By SCOTT COTTOS
SYLVANIA — Years before the all-America honors and a spot in the U.S. Women’s Open, there was Jillian Hollis knowingly playing out of her league.
In 2014, the then 17-year-old from the Cleveland suburb of Rocky River received a sponsor’s exemption to play in the Marathon Classic at Highland Meadows Golf Club.
“It was one of my first pro events as an amateur, so I was a little bit nervous, you know, going onto the practice green and the driving range and seeing all of the people who I’d watched on TV for so long,” she said on Wednesday. “But it was definitely a great experience.”
Four years later, she’s back on another sponsor’s exemption after completing three seasons at the University of Georgia and gaining a spot on the 2018 developmental Symetra Tour.
Hollis will join defending champion In-Kyung Kim and many of the LPGA’s top stars as this year’s Marathon Classic begins today at Highland Meadows.
Hollis, now 21, has come a long way since that first visit to the local tournament.
“I’ve played this golf course numerous times,” she said. “It’s a little bit different now because I know a lot of people out here. I have a coach who works with a lot of the girls out here, so he’s introduced me to them. I played the U.S. Open earlier this year and I’ve played several Symetra Tour events. I’ve gotten my bearings more, being a professional. It’s been a little easier this time (in Sylvania); a little more relaxed.”
Hollis received her first sponsor’s exemption with tournament director Judd Silverman unaware that he had also given an exemption to Jillian’s mother years earlier, when Sharon (Minnich) Hollis played at Ohio State.
But there’s little coincidence to a youngster becoming good at a sport when he or she receives strong instruction from a parent from an early age.
“She knows quite a lot about golf and the golf swing and everything,” Jillian Hollis said of her mother, who played for a short time professionally after finishing up at Ohio State. “She kind of taught me as soon as I could walk and I just fell in love with it from there.”
Jillian went on to gain all-America and all-Southeastern Conference accolades three times. She not only qualified for this year’s U.S. Women’s Open in Shoal Creek, Alabama, but made the cut with rounds of 76 and 70. She ended up 63rd after finishing with scores of 78 and 83.
She then started Symetra Tour play with a second-place finish in the Forsyth Classic in Decatur, Illinois.
Hollis said she feels no pressure to be playing this week in front of family, friends and fellow Ohioans and will take a simple goal into the tournament.
“My goal is to play golf like I’ve been playing the whole year and to keep my emotions in check. I’m not so worried as much about how I am as a player as I am as a person on the golf course, mentally,” she said.
“I’m just trying to treat everything like a normal golf tournament. That’s my biggest goal for this week. That’s my goal when I come to one of these bigger tournaments — to just play golf.”
HOMETOWN PROUD: Silverman awarded two final sponsor’s exemptions this week to Toledo St. Ursula graduates Lizzie Win and Pinya Pipatjarasqit.
Win is going into her junior year at Seton Hall University after gaining all-Big East kudos in each of her first two years.
Pipatjarasqit graduated from St. Ursula in the spring. She was runner-up to teammate Lily Rinker in last fall’s Three Rivers Athletic Conference championship match, then tied for 10th individually while helping the Arrows place third as a team in the Division I state championships at Ohio State’s Gray Course.
“Just getting this opportunity to play in this tournament before I even start college is just amazing,” said Pipatjarasqit, who will play collegiately at Brown University. “I’m just so thankful that I was given a spot and so grateful to be playing with Lizzie, who I’ve been friends with for so long that we’re basically like sisters. Just to do this is so, so cool.”