2009: Lee Shirley Jun 19, 2009  (10 years ago)

By Randy King
Jun 19, 2009, 10:34

Lee Shirley selected to Roanoke Valley Golf Hall of Fame

Lee Shirley was the dominant women's player in the Roanoke area in the 1990s.

File 1993 Lee Shirley won the Roanoke Valley Hall of Fame tournament in 1993, beginning a three-year string of victories in the tourney.

"I don't have to actually play golf now, do I? I hope nobody expects me to break 80," she said.

So what? It was the low scores the Salem native posted during a brilliant 10-year run in the 1990s that validated her ticket as the sixth woman to be enshrined in the Hall of Fame.

In her '90s heyday, Shirley was tough to beat. She pulled off a trio of three-peats, winning the Virginia State Junior Girls title in 1990-92, the Roanoke Valley Golf Hall of Fame women's championship in 1993-95, and the Virginia State Women's Amateur crown in 1996-98.

"It's such a surprise, not to mention such an honor," said Shirley, 32, who now is married and lives in Raleigh, N.C. "I've been gone from Virginia for a long time now. It's nice to know that people still remember what I did a long time ago."

Dot Bolling, who has won more local major titles than any women's player in the Roanoke Valley, said Shirley's selection to the Hall of Fame was a no-brainer.

"Lee was a great player," said Bolling, 63.

"As far as I'm concerned, she is the best that's come out of this valley ... so far. She won everything she played in. She was just good. She was focused and all business. She was a very pleasant person to play with and play against.

"Back then, she hit the ball a long ways. And if she was playing today with the equipment and everything, she would probably win everything she played in. I guarantee she can break 80 to get in this if she had to."

Upon her graduation from the University of North Carolina in 1998, Shirley played two years on the Futures Tour, a feeder circuit for the LPGA Tour.

"There are definitely a lot of good players in the U.S., and you find that out," Shirley said. "Every level you go up in golf, it's definitely an eye-opening experience when you see how much talent is out there. I had a couple top-10 finishes."

Shirley was a serious threat to win every time she teed it up in the 1990s. At 16, she captured the Scott Robertson Memorial girls crown, a title that hasn't been won since by a Roanoke Valley player. In 1994, she won the State Women's Stroke Play title at Hidden Valley Country Club and was named the VSGA Junior Golfer of the Year.

Shirley said she owes her parents, Jim and Rosa, for getting her started in a game that lasts a lifetime.

"Without my family and having their support, none of this would have been possible," Shirley said. "My dad put the first club in my hand. They've got pictures of me when I was 2 years old on the putting green.

"Apparently, that didn't help much because putting is actually the worst part of my game," she added with a laugh.

When Shirley was 10, her father started pumping money into lessons from area pros. From that point, her game began a meteoric rise.

"I always joke that my swing was built by lessons," said Shirley, a North Cross graduate. "I had a lesson at least every two weeks, if not every week. I wanted to get better and I would take any help that I could get.

"My parents didn't ease me into it. They had me out there all the time at Hunting Hills. I played every week. I really can't remember a time in my life when I didn't play golf."

Shirley still plays today when she's not working as a licensed real estate broker for a Raleigh-area builder. She and her husband of four years, Martin Playford, take Fridays off together so they can play 18 holes.

"Martin is from England, so he's very much into golf," Shirley said. "We were golf buddies before we starting dating. We pretty much play to the same handicap, so we have a lot of fun together."

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