Shock and disbelief over Erica Blasbergs death

By Randall MellMay 12, 2010, 6:21 am
MOBILE, Ala. – Erica Blasberg’s voice kept coming back to him.

Wobbling across Magnolia Grove’s emerald fairways, his player’s bag feeling heavier than it should, Ray Kim got his caddie instructions from a higher plane during Tuesday’s practice round at the Bell Micro LPGA Classic.

Every time Kim felt like putting down Becky Morgan’s bag, he could hear Erica.
Erica Blasberg
Erica Blasberg played one LPGA event in 2010. (Getty Images)
“She would tell me to quit being such a `wuss,’” Kim said. “She would tell me that I should `Man up.’ That was Erica. She was so fiery, so competitive, but she was so much fun off the course. I wasn’t her caddie. I was her friend who caddied for her. She brought me out here on tour. She gave me this life. Everything out here reminds me of her.”

And that’s what made Tuesday so painful for Kim.

News that Blasberg, 25, was found dead Sunday in her Henderson, Nev., home outside Las Vegas is hitting her friends in unrelenting waves. Shock, disbelief and sadness mingled with confusion and curiosity from the locker room to the driving range.

“Why?” asks Irene Cho, Blasberg’s closest friend on tour. “What happened? Why did it happen? That’s what we keep asking ourselves.”

Since news of Blasberg’s death reached here Monday, tour pros have struggled with more than the loss of a friend and colleague. They’ve struggled with the mystery. What happened to this attractive young talent who once showed so much promise and was so well liked?

“Everyone’s just in shock,” Cho said. “I can’t believe it. I won’t believe it until I actually see her body.”

A Henderson police spokesman said Tuesday that Blasberg’s death remains under investigation. Police have not released the cause of her death or any details surrounding its circumstances.

The only glimpse inside the mystery came from Blasberg’s father, Mel, who spoke to The Press-Enterprise of Riverside, Calif., on Monday. He’s a golf teacher who’s been integrally involved in the shaping of her game from juniors to pros.

“At first glance, it looks like she might have taken her own life, but at second glance, something is very, very strange,” Mel Blasberg said.

The last time Kim saw Blasberg was at the Tres Marias Championship in Mexico two weeks ago, where Blasberg Monday qualified to get into the field and then tied for 44th. Kim helped her pack before she left Monday morning.

“I told her, `See you in Alabama,’” Kim said.

Cho also was waiting for Blasberg’s arrival here this week. With limited status on tour this season, she was going to play another Monday qualifier in a bid to play her way into this week’s Bell Micro LPGA Classic. Cho was so excited about her friend’s prospects, she offered her caddie, Missy Pederson, to tote her bag. On Sunday, Pederson received a text message from Blasberg. She told Pederson she changed her mind, she wasn’t going to play this week.

“I texted Erica Sunday night to try to find out what happened,” Cho said. “I never got an answer back.”

The Associated Press reported that Blasberg’s bags were packed when she was found dead. LPGA officials said Blasberg had not committed to the Monday qualifier, but it wasn’t unusual for eligible players to commit upon arrival on site.

Cho broke into tears when LPGA commissioner Mike Whan hugged her Tuesday as she left the practice putting green. The flag on property Tuesday was at half mast. Players wore purple ribbons in memory of Blasberg, and LPGA staff made preparations for a memorial to honor her this week.

Beneath the tears, the sadness here, there’s angst and confusion about what happened to this former junior and collegiate champ.

Blasberg grew up in Corona, Calif., as a three-time American Junior Golf Association All-American. She was good enough to play on the boys’ team at Corona High. Her father was a professional instructor and the only swing coach she’s ever known. She went on to become a two-time All-American at the University of Arizona.

“She won everything,” Cho said.

Blasberg was so good that after her sophomore year, she turned pro. She won a Futures Tour event that summer and advanced through LPGA Qualifying School with non-exempt status. She was going to be a star. That was the feeling back home, but it never happened.

In five LPGA seasons, Blasberg’s best finish was a tie for eighth at the SBS Open at Turtle Bay in Hawaii. That’s where she met Kim, a local caddie assigned to her for the week. They hit it off so well that Blasberg talked Kim into leaving the island to become her full-time caddie. They made a strong run at winning with a final-round lead at the 2008 Corning Classic, but Blasberg closed with a 79.

“Erica really believed she was the best player out there every week,” Kim said. “But she didn’t live up to it. She was a really good player, but she had some rough edges she needed to work on and things just didn’t click the way she planned.”

Blasberg and Kim parted ways professionally before last year, but they remained close friends, so close that Kim tried to help her rebound when she slumped last season.

With just five cuts made in 17 events in 2009, Blasberg was down on herself. She returned to Q-School at season’s end.

“Erica didn’t even want to go,” Kim said. “I convinced her to go. I told her I would caddie for her. It was a selfish thing. I wanted her out on tour. She was my best friend.”

With her game unraveling in the second round at Q-School, Blasberg grew despondent.

“She pretty much gave up at the turn,” Kim said. “At the end of the round, she told me she was going home.”

Kim saw a change in Blasberg after that. That failure was an emotional turning point.

“She was supposed to come out and be a star, and she couldn’t make it through Q-School,” Kim said. “I think she saw her life flashing before her eyes. She didn’t finish college, and you could see her struggling with the idea, `What else am I going to do?’”

Blasberg openly talked of feeling depressed after the Q-School failure.

Kim said Blasberg was always full of life and had a sense of adventure. It was hard to see her down.

“She either wanted to be laughing or making someone laugh,” Kim said.

Cho was drawn to that quality, too.

“Erica was so spontaneous, so spur of the moment,” Cho said. “She was intense on the course, but she taught me how to have fun off it. She told me that I had to loosen up. She totally rubbed off on me.”

Kim was worried about Blasberg after Q-School. He worried not seeing her when she headed back to Las Vegas.

“She said she was bored in Las Vegas,” Kim said. “She didn’t know anybody, but Erica liked to party.”

Kim said his worries fell away when he saw Blasberg two weeks ago at the Tres Marias Championship. The fact that she traveled to Mexico to try to Monday qualify told him all he needed about her renewed motivation. She seemed revitalized there. Blasberg even told Kim about the work she had been doing with her father on her swing.

“He’s tough, and he’s very strict and he can be intimidating, but he loves her very much,” Kim said. “She’s his life, his pride and joy.”

Kim said Mel Blasberg’s toughness rubbed off on his daughter. She was as tough as he was. She was no wilting flower in papa’s presence.

“I remember once when he wanted me to start lining her up before her shots,” Kim said. “She told him she would rather quit playing golf than ever let somebody line her up.”

In Mexico, Kim told Blasberg that she felt really good about the bonding she and her father enjoyed over the winter break, when she was so down and needed his help.

“It was unreal how happy she was in Mexico,” Kim said. “That’s why this is so confusing.”

And why her death is so sadly mysterious.
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McCoy earns medalist honors at Q-School

By Will GrayDecember 11, 2017, 12:30 am

One year after his budding career was derailed by a car accident, Lee McCoy got back on track by earning medalist honors at the final stage of Tour Q-School.

McCoy shot a final-round 65 at Whirlwind Golf Club in Chandler, Ariz., to finish the 72-hole event at 28 under. That total left him two shots ahead of Sung-Jae Im and guaranteed him fully-exempt status on the developmental circuit in 2018.

It's an impressive turnaround for the former University of Georgia standout who finished fourth at the 2016 Valspar Championship as an amateur while playing alongside Jordan Spieth in the final round. But he broke his wrist in a car accident the day before second stage of Q-School last year, leaving him without status on any major tour to begin the year.

McCoy was not the only player who left Arizona smiling. Everyone in the top 10 and ties will be exempt through the first 12 events of the new Tour season, a group that includes former amateur standouts Curtis Luck (T-3), Sam Burns (T-10) and Maverick McNealy (T-10).

Players who finished outside the top 10 but inside the top 45 and ties earned exemptions into the first eight events of 2018. That group includes Cameron Champ (T-16), who led the field in driving at this year's U.S. Open as an amateur, and Wyndham Clark (T-23).

Everyone who advanced to the final stage of Q-School will have at least conditional Tour status in 2018. Among those who failed to secure guaranteed starts this week were Robby Shelton, Rico Hoey, Jordan Niebrugge, Joaquin Niemann and Kevin Hall.

Els honored with Heisman Humanitarian Award

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 10, 2017, 11:41 pm

The annual Heisman Trophy award ceremony is one of the biggest moments in any football season, but there was a touching non-football moment as well on Saturday night as Ernie Els received the Heisman Humanitarian Award.

The award, which had been announced in August, recognized Els' ongoing efforts on behalf of his Els for Autism foundation. Els received the award at Manhattan's PlayStation Theater, where Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield won the Heisman Trophy.

Els, 47, founded Els for Autism in 2009 with his wife after their son, Ben, was diagnosed with autism. Their efforts have since flourished into a 26-acre campus in Jupiter, Fla., and the creation of the Els Center for Excellence in 2015.

The Heisman Humanitarian Award has been given out since 2006. Past recipients include NBA center David Robinson, NFL running back Warrick Dunn, soccer star Mia Hamm and NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon.

A native of South Africa, Els won the U.S. Open in 1994 and 1997 and The Open in 2002 and 2012. He has won 19 times on the PGA Tour and was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2011.

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Monday finish for Joburg Open; Sharma leads by 4

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 10, 2017, 8:57 pm

Rain, lightning and hail pushed the Joburg Open to a Monday finish, with India’s Shubhankar Sharma holding a four-stroke lead with 11 holes to play in Johannesburg.

Play is scheduled to resume at 7:30 a.m. local time.

South Africa’s Erik van Rooyen will have a 3-foot putt for birdie to move within three shots of Sharma wen play resumes at the Randpark Golf Club. Sarma is at 22 under par.

Tapio Pulkkanen of Finland and James Morrison of England are tied for third at 14 under. Pulkkanen has 10 holes remaining, Morrison 11.

The top three finishers who are not already exempt, will get spots in next year’s Open Championship at Carnoustie.



Stricker, O'Hair team to win QBE Shootout

By Will GrayDecember 10, 2017, 8:55 pm

It may not count in the official tally, but Steve Stricker is once again in the winner's circle on the PGA Tour.

Stricker teamed with Sean O'Hair to win the two-person QBE Shootout, as the duo combined for a better-ball 64 in the final round to finish two shots clear of Graeme McDowell and Shane Lowry. It's the second win in this event for both men; Stricker won with Jerry Kelly back in 2009 while O'Hair lifted the trophy with Kenny Perry in 2012.

Stricker and O'Hair led wire-to-wire in the 54-hole, unofficial event after posting a 15-under 57 during the opening-round scramble.

"We just really gelled well together," Stricker said. "With his length the first day, getting some clubs into the greens, some short irons for me, we just fed off that first day quite a bit. We felt comfortable with one another."

Full-field scores from the QBE Shootout

Stricker won 12 times during his PGA Tour career, most recently at the 2012 Tournament of Champions. More recently the 50-year-old has been splitting his time on the PGA Tour Champions and captained the U.S. to a victory at the Presidents Cup in October. O'Hair has four official Tour wins, most recently at the 2011 RBC Canadian Open.

Pat Perez and Brian Harman finished alone in third, four shots behind Stricker and O'Hair. Lexi Thompson and Tony Finau, the lone co-ed pairing in the 12-team event, finished among a tie for fourth.