Flowers to fairways: Officer Debbie ends long run at Farmers
Ganley has helped provide security for TOUR players while getting to know them through the years
January 21, 2020
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
Tiger Woods and Officer Debbie at Farmers Insurance Open
LA JOLLA, Calif. – From Academy Award winner Stephen Spielberg to New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady to the Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards to the inimitable Tiger Woods, Debbie Ganley has worked with them all.
The 21-year veteran of the San Diego Police Department has handled security at special events as diverse as San Diego Chargers games, Comic Con, Thunderboat Races, the Rock and Roll Marathon, the 2008 U.S. Open and last weekend’s Martin Luther King parade.
“Sometimes we'll have five to 15 events on a weekend,” Ganley says. “So being part of this unit, I have been able to do concerts and, and things that most people would be, oh, that would be very fun to do.”
But the event that is closest to her heart is the Farmers Insurance Open.
This week’s event will be Ganley’s final one overseeing security for the event at Torrey Pines, where she is in charge of all the police officers on site. The 57-year-old is retiring this year, and Farmers Insurance is honoring her as the first recipient of its Hometown Hero Award.
The award underscores Farmers’ commitment to first responders and disaster relief. Ganley will be recognized before Sunday’s trophy presentation and will also caddie for Woods on the 18th hole in Wednesday’s pro-am.
“I just can't say enough about what it means for Farmers to honor me as the first Hometown Hero,” Ganley said. “When they told me I literally was teary-eyed because it just kind of brought my whole life to, okay, I am part of this community. Gosh, everybody's just so nice.”
Interestingly, though, Ganley didn’t start her career in law enforcement. Her parents were horticulturalists and owned a garden center on Long Island. She worked in the family business for a while before joining another local florist.
That’s where Spielberg comes in.
“We did a lot of the big houses in East Hampton,” Ganley says, among them the one belonging to the Oscar-winning director and comedian Chevy Chase. “We have a lot of celebrities that live out there.”
Ganley, though, had always wanted to live on the West Coast. She visited a boyfriend, a Navy man who was stationed in Miramar, California, and fell in love with the San Diego area. She called her mom and told her she was moving.
“I bought a convertible and here we go – ‘Fast Times at Ridgemont High,’ just like I saw it,” Ganley says. “I'm like, oh my gosh, they look like they have so much fun. Little did I know the house I bought is like a canyon over to Clairemont High School, which is where they based the story. Is that crazy or what?”
But the florist business wasn’t as lucrative as it had been on Long Island, so Ganley started looking for a job. She wanted to work for the city and when a position as a starter at Torrey Pines, the famed municipal course came open, she applied.
“I said, well, that looks like fun,” Ganley says. “I applied and I got the job and I started working. Never been on the golf course in my life. In Southampton, Shinnecock is there. I would drive by, oh that's pretty, you know, and never even got in here.
“But I fell in love with golf, the people and everything.”
Among the people she met was a teenaged Pat Perez, a San Diego native, whose father Tony is the long-time announcer on the first tee during the Farmers Insurance Open. Perez grew up to become a 14-year PGA TOUR veteran and three-time champion.
“Never in a million years would I say, hey Pat, you know, one day you're going to be on the TOUR and I'm going to be securing the event,” Ganley says.
As it turns out, Ganley’s boss at Torrey Pines was a police officer, and soon she found herself joining the force. She has worked on special events for 19 years of her 21-year career.
That’s where Brady comes in. She was walking out of the West tunnel at Qualcomm Stadium after a San Diego Chargers game with the Patriots when she saw a tall man dressed in a sharp suit.
“I thought, oh my goodness, that is one handsome man,” Ganley recalls with a grin. “And I look and it’s Tom Brady, right? No wonder.”
And then there was that Rolling Stones concert when she found herself beside the stage, handling crowd control. Sheryl Crow, who was the opening act, was standing next to her, and Mick Jagger was doing his dancing thing on the stage.
“And then at the end of that concert, we wait until the whole interior clears,” says Ganley, adding that she’s a huge Rolling Stones fan. “And Keith Richards walks up, and he's just happy as anything. He says I love to watch the roadies break this down. They're so cool.
“And I'm thinking we get to do things that you personally wouldn't expect to be part of.”
This week’s biggest task is protecting Tiger Woods. Ganley has worked at Torrey Pines for seven of Woods’ eight victories and she sees first-hand the crush of people clamoring for autographs and photos. She always knows when he’s going to arrive and tries to stay a step ahead of the commotion.
“The reason that I have spent so much time with TIger is because he brings the biggest crowds,” Ganley says. “So that's where we concentrate on the public safety of massive crowds people pushing and shoving and even the children being pushed up against the barricade or something. ...
“I've spent a lot of time with him and I think he certainly knows who I am and he's always happy to see me, recognizes me and of course I know who he is. He's been very nice. I can't say enough about him -- thank you for being here and that type of thing.
“And again, his father was a service man, too, in the military, so Tiger's been exciting and so great for the game.”
Ganley acknowledges that this week is bittersweet as she contemplates retirement. She won’t completely stay away from golf, though – her boyfriend, who was a good friend of the late Billy Casper, is a member at San Diego Country Club and the two play almost every week.
“They used to play golf every morning,” Ganley says. “So, he's telling me Billy stories, I'm telling him Tiger things and everything I've done with a golf course.
“And I'm like, well, this is kismet.”
Actually, kismet could apply to Ganley’s entire life.