BY MIKE FIELDS
Jessica Cornelius might be the most experienced volunteer who will work the Barbasol Championship when the PGA TOUR event comes to town for the first time this summer.
There’s no question Cornelius will be one the most enthusiastic volunteers walking the fairways at Champions at Keene Trace.
A former Kentucky Women’s State Amateur champion, Cornelius has been volunteering at THE PLAYERS Championship in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., for almost 20 years. She’s also worked the Ryder Cup and PGA Championship.
So when she heard that the Barbasol Championship was coming to Central Kentucky, she jumped at the chance to be part of the action.
“It’s like if you were a huge NFL fan, and you were able to sit on the sidelines and have someone tackled right at your feet,” she said.
“If you’re a golfer and you love the sport, you will never have a better experience than this up-close and personal encounter with these professionals. You actually see people hit shots in a game you actually play. That’s why it’s such a great opportunity for any golf fan. It’s not like watching on TV. It’s so much better.”
The Barbasol Championship will require some 1,500 volunteers to work the July 16-22 tournament in a myriad of ways, including acting as marshals, or helping out on the driving range, or in hospitality or merchandising.
“We’ve got all kinds of committees,” Cornelius said. “Just tell us what you like to do and you’ll fit in somewhere. Come volunteer and I promise you’ll have a great experience.”
Cornelius is a golf junkie. She’s been playing the game for more than 50 years. She won Kentucky’s Junior PGA title when she was 12. Her longevity is reflected in how she fared in the State Am over three decades. She won it in 1984 and was runner-up in 1993 and 2005.
She’s had just as much fun volunteering at golf tournaments.
A friend whose parents lived in Ponte Verda helped Cornelius get involved in THE PLAYERS Championship. She volunteered as a marshal the first couple of years, but soon after got the chance to work as a walking scorer.
“There’s nothing like it,” she said.
She’s had the opportunity to be the walking scorer for many of the PGA TOUR’s biggest stars, including Bubba Watson, Jason Day, J.B. Holmes, Ian Poulter and Sergio Garcia. (She has a bagful of golf balls signed by the players she’s worked with.)
Her most memorable PLAYERS Championship came a few years ago when she was assigned the twosome of Tiger Woods and Dustin Johnson in the final round at TPC Sawgrass.
“When Tiger came up and introduced himself on the first tee, he said, ‘Hi, I’m Tiger. What’s your name?’ I was like, I have no idea what my name is. I think I told him, but I’m not real sure,” Cornelius said with a laugh.
“I’ve always admired Tiger on the golf course, even through all his woes. In fact, I actually respect him even more.
“He was struggling when I scored for him at THE PLAYERS, but his drive and determination . . . he was fighting on every shot. I’ve worked with a lot of the big names, but he was more interactive with the crowd than any golfer I’ve been around. You don’t see that on TV.”
Cornelius said she and friends Pam Knight and Linda Neikirk are the only Kentuckians who regularly work THE PLAYERS, and all three will serve as walking scorers at the Barbasol Championship.
“I think it’s important to get in on the ground floor,” Cornelius said. “There’s only one year that it’s an inaugural event, and we need to make our best impression on the TOUR, and show how this community can support it so we can keep it.
“If you’re a golfer, it’s a wonderful opportunity to see a game you can’t even imagine. If you’re not a golfer, we just need a smile and someone who’s appreciative of the game.
“Come out and support the charities and get the side benefit of an experience of a lifetime.”