At some point this week at Chambers Bay, whether Ailis Tribolet advances from the two stroke-play rounds or not, she plans to take a moment to appreciate her surroundings and the opportunity presented by competing in the 122nd U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship.
It’s something of a family tradition. As her father, Beau, explains it, “When I was involved in MMA fighting, before I went into the cage, I would always take a few seconds to look around and appreciate how cool it was. You’re not going to remember the result so much as the experience.”
Suffice to say, the journey that brought the Tribolet family, of Chandler, Ariz.., to this week’s championship was not a typical one.
Yes, Beau was a mixed martial arts competitor. He fought professionally for five years (2008-13) as a light heavyweight and left the sport after reaching the Bellator series, the second-largest MMA series in the U.S. after Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC).
“My first fight was going to be as an amateur, but when the main event fell through, I fought as a professional in front of 400 people at a Buffalo Wild Wings in Mesa, Ariz.,” said Tribolet, who was a sergeant with the Tucson Police Department at the time (he has since retired). “I wasn’t doing it for the money, more for the experience, and I ended up going on a good streak – seven wins in a row against good opponents, which got me a fight in Las Vegas.”
Although Tribolet lost his last two fights, he described his MMA career thusly: “I would say I got to ‘the show,’ if you want to use baseball terms. I lost both fights I had in Bellator, which was fine. As I told Ailis, there’s nothing wrong with losing to somebody who’s better than you. I decided to retire at that point, but I got to fight twice on national TV.”
Ailis’ mother, Morgan, does not lack for competitive fire, either. An engineer at Intel, she got involved in triathlons – and not in a casual way.
“We have watched her go from swimming 500 yards in a pool, running 2 miles and biking 20, to within three years she was competing and finishing the actual Ironman in Tempe (2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike and 26.2-mile marathon),” said Tribolet. “It’s so physically demanding… you couldn’t pay me to do it.”
When Morgan would take a five-hour bike ride to train for an upcoming triathlon, golf entered the family picture.
“When Ailis was 5, I would take her with me when I played golf with my friends,” said Tribolet. “And when I say we ‘played,’ I use the term very loosely; it was more like dudes driving around the course looking for golf balls. We never practiced, we never took lessons, we really didn’t have any idea what we were doing.”
Ailis would occasionally hit the hybrid club and the putter she carried around, and by age 8, she decided to enter a tournament and finished third, shooting 47 for nine holes. Before long, encouraged by her grandfather, Rod Hart, and buoyed by a few lessons, she was competing in Junior Golf Association of Arizona events. When the family moved from Tucson to Chandler to be closer to her mother’s job, they joined Whirlwind Golf Club, where Shawn Scott, the director of golf, has helped guide the family in their golf journey.
“Shawn has been her coach for the past five years,” said Tribolet, who will caddie for Ailis this week and has also caddied for Matt Liringis, 26, of Chandler, who has conditional status on PGA Tour Canada. “We’ve been so fortunate to be able to surround ourselves with people who have shown us the right path to take when it comes to golf instruction and practice.”
“It took me a while because I was a little shy, but I’m really comfortable with Shawn,” said Ailis, 15, who is competing in her first USGA championship and has won more than 15 times on the Junior Golf Association of Arizona circuit. “He’s always made lessons super-fun, plus long-term goals like college make me want to keep going. There’s something about it that is addicting; there’s always something new to learn.”
Ailis got through a 7-for-1 playoff on July 7 after tying for the last qualifying spot at Desert Highlands in Scottsdale. She prevailed on the fifth playoff hole and is one of 12 players in the 156-player field who are 15 or younger.
Maybe it comes from knowing that her dad has climbed into a cage for an MMA match, or that her mother tests her limits in grueling triathlons, but Ailis is equally driven, having already tested herself against strong competition. She has played in several Cactus Tour events in Arizona, where professionals (including future major champion Sophia Popov) hone their games in the hopes of making it to the LPGA Tour. Ailis finished last in her Cactus Tour debut, but has gradually worked her way up to record a few top-10 finishes.
“I’m excited to see how it goes,” said Ailis of the Women’s Amateur. “Seeing both of [my parents] compete at a high level, and working hard to get there, definitely motivates me to do the same.”
What’s next after Chambers Bay? A top student at Valley Christian High School in Chandler, Ailis says she is hoping to enroll at the U.S. Naval Academy and become a Navy pilot.
No doubt, she will continue to absorb the lessons learned and enjoy the experience gained along the way.
Ron Driscoll is the senior manager of content at the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.