U.S. WOMEN'S MID-AMATEUR
Houstonian Freeman Makes Strong Showing November 15, 2017 | Houston, Texas By Lisa D. Mickey

Ashley Freeman, a Texas A&M graduate and Houston resident, reached the Round of 32 in her first USGA championship in 12 years. (USGA/Darren Carroll)

Ashley Freeman’s hopes of giving her hometown of Houston something else to cheer about were dashed Tuesday morning when the last Texan remaining in the U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur Championship lost in the Round of 32.

Arizona resident Thuhashini Selvaratnam of Sri Lanka won that match in 19 holes, but Freeman walked off the Cypress Creek Course at Champions Golf Club satisfied.

“I haven’t played competitive golf since 2010, and it’s been 12 years since I’ve played a USGA championship, so it was nice to get back out there,” said Freeman, 30. “It was a really good week.”

And for Freeman, it was a good week in a city that has experienced a rollercoaster year of emotions, ranging from the despair in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey to the jubilation of the hometown Houston Astros winning the World Series two months later.

“We’re Houston strong!” said Freeman, using the rally slogan that city residents adopted after the devastating floods, which was later worn by Astros’ players on their uniform shirts during the World Series.

Freeman said she did what other Houston residents did when advised that Harvey was heading their way. She bought food, water, batteries and supplies and prepared to hunker down for the first large hurricane she ever experienced.

“We knew it was going to make landfall and we watched it on TV, but the hurricane just seemed to sit over us,” said Freeman, who admitted she couldn’t take her eyes off the newscasts for days.

“I almost had survivor’s guilt, knowing we weren’t flooded and that we didn’t lose power,” she added. “I just sat there watching harrowing stories and seeing people get rescued by National Guard helicopters and neighbors helping neighbors.”

The hurricane’s floodwaters poured nearly 50 inches of water into her boyfriend’s parents’ home in Kingwood, Texas, just northeast of Houston, forcing the elder couple to move in with Freeman and their son, Kelsey Witmer, who caddied for Freeman this week.

“I got really good with the sledgehammer, knocking out the drywall so they can start over with the downstairs of their house,” said Freeman. “It’s been a tough time, but a lot of people have helped out.”

Freeman said Houston “truly shut down for a week” as residents struggled to deal with flooding, loss of electricity and damage to personal property.

But the flip side of the loss was the community spirit that soared as strangers helped each other recover and regroup in the disaster.

“It brought home the fact that Mother Nature is really not biased with who she hits,” said Freeman. “Even the most prepared were affected. It wasn’t poor or wealthy, black or white, young or old – this storm truly touched everybody.”

And while Freeman admits to shedding tears as she watched the city’s challenges detailed daily in the national news, she also was comforted by the acts of kindness witnessed time and time again.

“We saw our community come together in great ways,” she said. “I really believe we’ll rebuild and be stronger than we were before. There’s always good that comes from bad.”

Even as the Astros won games leading up to the World Series, Freeman said those few hours of baseball each evening “lifted up the community and brought a lot of people together.” Whether they liked sports or not, this year’s World Series with the home team winning the title helped “get people’s minds off the repairs” and the incredible challenges brought by the floods.

As a CPA for PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP in Houston, Freeman is now dealing with the financial aftermath for many of her clients. She is offering advice about how to claim a disaster loss and various tax issues.

“In this case, you may be talking about extensive damage – maybe $200,000 damage on a house,” she said. “If the individuals didn’t have flood insurance – which about 80 percent of the affected people didn’t – it’s a very costly out-of-pocket expense.”

Ironically, Freeman fully intended to travel to Naples, Fla., for this year’s Women’s Mid-Amateur, but when Southwest Florida was pummeled by Hurricane Irma in October, the event was postponed, and eventually rescheduled for Champions Golf Club.

Freeman recently got back into playing golf on a regular basis, and she felt good enough about her game to try to qualify for the 2017 Women’s Mid-Amateur. She went to Houston Country Club and won sectional qualifier by six strokes in August.

And when the USGA announced the rescheduled event would be staged in Houston, Freeman was even more hopeful.

“I was thrilled this event was pretty much going to be held in my backyard,” said Freeman, who was born in Temple, Texas, and grew up in Belleville, Ill.

Like many young professionals, the former All-Big-12 player from Texas A&M University stepped away from competition to establish her career. Life got busy as her career took off – sometimes leading to 55-hour work weeks and little time for practice.

But when she met and began dating Witmer, the two found their favorite weekend activity was playing golf. Sometimes they would both play the back tees to challenge their game, or spend extra time in the practice area, working on their short games.

“I started practicing a little more and realized my game was in as good a shape or better than it was when I was in college,” she said. “That was the reason I decided to enter this [USGA] championship and test it out.”

Freeman still doesn’t have time to play much tournament golf, and her job demands the largest chunk of her time.

But this week’s return to USGA competition was the icing on the cake in a year full of surprises.

“I wanted to stay busy out here through Thursday and that was really the goal,” said Freeman, who has played in three U.S. Girls’ Junior Championships and a U.S. Women’s Amateur, with the Round of 32 her previous best finish in the 2003 Girls’ Junior.

“I had a good amount of belief in myself that I could do it,” she said.

When a few late putts didn’t fall, Freeman knew this week’s experience would serve as fuel to fire her effort to qualify for next year’s championship in St. Louis, Mo.

“I was almost there, but overall, I’m very satisfied this week,” she said. “This was a good reason to get the clubs back out and start playing again.”

Lisa D. Mickey is a Florida-based freelance writer who frequently contributes to USGA websites.

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