Undying Love

By Randall MellMarch 24, 2010, 11:11 pm

Meg Mallon didn’t come to golf in the usual way.

She was wonderfully bamboozled.

She’ll forever thank her sister, Tricia, for that.

Mallon’s family will laugh telling you the story, and they’ll weep, too.

Meg’s start in golf is back on the minds of the people who care most about her with the LPGA making its first American start this week at the Kia Classic in Carlsbad, Calif. After much heartache and suffering the last few seasons, Meg, 46, begins anew in a bid to write a more satisfying final chapter to her career.

Tricia died a year ago of a rare form of abdominal cancer, a month before the Kraft Nabisco Championship, but she remains an inspiration to her sister. Mallon spent the last 100 days of her sister’s life at her side, the final 54 watching her sister starve to death under Hospice care. It’s the Dickensian chapter of Mallon’s life, her best of times and worst of times. She reveled and ached in their special time together

Meg Mallon
Meg Mallon watches her third shot on the ninth hole during the first round of the Canadian Women's Open (Getty Images)

“I played golf because Tricia played golf,” Mallon said.

That’s the wondrous joke they shared.

Meg was the baby in the Irish-American family of six children in suburban Detroit, Tricia the fifth child, five years Meg’s senior.

“We were really, really close,” Mallon said. “I wanted to do everything my sister did.”

When Tricia became a swimmer, Meg wasn’t long in taking up the sport. And when Meg’s mother dropped Tricia off to play golf at the Lakelands Golf & Country Club near their Birmingham, Mich., home, Meg wanted to tag along and play.

“What I didn’t know then is that Tricia hated golf,” Meg said. “She would go off with the older girls, and they would hide their clubs and go down and swim in the lake while I was playing golf with the other kids.”

Mallon picked up the game because of her sister, and she all but gave it up for her sister, too.

Though Mallon has won 18 times in her career, with two U.S. Women’s Opens among her four major championship titles, the last five seasons have been a struggle. A steady slide gave way with eight missed cuts in 10 starts last season. Mallon won three times in 2004, but she has one top-10 finish since ‘05.

The decline can be traced to a series of emotional blows:

  • In September of ’05, Mallon was stricken with a heart problem in the aftermath of the American Solheim Cup victory. She was diagnosed with SVT (supraventricular tachycardia) and underwent corrective surgery.
  • In October of ’05, Tricia was diagnosed with adenocarcinoma in the abdomen, an aggressive cancer for which there is no cure.
  • In December of ’05, Meg’s father, John, died of a massive heart attack. He was retired after a long career with the Ford Motor Co. His death left the Mallon siblings scrambling to figure out how to take care of their mother, Marian, who needed constant care after suffering a debilitating brain hemorrhage in ‘01.

With Tricia dying, Meg moved into the family’s home in Doylestown, Pa., late in 2008. She spent the final three months of her sister’s life helping the struggling family cope. Meg spent countless other days and weeks all the way back to the end of ’05 helping the family when needed.

“Meg basically gave up her golf life after Tricia was diagnosed,” said Paul Mallon, one of Meg’s two brothers. “But when we would ask Meg about it, she would say she didn’t want to be anywhere else.”

Tricia, and her husband, Ed Burdzy, have three children. Alex is 21 today, Madeleine 15 and Nick 13.

Meg nursed her sister, but she also helped with the children. She did everything from drive car pools to school, games and practices to cooking and grocery shopping.

Over the last four years, Mallon faced her own physical challenges. She endured back, foot, elbow and shoulder injuries.

“I have to believe all the stress was a factor, that it took its toll on Meg,” Paul said. “Tricia and Meg were extraordinarily close, so much so that they would finish each other’s sentences.”

Mallon is playing on a medical extension this season.

After falling to 131st on the money list last year, she lost her priority status. The medical extension, however, wasn’t granted for Mallon’s numerous injuries. It was granted under the LPGA’s family medical issues provision. That was based on the fact that Mallon spent so much of her time caring for her dying sister.

“Tricia was the center of joy and laughter in our family,” Meg said. “She was funny, bright, such a quick wit. I loved being around her. If something good happened to me, she’s the first person I wanted to tell. If something bad happened, she’s the person I wanted to talk to.

“I still shake my head knowing she’s gone. There’s such a huge void.”

Mallon suffered watching her sister fight a cancer that wouldn’t be beaten. Almost two years after Tricia's diagnosis, the family was dealt another blow when Tricia’s husband lost his job in the banking crunch.

With their health insurance lost, the Burdzy family was forced to go onto Cobra Insurance, which didn’t cover all the medical costs. That’s where Meg’s friends stepped in. Beth Daniel, Karrie Webb, Nancy Lopez and Helen Alfredsson were among 20 LPGA pros who staged a fundraiser at Mallon’s home club at Pine Tree in South Florida. They raised $170,000 for the family.

“My fellow players were unbelievable with their support,” Mallon said. “They made phone calls and sent texts that always seemed to come at just the right time.”

Hall of Famer Juli Inkster called Mallon 30 consecutive days in the worst of times.

“A lot of people don’t know what Meg did for her sister, or what a really tough time it was for her family,” Inkster said. “It was amazing how Meg never complained.

“Meg put her career on hold, and I don’t think there are too many people who would have done what she has done. She really has her priorities in order, and I have tremendous respect for her.”

Mallon said her sister’s memory still inspires her. Tricia endured four years of chemotherapy and multiple surgeries with so little complaint. Mallon marveled how Tricia would get up to make breakfast for the children and send them off to school almost until the day she died.

The end, though, was difficult for everyone.

Tricia could no longer eat solid foods by the end of ’08 and was placed on a nutrition tube. Soon after, doctors presented the family a stark option.

“The choice was to let the cancer take her, or less painfully, to let her starve to death,” Mallon said.

Tricia went off the nutrition tube on Jan. 4 of last year. Meg was there through the bitter end.

“It’s amazing how long you can go without food,” Mallon said. 'And Tricia continued to perform her role as mom. She was starving to death, but she kept getting up to make the children breakfast and send them off to school. She kept checking their homework.'

Fifty-four days after the nutrition tube was removed, Tricia died.

“Meg went so far beyond what anyone ever dreamed of doing, but I think it took Meg quite awhile to emotionally recover,” Paul said. “As a family, we were worried about Meg, but she was able to share her feelings with us. Doing that, we knew she would be OK.”

Mallon is eager to return to golf to see if she can end her career with one last good run. She says she’s feeling healthy, physically and emotionally. She did not play in the first two LPGA events of the year overseas, but will be at the Kia Classic this week at La Costa in Carlsbad, Calif.

“I feel a certain peace this week,” Mallon said.

It’s a feeling she welcomes after such a long, tough spell on and off the golf course.

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Korda happy to finally be free of jaw pain

By Randall MellMarch 17, 2018, 2:43 am

PHOENIX – Jessica Korda isn’t as surprised as everyone else that she is playing so well, so quickly, upon her return from a complex and painful offseason surgery.

She is inspired finally getting to play without recurring headaches.

“I’d been in pain for three years,” she said after posting a 4-under-par 68 Friday to move two shots off the lead at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup.

Korda had her upper jaw broken in three places and her low jaw broken in two places in December in a procedure that fixed the alignment of her jaw.

Korda, 25, said the headaches caused by her overbite even affected her personality.

“Affects your moods,” Korda said. “I think I was pretty snappy back then as well.”

She was pretty pleased Friday to give herself a weekend chance at her sixth LPGA title, her second in her last three starts. She won the Honda LPGA Thailand three weeks ago in her first start after returning from surgery.

“I'm much happier now,” Korda said. “Much calmer.”

Even if she still can’t eat the things she would really like to eat. She’s still recuperating. She said the lower part of her face remains numb, and it’s painful to chew crunchy things.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

“Chips are totally out of question,” Korda said.

She can eat most things she likes, but she has to cut them into tiny pieces. She can’t wait to be able to eat a steak.

“They broke my palate, so I can't feel anything, even heat,” Korda said. “So that's a bit difficult, because I can't feel any heat on my lip or palate. I don't know how hot things are going in until they hit my throat.”

Korda has 27 screws in her skull holding the realignment together. She needed her family to feed her, bathe her and dress her while she recovered. The procedure changed the way she looks.

While Korda’s ordeal and all that went into her recovery has helped fans relate to her, she said it’s the desire to move on that motivates her.

“Because I was so drugged up, I don't remember a lot of it,” Korda said. “I try to forget a lot of it. I don't think of it like I went through a lot. I just think of it as I'm pain-free. So, yeah, people are like, `Oh, you're so brave, you overcame this and that.’ For me, I'm just going forward.”

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Finally adapted to short putter, Martin near lead

By Randall MellMarch 17, 2018, 1:54 am

PHOENIX – Mo Martin loved her long putter.

In fact, she named her “Mona.”

For 10 years, Martin didn’t putt with anything else. She grew up with long putters, from the time she started playing when she was 5.

While Martin won the Ricoh Women’s British Open in 2014, about nine months after giving up Mona for a short putter, she said it’s taken until today to feel totally comfortable with one.

And that has her excited about this year.

Well, that and having a healthy back again.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

“I've had a feeling that this year was going to be a good one,” Martin said. “My game is in a special place.”

Martin was beaming after a 6-under-par 66 Friday moved her two shots off the lead at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup.

“Just a beautiful day,” Martin said. “I was able to play my game, make my putts.”

Martin hit all 14 fairways in the second round, hit 15 greens in regulation and took just 27 putts. After struggling with nagging back pain last year, she’s pain free again.

She’s happy to “just to get back to a place now where my ball striking is where it has been the last few years.”

Martin, by the way, says Mona remains preserved in a special place, “a shrine” in her home.

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Clanton rides hole-out eagle to lead at Founders

By Associated PressMarch 17, 2018, 1:47 am

PHOENIX - Cydney Clanton holed out from the fairway for eagle on the par-4 13th and closed with a birdie Friday to take the second-round lead in the Bank of Hope Founders Cup.

Clanton shot a 5-under 67, playing the back nine at Desert Ridge in 5-under 31 to reach 9-under 135.

Clanton's wedge on the 13th flew into the cup on the first bounce. She also birdied the par-5 11th and 15th and the par-4 18th. The 28-year-old former Auburn player is winless on the LPGA.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

Ariya Jutanugarn, Marina Alex, Karine Icher and Mariajo Uribe were a stroke back on a calmer day after wind made scoring more difficult Thursday.

Jessica Korda and Mo Martin were 7 under, and Michelle Wie topped the group at 6 under.

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Ko's struggles continue with Founders MC

By Randall MellMarch 17, 2018, 1:26 am

PHOENIX – Lydia Ko loves the Bank of Hope Founders Cup and its celebration of the game’s pioneers, and that made missing the cut Friday sting a little more.

With a 1-over-par 73 following Thursday’s 74, Ko missed the cut by four shots.

After tying for 10th at the HSBC Women’s World Championship in her last start, Ko looked to be turning a corner in her quest to find her best form again, but she heads to next week’s Kia Classic with more work to do.

“I just have to stay patient,” Ko said. “I just have to keep my head high.”

It was just the fifth missed cut in Ko’s 120 career LPGA starts, but her fourth in her last 26 starts.

Ko’s ball striking has been erratic this year, but her putting has been carrying her. She said her putting let her down Friday.

“It seemed like I couldn’t hole a single putt,” she said. “When I missed greens, I just wasn’t getting up and down. When I got a birdie opportunity, I wasn’t able to hole it.”

Ko came to Phoenix ranked 112th in driving distance, 121st in driving accuracy and 83rd in greens in regulation. She was sixth in putting average.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

Cristie Kerr saw the struggle playing two rounds with Ko.

“Her game’s not in good shape,” Kerr said. “She seemed a little lost.”

Ko, 20, made those sweeping changes last year, starting 2017 with a new coach (Gary Gilchrist), a new caddie (Peter Godfrey) and new equipment (PXG). She made more changes at this year’s start, with another new coach (Ted Oh) and new caddie (Jonnie Scott).

Ko doesn’t have to look further than Michelle Wie to see how a player’s game can totally turn around.

“It always takes time to get used to things,” Ko said. “By the end of last year, I was playing solid. I’m hoping it won’t take as much time this year.”

Ko had Oh fly to Asia to work with her in her two starts before the Founders Cup, with their work showing up in her play at the HSBC in Singapore. She said she would be talking to Oh again before heading to the Kia Classic next week and then the ANA Inspiration. She has won both of those events and will be looking to pull some good vibes from that.

“This is my favorite stretch of events,” she said. “And I love the Founders Cup, how it celebrates all the generations that have walked through women’s golf. And I love the West Coast swing. Hopefully, I’ll make more putts next week.”

Ko, whose run of 85 consecutive weeks at Rolex world No. 1 ended last summer, slipped to No. 12 this week.