ashlan Ramsey walked off the 18th green at Cobblestone Park Golf Club. She embraced her loved ones and friends. There was a new knowing: Golf was her North Star. Even when she lost her compass, she would always find her way back.