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 GolfChannel.com 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.
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.”
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.