Archdeacon: She’s a trailblazer on the PGA Tour

Springboro grad Leslie Grabeman is organization’s first woman scoring official.

Not only is she an integral part of a place like almost no other in professional sports – the PGA Tour’s scoring tent – but she is making history in the process.

Leslie Grabeman – once a standout golfer at Springboro High School, where she’s enshrined in the school’s athletics hall of fame – is the PGA Tour’s first female scoring official and is on track to become the second woman rules official.

“The PGA is a male dominated organization, so she’s kind of a trailblazer,” said her dad, Dr. Thomas Grabeman, a Troy dentist who had a longtime practice in Kettering.

She’s been with the Tour for 6 ½ years and in her current position – with the Competition Administration – since August of 2017.

Although she handles several other duties as well, her principle responsibility is to verify each player’s scorecard at the end of every round.

This happens just a few steps from the 18th green at a place referred to as the scorer’s tent, although it’s not always in a canvas enclosure.

One thing that doesn’t change though is that “the tent” is where all players trek to decompress, regroup, commiserate, curse, vent, joke, show sincerity and graciousness for a fellow golfer’s success and, sometimes, just pour their hearts out after several hours of pressurized competition and intense scrutiny on the golf course.

“Part sanctuary, part sanitarium,” is the way New York Times writer Bill Pennington described it a decade ago.

Paul Casey, the English golfer then rated No. 3 in the world, told Pennington:

“There can be heated altercations. Those poor rules officials must have heard every curse word in several languages by now. It can be loud and crazy.”

Grabeman laughs at such assessment:

“We’re kind of like the first line of defense. They come in and we’re right there. We’re there to help them, but if someone does lash out in the moment, I know it’s not really directed at me. You just let it go in one ear and out the other.”

She thinks one reason she got the job was that she “gets it.”

After all, she was a competitive golfer herself once. The stakes may have been lower and the paydays nonexistent, but she knows the emotions that can be triggered.

After starring as a junior golfer and then making a pair of trips to the state tournament when she was at Springboro, she played college golf at the University of Minnesota and the University of Memphis before being the assistant women’s golf coach at the University of North Florida.

Now she’s working alongside the best golfers in the world.

It’s a job that was beyond her wildest dreams growing up.

“One of the coolest parts is that when I was growing up, we’d watch golf every Sunday,” she said from her home in Florida. “Our family would have a nice meal and then we’d watch that week’s tournament.

“Tiger’s the one who got me started in the sport and now there’s Tiger walking into the scoring area or onto the first tee where I’m working. I’m interacting with these people I looked up to for years and years.

“There have been moments, especially early on, where I just wanted to pinch myself and say, ‘I’m actually here.’”

But as she thought about the experiences, she also had to laugh.

“When I was offered the opportunity of being the first female in this position in the tent, maybe they thought ‘Well, if we put a female in there, maybe we won’t hear as many cuss words or comments.’

“But once they get used to you, that’s not quite how it works. And that’s OK with me.”

Embracing the game

Initially, she said she “hated” golf:

“When I was maybe in the first grade my dad used to take me to the golf course a lot and I thought it was boring. Being young, I just wanted to be with my friends.”

Her family played a Sycamore Creek Country Club in Springboro and her older brother Kevin ended up being a top amateur in the state and starred at Ohio State.

Leslie’s attitude changed when her mom, Lisa, would take her to join her grandfather, Rex Hardin, when he did freelance photography at various golf tournaments, including on the LPGA Tour.

“I got to meet some of the LPGA girls and that was exciting,” Leslie said. “Being around those events kind of changed my outlook.”

She wanted to travel like her brother was with his golf, so her parents encouraged her to embrace the game.

Credit: handout

Credit: handout

Her dad – who’s an 8 handicap – said she first beat him when she was about 13. Although she used a different tee, she soon was outdriving him.

“She liked to take a picture of it and send it to all her friends,” her dad laughed.

After high school she chose Minnesota and played in seven of 10 events for the Gophers her freshman year.

Although she was voted the team’s “hardest worker,” she said a new coach came in, took away her scholarship and offered it to someone he wanted to bring in.

Disheartened, she transferred to Memphis, only to have the coach there fired, as well. Although that meant she’d have four college coaches in three years, she made her mark with the Tigers, lettered three years and graduated cum lade in 2011.

After coaching 18 months at North Florida, she was hired by the PGA Tour to work as a producer with ShotLink, the technology system that records and reports all the information about every shot by every player in real time during a PGA Tour event.

“It’s the live scoring that gets broadcast on our apps, on TV and is now a part of our gambling deal, too,” she said. “It’s really an upcoming part of our business.”

She’s been a scoring official nearly four years now and is being mentored to become a rules official.

“I appreciate the opportunity and have been humbled by it,” she said. “That first year I didn’t want to make a big deal about it. I just wanted to earn everybody’s respect.

“But now that I’ve been in the role awhile, I’ve thought about ways I could improve things to help other women who come into this down the road.”

‘I’m in a very special place’

While she said her life now is “like being with a travelling circus,” she said she’s working with “the best officials” in all of golf.

Her team splits up tournament assignments and her dad said she works about two-thirds of the 50-events on the Tour.

Last weekend she was at the RBC Heritage in Hilton Head and next weekend she works the Valspar Championship in Palm Harbor, Fla.

The COVID pandemic has made the job challenging at times, she said:

“I’ve probably been COVID tested 40 times since last June. Every week we have a bubble to keep everybody as safe as possible.”

Because the precautions have eliminated some volunteer positions, she’s picked up extra duties, including announcing players on the first tee at tournaments.

Her principle focus though is helping players make sure the right score for each of their holes has been written down and they’ve signed their scorecards.

No one wants a repeat of the 1968 gaffe when Roberto De Vicenzo signed an incorrect scorecard and was denied a victory in the Masters.

Often, the people in scoring are the first contact golfers have with what’s been going on in the rest of the world while they’ve been on the course without their phones.

“At the Players last year, that’s when we shut down because of COVID,” she said. “We were the first people golfers saw, so we relayed the news: ‘OK guys, at this point there will be no fans the rest of the week…And these are the tournaments that are being cancelled.’

“And I was also in the tent last January, the day Kobe Bryant passed away. I had to inform players coming off the course, so there you are telling Tiger Woods and Tony Finau, guys who idolized Kobe, what happened. A lot of guys took it hard.

“You have to be very exact and mature and understanding. That’s a very private moment you’re part of and you want to treat it with respect. I know when I’m in the tent, I’m in a very special place.”

It’s a place like almost no other in professional sports.

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