Remembering a Shining Star

RSS

When you work for a golf tour of young professionals and you lose one of your shining stars to death prematurely, how do you process that great misfortune? And when one of your young pros looks you in the eyes and asks, 'Why does God take all of the good ones first,' how do you answer that?
 
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.