Stanford golfer to be walking scorer at PGA championship

Published 5:00 pm Wednesday, May 15, 2024

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Jessica Cornelius of Stanford recently worked her 20th Players Championship as walking scorer, a volunteer job with a ton of responsibility that she loves because it puts her inside the ropes with some of the world’s best golfers.

Cornelius, 69, is an elite amateur golfer and has been for years but loves having a chance to see just how skilled players on the PGA Tour are.

Now she gets a chance to volunteer as a walking scorer for the PGA Championship, starting Thursday at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville.

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“It will be a little more difficult to walk (because of the hills) than The Players Championship but I am as ready as I can be at my age,” Cornelius said.

It will not be her first volunteer experience at the PGA Championship. She worked as a shot link operator before, but a walking scorer is the elite volunteer opportunity. She’s also been a volunteer at The Ryder Cup one time.

“I never dreamed I would get to be one of 40 walking scorers,” Cornelius said. “It was kind of surreal when a PGA official sent me an email saying they knew my experience and would like me to be a walking scorer. I said I would do it and then got to thinking about the course and how hard that course is to walk and work.

“I think I will be the only walking scorer from Kentucky. Normally on majors people come from all over the country to do this.

She was at the practice round Wednesday to familiarize herself with the course and then has tee times for her groups on Friday and Saturday. She is on standby for Thursday’s opening round.

“I think on Sunday they have an actual PGA official walk with them (to keep score),” Cornelius said.

A walking scorer has no down time. Cornelius not only has to keep track of the scores of three players on Friday and then two on Saturday, but also hit a button the “precise moment a player is ready to hit his shot” and also hit a button the second a club strikes the ball to alert TV cameras so the ball’s flight can be followed.

“You are lucky to have time to get a drink of water on the course and there is no time to even think about going to the bathroom,” she laughed and said. “I have to record where the ball is and whether it is in the fairway or not or on the green or not, and the players all want to hit as many fairways and greens as possible because that could mean more money from a club manufacturer.

“So I not only have to visualize where the ball is and might go but also learn the cadence of each player so I know when they are really ready to hit.”

Fortunately for Cornelius, her experience with The Players Championship has helped her know the tendencies many players have as they prepare to hit a shot and made it easier in recent years to hit a button just before a player hits a shot, a move that helps cut off worldwide betting during a round since there is all sorts of live wagering on golf now.

Cornelius does not know which players will be in her groups Friday or Saturday. She kept score for Tiger Woods and Dustin Johnson one year at The Players Championship.

“It was like a dream come true to have Tiger,” Cornelius said.

However, she does have a new favorite player — Ludvig Aberg of Sweden. He was eighth at The Players Championship and two starts later he finished second at The Masters. He was also second at the AT&T Pebble Beach. He has five top 10 finishes in his last eight tournaments and has been in the top 25 of all nine tournaments. He has already won over $6 million this year.

“I have never seen a guy hit the ball so pure like he did at The Players,” Cornelius, who got a signed golf ball from him after their round, said. “He was an amateur at this time last year. He’s the nicest guy ever. He never takes a practice swing. He goes up and hits and every time it is so pure but is just a happy, go-lucky guy.”

Cornelius took about 150,000 steps during The Players Championship. She likely will be near that mark at Valhalla next week.

“You might leave home at 5 a.m. and get home at 9. It’s a hard week as a volunteer,” she said. “You walk as fast as you can while trying to enter everything you can while walking that fast. I am glad I am not working every day because I don’t think my knees could take it on those hills because the only time you get to rest even a little is on the tees and greens. The rest of the time you are walking and walking fast but I really do love it.”