After stepping away from the game, AJ Newell returns to the LPGA stage at Ann Arbor’s Road to the LPGA powered by the A2 Sports Commission. The former LPGA and Epson Tour pro has not played professional golf since March of 2020, partly due to the COVID-19 pandemic and mainly due to a needed back surgery.
“It’s really hard to describe what it was like going through that surgery,” said Newell. “There were times where it seemed perfectly reasonable that I would never pick up a golf club and swing again. That went through my mind a ton, and I certainly, for the first year, never really thought I could get back to the point where I would play competitive golf.”
Despite thinking her career was over, Newell will tee it up on Thursday in the inaugural event in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
“I just feel so excited. I have a lot of gratitude,” said Newell. “I’m excited to be nervous again.”
Like a few of her competitors this week, this is a familiar course for Newell. In her rookie season on the LPGA Tour, Newell played in the LPGA Volvik Championship at Travis Pointe Country Club.
“I played the LPGA Tour event in 2018 at this golf course,” said Newell. “It’s pretty cool to come back and play a course that I’ve played before.”
The University of Tennessee alumna is proud of where she’s gotten because of the game. She didn’t have much growing up, and it was that lack that made her accomplishments of receiving a full college scholarship and her Tour card that much better.
When Newell stepped away from playing the game in 2020, she did not end her golf journey. She’s now the Assistant Coach for the University of Michigan’s Women’s Golf Team - a position that combines two of her passions, golf and helping people.
“Coaching and this back injury have really shown me that there’s this whole other side to golf,” said Newell. “I can help other young girls realize their dreams. Even if they don’t dream of playing professionally, there’s just so much this sport can give you, and I just love being a part of that journey for people.”
Newell gets to tee it up with a familiar face this week, Ashley Lau. Lau became the University of Michigan’s first player to be recognized by the Women’s Golf Coaches Association (WGCA) as a First Team All-American in 2022. She was also the first in program history to be named Big Ten Golfer of the Year (2022).
“If anyone deserves this opportunity, it’s her,” said Newell. It’s going to be great for her to see where her game stacks up against the pros, it’s going to be a great learning experience, and based on what I’ve seen from her, I think she’s going to learn that she has what it takes to play professionally.”
Playing against Lau is a catch-22 experience for Newell. The assistant coach is excited, yet nervous to play against one of her players.
“It’s really cool that we get to share this experience together,” said Newell. “I’m excited to play against her but a little bit nervous. I’m sure she’s going to beat me by a ton, but it’s going to be cool to see her out on the course this week.”
In addition to playing with Lau, Newell will have a special someone on the bag this weekend. Her fiancé, whom she met after stepping away from the Tour in 2020, will get to see a different side of his wife-to-be.
“If it was just me back playing a tournament, it would be cool and it would be special,” said Newell. “The fact that we get to share this moment together is super cool. He’ll be on the bag for me and it’s just a whole part of my life that he’s never had the chance to see before.”
Newell is excited to bring her fiancé into this part of her world, especially since it may be one of her last professional appearances.
“I think we’re just going to have a ton of fun this week,” said Newell. “I think we’re both going to learn a lot and have a good time. I know I don’t have many competitive rounds left in me, so to get to share some with him is very special.”
Newell is off one on Thursday at 8:58 am EDT.