Its Been a Rollercoaster Ride for Prange

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The Big Break V - HawaiiShe had known and lived with the outcome of The Golf Channel's 'Big Break V: Hawaii' reality TV series for months, but Ashley Prange was still a bundle of nerves last Tuesday night when Tour members gathered at Chuy's restaurant in Tucson, Ariz., for a player meeting and viewing of the popular show's final outcome.
 
In one way, it was comforting to have her friends and peers around watching as she and fellow Tour member Jeanne Cho competed in the final episode. In another way, Prange chomped her gum anxiously and relived every shot while perched on the edge of a billiards table in the restaurant's game room.
 
There were whoops and screams and collective groans on missed putts and applause at the end. One player asked Prange to sign her name on a piece of paper, then held up the paper and shouted, 'E-Bay!' And then Prange and Cho walked over to each other and embraced for the second and final time that this 11-player contest had ended. This time, the 6-month secret was officially out. The perpetual questioning was over. The victor was Prange with a 5 and 4 win over Cho.
 
And then Cho whispered into Prange's ear a message that probably would have been seconded by every player in the room. 'Represent us well and play great golf,' Cho told the winner.
 
Those words are still ringing in Prange's ear, along with her cell phone that logged nearly 80 voicemails and text messages from Tuesday night to Thursday morning last week. E-mails poured in on her laptop and Tour officials received numerous requests by media for Prange's time. It was as if a star was born when the final putt dropped on this popular golf reality show -- one that is based on golf skills challenges. A camera crew from the Golf Channel showed up last week in Tucson and followed Prange during her practice round, post-BBV show celebration, during media interviews and during her time with fans wanting photos and autographs.
 
But while Prange has the confident personality to handle the public attention and media interest, as well as the chutzpah to press the flesh with strangers and still play solid professional golf, her new role as the show's winner comes with a price. Prange is never alone. Her phone never stops ringing. And for the first time this season, the player ranked No. 3 on the Tour's 2006 Money List missed her first 36-hole tournament cut by two shots -- taking double-bogey on her last hole in the second round when her tee shot landed out of bounds.
 
'This was a big learning week for me,' said Prange, 24, of Noblesville, Ind. 'My preparation was not adequate. Of course I want to ride this as much as I can, but not to the point that I snap.'
 
Prange is in something of a damned-if-she-does, damned-if-she-doesn't quandary. With so many requests for her time, a failure to properly balance her tournament preparation time can have negative results on her tournament performances, but by the same token, she understands the limited shelf life of stardom and feels compelled to accommodate most requests. The balancing act, however, is a new concern in her young professional career and Prange is the first to admit that she's a rookie in managing her time and public commitments.
 
'I've got to learn how to say no and to prioritize my schedule,' she said. 'I'm not going to make everybody happy. I wouldn't want it any other way and I have no room to complain, but this has been a lot to be placed on my plate in a week. I have a lot to learn about this kind of attention.'
 
The fact is, Prange can play. She played well enough to win the second Duramed FUTURES Tour tournament of the season in Tampa, Fla., and has posted three top-10 finishes in seven events this year. A four-time All-Atlantic Coast Conference player while at the University of North Carolina, she recorded three tournament wins in college and was a 2004 NCAA First Team All-American. And on Big Break V: Hawaii, she proved that she could still perform with cameras poised at every angle, filming shots-on-command that could send a player packing with one miscue.
 
But while Prange says she might 'look [like she's] ready for a dog fight' on the golf course at all times, there's still a side to the outgoing second-year pro that sheds tears when she feels the sting of criticism from her peers.
 
'I know I'm a target,' she said. 'I've received a lot of criticism by my peers. I've heard people say I'd be a horrible ambassador for our Tour and for women's golf. That really hurts.'
 
But the daughter of PGA teaching professional Bob Prange also knows a few things about bouncing back. She did it this year after posting only two top-10 finishes in 18 tournaments last season to finish 46th on the Tour's 2005 Money List. She did it after missing the cut in the LPGA's Final Qualifying Tournament last December. She took nearly four weeks off and didn't touch a golf club, sorting through the disappointment.
 
'It was nerves,' she said of her LPGA Q-School demise. 'I let the pressure completely mount. To get to the final stage and have a horrendous week was incredibly disappointing.'
 
Prange walked away from that Q-School experience believing that she had to relearn how to enjoy golf and to not be so tough on herself. She also pushed away from her disappointments in 2005 and called the entire season a 'process.'
 
'It's a teeter-totter and I'm doing what I can to find the balance of getting my game to where I know I should be while trying to enjoy the process of getting there,' she said.
 
Prange's success on BBV no doubt, bolstered her confidence and built a solid foundation for her 2006 competitive season. But while the show was structured around players' execution of specific golf shots, it also was centered on character development -- which, says Prange, was something every player knew going into the show.
 
'Ultimately, it is a TV production and it's about what makes good TV drama,' Prange said. 'I knew there were going to be character types. I knew I'd be portrayed as the intense, fiery competitor who happens to be blonde. I knew that I would rub some people the wrong way. But I also know that it's your game that speaks for itself in the long run.'
 
Prange has weathered the criticism. And she took what she learned about stress through the show into the current competitive season on the Duramed FUTURES Tour. Surviving contestants in the show were the ones who were able to hit particular shots at specific times. She learned to control the same jangling nerves that derailed her efforts at LPGA Q-School and she used that new awareness to win her first professional title in Tampa.
 
But Prange believes one of her biggest hurdles this year will be, once again, keeping her nerves under control when she plays in the LPGA Tour exemption at the Safeway Classic in Portland (Aug. 18-20) that she gained by winning Big Break V. She has never played in an LPGA tournament. And she is well aware of the furor Danielle Amiee caused last year as the winner of Big Break III when she posted a 'DNS' -- meaning a 'Did Not Show' at the 2005 LPGA Corning Classic.
 
'Because of what happened, there's now a stereotyped notion about the winner of the Big Break show,' she said. 'I feel extremely blessed to have this opportunity and I'm going to work my tail off to be as effective as possible at the Safeway Classic.'
 
As a promotional tool in Prange's preparation to play in the LPGA's Safeway Classic, The Golf Channel will launch a four-episode show called 'Game On: Ashley's Big Break' that will chronicle how she prepares for her exemption. Prange will be given a mini-cam to collect her own video scrapbook of practice rounds, dinner with friends, private housing hosts and off-course interests. Filming for the series will begin this week. The four shows will begin airing in mid-July and will lead up to Prange's LPGA Tour appearance.
 
As a journalism, advertising and sports marketing major at North Carolina, Prange understands the value of her current experience. She sees it as a marketing tool for future endorsements and sponsorships. She knows that signing autographs for fans and responding to them politely is necessary, even on those tough weekends when she misses a cut and returns on a Sunday afternoon to putt -- only to be questioned by well-intending fans who recognize her and want to know why she's not playing.
 
Prange always looked up to LPGA Tour veterans Michelle McGann and Nancy Lopez, because they could successfully balance their work lives and personal lives. And she aspires to do what Dottie Pepper has done -- play a solid career on the LPGA Tour, and then move into golf TV commentary.
 
And while the public doesn't see the side of Prange that sits quietly and writes thank-you notes each Monday to those who made a difference at each Duramed FUTURES Tour tournament site, it is there, balancing the confident swagger of a woman who wants to win and makes no apologies about it.
 
'I do what I have to do to play the game, to play great golf and to move up to the next level, but I'm also going to remember the people who helped get me there because I'm sure to see them again on the way back down,' she said.
 

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