Remembering a Shining Star
These are not easy questions. But last week, as the Duramed FUTURES Tour reeled with the sudden, unexpected death of Gaelle Truet following a car accident on a rain-slick highway, staff and players alike wrestled with mortality questions. We all had driven the same exact route from Decatur, Ill., to our next tournament in Lima, Ohio. Some had even telephoned others traveling behind, warning them about the storms ahead.
Gaelle was traveling alone that day. One split second and one giant puddle on the highway sealed her destiny, leaving many to ponder the possibility that it could have been them. It was a thought that touched past and present players on the Duramed FUTURES Tour, as well as the LPGA Tour, spanning 26 years on the FUTURES and 50-plus years on the LPGA. Gaelle would become the first Tour player to die during tournament travel.
But while the sadness was sometimes nearly unbearable, all week long, there were stories. These were stories that captured the essence of third-year player Gaelle Truet of New Caledonia -- the player with the funny French accent who would nearly sing both your first and last names each time she crossed paths with you. This was the player with the genuine smile, the perfect-fitting and professional apparel, and the one with the spark in her step, the impeccable posture, the dancer's walking gait and the swinging arms of a happy toy soldier as she marched down fairways heading toward her next shot.
Tournament operations intern Kenny Badylak was on the range in Decatur at the end of one day and Gaelle walked up to him on the range. She said, 'Stand still, Kenny. Do you hear that?' And she proceeded to walk around him in circles on the range, finally asking, 'Should a professional have squeaky shoes?'
The two laughed. Two nights later, Badylak walked alone to a local restaurant in Lima and noticed that he had squeaky shoes. Maybe they had always made noise, but because of Gaelle, he now noticed it.
Tour member Naree Song of Bangkok, Thailand and Seoul, Korea, struggled with Gaelle's death because, like Gaelle, she is a twin. Song could not fathom losing her best friend and 'other half,' as Gaelle's brother had. One morning while Song made her breakfast, she cracked open an egg and out came a double yolk. Song found herself thinking about her former Tour mate that morning in the kitchen.
Great Britain's Samantha Head, who also has a twin sister, met Gaelle earlier this season at a Tour event in El Paso, Texas, where they spent the entire round talking about their respective twins.
'That was our connection,' said Head. 'When I found out about the accident last Tuesday, I just couldn't stop crying. She touched me so much. To lose your other half -- the person you were brought into this world with -- is unimaginable.'
And while her closest friends fought back tears all week, two of them -- Dana Lacey of North Beach, W. Australia, and Julie Tvede of Copenhagen, Denmark -- spent at least one afternoon last week in the players' locker room, looking at photos of their friend when they fished in Australia, played golf in various places and traveled the world on a nickel budget with eyes wide open.
'She kicked our butts in short-game competitions that we held during tournament practice-round days,' said Lacey, who also traveled with the New Caledonian on the Australian Ladies' Golf Tour from November 2005 to February 2006. 'We played for $5 birdies and ice cream on the last hole.'
Gaelle loved New Caledonia but considered herself 'practically an Aussie' because she was there so often in the off-season, sleeping on the couch of twin brother Loic, who lives in Australia. And whenever she was home in New Caledonia, she would rise from bed each morning at 5 a.m., to play golf with her father.
'She loved golf and it was her biggest dream to make it to the LPGA Tour,' said Tvede.
'We had many arguments about practicing,' added Lacey. 'She loved to practice and I don't enjoy it very much, so we never came to a conclusion about that.'
And then there were the many stories that came from traveling last year with good pal Sarah Lynn Johnston of St. Charles, Ill. Once, while traveling in Washington, D.C., Gaelle pointed to the Washington Monument and shouted, 'Look at that lighthouse!' And then there was the time when the two ran out of gas one night on a dark, rural two-lane road somewhere in South Carolina and they had to knock on doors of houses for help.
This season, Gaelle's latest project was selling hand-sewn and highly colorful yardage book covers for friend Jeanne-Marie Busuttil of Chantilly, France. Busuttil would design and sew the covers from her home in Gainesville, Fla., and Gaelle would serve as her gratis field service rep. She would carry fabric samples in a little bag and help players select just the right covers for their weekly yardage book on the Tour.
But it wasn't about making money, which she wouldn't accept from her French friend. It was about helping her friend connect with Tour members. It was about meeting and talking to fellow Tour members. Ultimately, it was about friendship -- the kind Gaelle would show when she'd drop off a greeting card on your desk to wish you a good week or the kind of sharing she enjoyed whenever someone shipped her Australian cookies and she arrived in the Tour's mobile office to share the prized Timtams as 'the best cookies in the world.'
Two years ago when a member of the Australian Embassy showed up at one of the Tour's tournaments outside Washington, D.C., there was a squeal of excitement heard coming from one room in the clubhouse. Upon opening a door, there stood Gaelle with a number of her Aussie Tour mates. They had Victoria Bitters (beer) in one hand and Aussie chocolate in the other hand, compliments of the embassy.
When the Duramed FUTURES Tour's web site set up a link last week for Gaelle's friends to log in tributes following her death, the page quickly filled with entries from individuals around the world. It was proof that Gaelle's smile and kindness had traveled far and wide. And it was evidence that the job of a touring professional can reach many people in ways that no other job can.
'I think it made us realize that we touch a lot of people,' said Tour member Blair O'Neal of Tempe, Ariz., who played college golf with Gaelle at Arizona State University. 'It's crazy how many people remember you. People don't forget.'
And they especially don't forget those who live life fully. Gaelle Truet will no longer allot time to show Tour players fabric samples for yardage book covers. She won't be there to share Timtams. And she won't make that trip to Sweden she was looking forward to making this year, learning Swedish words and phrases she had picked up on the Tour.
Gaelle Truet may no longer walk the fairways of the Duramed FUTURES Tour, but make no mistake -- she is still everywhere. Death cannot remove the memories. And her giant spirit certainly is too large for that to happen anytime soon.
What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm
Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:
Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft
Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft
Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts
Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts
Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red
Ball: TaylorMade TP5x
Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff
Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.
While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.
Watching Andrew Landry and Jon Rahm in playoff. Walking off tee talking to each other. Are you kidding me ? Talking at all. ?— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.
0 words— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
The issue is I don’t want to make you a bit relaxed or comfortable. High pressure, good.— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
Did you watch the end of the NFL games yesterday ? Enough said.— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
I didn’t say you couldn’t be friends and competitive. But in a playoff, 1 tiny mistake and you lose, and that devastated me. Friends before and after, competitors during play.— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
Did you win ? It’s all about surviving the competition to test yourself.— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.
Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over
The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.
As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.
Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.
And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.
And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.
McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.
The Ryder Cup topped his list.
Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.
When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.
“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”
McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.
Or similar assertions from TV analysts.
“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”
European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.
And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.
The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.
Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.
And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.
Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.
The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.
The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.
More bulletin board material, too.
Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.
Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions
Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.
The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.
It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.
The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.
“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”
Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.