Sweet Home Alabama

Margaret Shirley is an assistant women’s golf coach at Auburn University. Her third-round opponent, Virginia Grimes, served as the head golf coach in the early 1990s. (Chris Keane/USGA)
By Hunki Yun, USGA
September 21, 2011

Virginia Beach, Va. – Virginia Grimes is tall and reserved, and she plays golf with the effortless grace of a veteran basketball player. Her placid mien is inscrutable, so it is difficult to tell whether she is 3 up or 3 down. At 47, she has played dozens of USGA championships and won the Women’s Mid-Amateur in 1998.

Six inches shorter, Margaret Shirley plays with the intensity of a running back. She yells at her ball, celebrates birdies with fist pumps and chides herself for misplayed shots. Having just turned 25, she is playing her first Women’s Mid-Amateur.

On the course, they couldn’t be any more different.

“Virginia floats down the fairway,” says Kim Evans, who knows both very well, “and Margaret marches down the fairway.”

Grimes and Shirley, who played against each other in the third round of the U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur Championship, may have opposite playing styles, but they have an important bond that transcends playing style, personality – and pretty much anything else.

They are proud Auburn Tigers, and they showed up to the first tee of Bayville Golf Club as if they were tailgating. Both had tiger headcovers and wore Auburn-logoed caps and shirts. Grimes’ bright orange shorts matched the color of Shirley’s bag.

“I wish I could have been there to see it,” said Evans, the head women’s golf coach at Alabama’s Auburn University. “They’re both competitors and unbelievable match-play players. They both find a way to get it done.”

Evans has known Grimes, who graduated in 1987, since junior golf, while Shirley played for Evans from 2004 to 2008 and is now Evans’ assistant coach.

Grimes, nee Derby, preceded Evans as Auburn’s coach, and her legacy at her alma mater is so strong that when the school hosted its prestigious invitational tournament for the top teams in the country, it was called the Derby Invitational. 

“She is Auburn golf,” said Shirley. “I would call her a legend.”

In this all-Auburn match in the round of 16, Grimes outlasted Shirley with a 2-up victory by winning the last two holes. One down on the final hole, a 477-yard par 5, Shirley hit her third shot to a difficult hole location, atop a shelf at the back of the slightly elevated green.  

As Shirley watched the shot with her piercing gaze, the ball landed just a little short of the shelf and started to climb the ridge, but the combination of spin and soft greens brought the shot back to the lower level. When the ball started spinning back, Shirley slapped her leg in frustration. 

A bold birdie effort rolled several feet past the hole. When she missed her par putt, Shirley conceded the hole and match to Grimes.

“I watched Margaret through the years,” said Grimes, who lost her quarterfinal match in the afternoon to Tara Joy-Connelly. “She’s got game and she’s a little tiger out there with a lot of intensity.”

The match provided a measure of payback for Grimes. Earlier this year during sectional qualifying for the U.S. Women’s Amateur, Grimes, Shirley and Emma De Groot participated in a three-for-two playoff at Ansley Golf Club in Roswell, Ga. Shirley and De Groot made birdie on the first hole to advance.

Although both are competitive, they were friendly during their match, walking down the fairway together or chatting while waiting on the tee. The subject, as is usually the case when Auburn alumni get together, was football.

“We started talking about our defense,” said Shirley. “We have a lot of freshmen and they need some work.”

Despite the letdown following last year’s national championship, Auburn football home games are still highlights of fall Saturdays. Although she lives in Mississippi, Grimes owns season tickets and attends most home games.

So the next time Grimes and Shirley meet, the likely venue will be Jordan-Hare Stadium. They won’t have their golf clubs with them, but they’ll be wearing just as much orange as they were sporting at Bayville Golf Club.

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