Blasberg's father still struggling with daughter's suicide

By Randall MellMay 20, 2014, 8:00 pm

Four years after Erica Blasberg’s death, pain lingers.

Ache in a father’s heart won’t go away.

Mel Blasberg’s personal life is stuck in pause in an empty, lonely place.

His daughter, the can’t-miss kid he groomed as her coach, was going to take the LPGA by storm. Instead, at 25, she took her own life, with her suicide in a Las Vegas suburb making national news that still echoes.

A week after Mel Blasberg’s civil suit against the doctor he believes could have prevented his daughter’s death ended with a finding of no liability, the father’s grieving goes unabated.

“I co-exist with it,” Mel told in a telephone interview from Corona, Calif., where his home is a museum of memories of his daughter. “Everyone has to deal with death differently. The majority of people get on with their lives, I think, based on what I hear and the few people I’ve spoken to about it. For me, I can’t. She was so central to everything I did.”

Mel keeps his home filled with pieces of his daughter’s life. There are newspaper clippings mounted on walls in a hallway. There are magazine spreads and lots and lots of photos from her time with the U.S. Curtis Cup team and as an All-American with the University of Arizona and with the LPGA. He even has the golf bag she packed to go to the LPGA event in Mobile, Ala., the day before she died. He has the shoes she was going to take, even the golf glove.

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There are so many mementoes of Erica’s life, Mel doesn’t have room for them all in his home. He keeps the 60 trophies she won, and the large wardrobe of golf clothes she accumulated, in a storehouse.

“What do I do with all of her things?” Blasberg said. “Do I throw them out?”

If Mel Blasberg was looking for some form of closure in his civil suit, he didn’t get it. The jury’s decision to clear Dr. Thomas Hess in the wrongful death and medical malpractice suit left Blasberg troubled and befuddled.

The jury deliberated less than an hour.

“It defies common sense,” Blasberg said. “We still don’t understand it, but it’s a fair trial, and I have to concede there were eight people who didn’t agree with our point of view.

“Sometimes, law and common sense don’t mesh.”

Hess is the man who found Blasberg’s body. He’s also the last person to see her alive. They got to know each other at the local golf club where they both played. There was a relationship beyond doctor and patient between the 25-year-old pro and the then 43-year-old married family practitioner, but the exact nature of it remains a mystery. Mel is convinced it was romantic, but Hess insists it wasn’t.

Hess pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor obstruction of justice charge for taking prescription medications and a suicide note from Erica’s home and hiding them the day he found her body. Mel called the charge a “slap on the wrist” and was determined that Hess be held more accountable for his actions.

Hess visited Blasberg at her home the night before she took her life and acknowledged spending time there with her. Mel believes Hess knew Erica was in a deeply troubled state and left her, protecting his interests ahead of her medical needs and his duty as a doctor.

In the trial, phone records showed that Erica tried to call Hess at 3:35 in the morning before taking her life. They also showed that Hess tried to call Blasberg eight times later that morning and nine times in the afternoon, before going to her home and discovering her body. The only interview Hess has granted to media about Blasberg’s death was to Sports Illustrated for a story that ran late in 2010.

“We were friends,” Hess told the magazine.

Blasberg believes the nature of the relationship was inappropriate and it influenced how Hess reacted to his daughter’s troubles that night.

“He has never shown any remorse to us,” Blasberg said of motivation behind his decision to sue. “I wanted him to take some responsibility, at some level, and more to it, I wanted to hurt him.”

Erica left a three-page suicide letter, but it left more questions than answers.

“I'm sad and don't want to be doing this right now,” Erica wrote in the letter. “Sorry for all the people I've hurt doing this, but please understand how miserable and sad I am, and that I feel no way of escaping it.”

She also wrote that she tried to end her life “many times” in the six months prior but was unsuccessful.

“I have always been incapable of living the life I lead,” she wrote. “I know to some, this would be a dream, but for me, it is torture.”

In the civil suit, it was revealed that Erica was being treated for depression. ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” reported that she was heartbroken over the end of an affair with a married man, someone other than Hess, not long before her suicide. Through all of this, her golf career was unraveling. She had one top-10 finish in five seasons. She quit LPGA Q-School in the middle of the event six months prior to her suicide, walking off the course halfway through the second round.

All of this haunts Mel, whose own relationship with Erica was strained, at times. He acknowledges he could be extremely hard on his daughter and that he force fed her golf.

LPGA pro Irene Coe (nee Cho), a close friend to Erica, told police that Mel was “verbally abusive,” according to the “Outside the Lines” report. Another friend told Sports Illustrated that Mel and Erica were “often at each other’s throats.” They went six months without speaking to each other before repairing their relationship six weeks before her death.

“I think the majority of people are going to feel, here is a guy whose daughter died and he doesn’t want to take responsibility as a parent, that he wants to blame the world,” Blasberg said. “I get that, but if those people were really there, they wouldn’t feel that. My testimony was clear that just wasn’t the case.

“When I was on `Outside the Lines,’ I said we all have to take responsibility. Erica made a decision. I’m a parent, so I have to take some responsibility for not being more aware, although I was certainly always concerned about her. But, ultimately the people around her are equally as responsible.

“I think Erica and I had an amazing relationship. We both understood who we were, and we were fine with each other. For people looking in from the outside, I don’t think they understood it. I think she knew I would make any sacrifice for her.”

Even believing that, Mel carries a weighty regret about his relationship with his daughter. He knew she was painfully lonely.

His voice cracked, and he had to pause to collect himself expressing what he regrets most.

“Golf isn’t who Erica was, it’s what she did,” Mel said. “I don’t think I made it clear how important she was, and that golf was important, but it was not nearly as important as who she was. That’s what I regret.”

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Blasberg believes Erica wanted him to “tell her story.” He believes other young women coming up in the game struggle with depression, or will struggle with it. He believes Erica’s story can help them avoid a similar fate, but there’s frustration telling it. He teamed with a writer, and they put together two chapters of a book proposal and offered it up to publishers.

“There’s been no interest,” Blasberg said.

The civil trial was important to Blasberg, a driving force in his life outside of teaching the game. Now, there’s yet again regrouping to do. While he continues to teach golf at Eagle Glen Golf Club in Corona, the same course he taught Erica to play, Mel says he lives a sheltered personal life. He was divorced from Erica’s mom, Debbie, before Erica’s death.

“When I open the door to my place and close it behind me, I’ve made a conscious decision not to be around anyone or anything,” Blasberg said. “I know it’s unhealthy, but it’s the way I feel. It seems like the weight of everything, it just inhibits me from moving on. I’m not looking for sympathy, it’s just the reality.”

Erica is interred at Pacific View Memorial Park just outside Newport Beach, Calif. A beautiful stone with a photo of Erica marks her resting place.

“We feel you with us when we dream of all things special,” the inscription reads, in part. “When we take our final breath, we know we’ll be with you.”

For Mel Blasberg, there’s a struggle moving beyond the dreams.


Photo by Enrique Berardi/LAAC

Top-ranked amateur Niemann one back at LAAC in Chile

By Nick MentaJanuary 21, 2018, 8:44 pm

Argentina’s Jaime Lopez Rivarola leads the Latin America Amateur Championship at 5 under par following a round of 3-under 68 Saturday in Chile.

The former Georgia Bulldog is now 36 holes from what would be a return trip to Augusta National but his first Masters.

"The truth is that I crossed off on my bucket list playing Augusta [National], because I happened to play there," Rivarola said. "I've played every year with my university. But playing in the Masters is a completely different thing. I have been to the Masters, and I've watched the players play during the practice rounds. But [competing would be] a completely different thing."

He is followed on the leaderboard by the three players who competed in the playoff that decided last year’s LAAC in Panama: Joaquin Niemann (-4), Toto Gana (-4), and Alvaro Ortiz (-3).

Click here for full-field scores from the Latin America Amateur Championship

Chile’s Niemann is the top-ranked amateur in the world who currently holds conditional status on the Tour and is poised to begin his career as a professional, unless of course he takes the title this week. After a disappointing 74 in Round 1, Niemann was 10 shots better in Round 2, rocketing up the leaderboard with a 7-under 64.

“Today, I had a completely different mentality, and that's usually what happens in my case," Niemann said. "When I shoot a bad round, the following day I have extra motivation. I realize and I feel that I have to play my best golf. The key to being a good golfer is to find those thoughts and to transfer them into good golf."

Niemann’s fellow Chilean and best friend Gana is the defending champion who missed the cut at the Masters last year and is now a freshman at Lynn University. His second-round 70 was a roller coaster, complete with six birdies, three eagles and a double.

Mexico’s Ortiz, the brother of three-time Tour winner Carlos, was 6 under for the week before three back-nine bogeys dropped him off the pace.

Two past champions, Matias Dominguez and Paul Chaplet, sit 5 over and 7 over, respectively.

The winner of the Latin America Amateur Championship earns an invite to this year’s Masters. He is also exempt into the The Amateur Championship, the U.S. Amateur, U.S. Open sectional qualifying, and Open Championship final qualifying.

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McIlroy gets back on track

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 21, 2018, 3:10 pm

There’s only one way to view Rory McIlroy’s performance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship:

He is well ahead of schedule.

Sure, McIlroy is probably disappointed that he couldn’t chase down Ross Fisher (and then Tommy Fleetwood) on the final day at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. But against a recent backdrop of injuries and apathy, his tie for third was a resounding success. He reasserted himself, quickly, and emerged 100 percent healthy.

“Overall, I’m happy,” he said after finishing at 18-under 270, four back of Fleetwood. “I saw some really, really positive signs. My attitude, patience and comfort level were really good all week.”

To fully appreciate McIlroy’s auspicious 2018 debut, consider his state of disarray just four months ago. He was newly married. Nursing a rib injury. Breaking in new equipment. Testing another caddie. His only constant was change. “Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place,” he said, “and that was because of where I was physically.”

And so he hit the reset button, taking the longest sabbatical of his career, a three-and-a-half-month break that was as much psychological as physical. He healed his body and met with a dietician, packing five pounds of muscle onto his already cut frame. He dialed in his TaylorMade equipment, shoring up a putting stroke and wedge game that was shockingly poor for a player of his caliber. Perhaps most importantly, he cleared his cluttered mind, cruising around Italy with wife Erica in a 1950s Mercedes convertible.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

After an intense buildup to his season debut, McIlroy was curious about the true state of his game, about how he’d stack up when he finally put a scorecard in his hand. It didn’t take him long to find out. 

Playing the first two rounds alongside Dustin Johnson – the undisputed world No. 1 who was fresh off a blowout victory at Kapalua – McIlroy beat him by a shot. Despite a 103-day competitive layoff, he played bogey-free for 52 holes. And he put himself in position to win, trailing by one heading into the final round. Though Fleetwood blew away the field with a back-nine 30 to defend his title, McIlroy collected his eighth top-5 in his last nine appearances in Abu Dhabi.

“I know it’s only three months,” he said, “but things change, and I felt like maybe I needed a couple of weeks to get back into the thought process that you need to get into for competitive golf. I got into that pretty quickly this week, so that was the most pleasing thing.”

The sense of relief afterward was palpable. McIlroy is entering his 11th full year as a pro, and deep down he likely realizes 2018 is shaping up as his most important yet.

The former Boy Wonder is all grown up, and his main challengers now are a freakish athlete (DJ) and a trio of players under 25 (Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm) who don’t lack for motivation or confidence. The landscape has changed significantly since McIlroy’s last major victory, in August 2014, and the only way he’ll be able to return to world No. 1 is to produce a sustained period of exceptional golf, like the rest of the game’s elite. (Based on average points, McIlroy, now ranked 11th, is closer to the bottom of the rankings, No. 1928, than to Johnson.)

But after years of near-constant turmoil, McIlroy, 28, finally seems ready to pursue that goal again. He is planning the heaviest workload of his career – as many as 30 events, including seven more starts before the Masters – and appears refreshed and reenergized, perhaps because this year, for the first time in a while, he is playing without distractions.

Not his relationships or his health. Not his equipment or his caddie or his off-course dealings.

Everything in his life is lined up.

Drama tends to follow one of the sport’s most captivating characters, but for now he can just play golf – lots and lots of golf. How liberating.

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Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.

Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.

There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.

Full-field scores from the Singapore Open

Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.

The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.

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Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.

Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.

It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.

While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.