Every time Cho made a birdie in Thursday’s first round of the Bell Micro LPGA Classic, she planted her lips on the pink wristband she was wearing.
She kissed the heart between the “e” and the “b” inscribed on the wristband, letters that honored the memory of Erica Blasberg, Cho’s best friend on tour.
Blasberg, 25, was found dead in her home in Henderson, Nev., on Sunday. Police are investigating. No cause of death has been released, nor have any verifiable facts surrounding the circumstances. The mystery of what happened haunts tour pros this week as they wrestle with the grief of losing one of their own.
As much as Cho wanted to cry as memories of her friend paraded through her mind Thursday, she refused.
“I’m very emotional, and whenever Erica saw me crying, she was like, `Irene, now seriously, you need to stop crying,’” Cho said.
Cho used memories like that to keep her friend’s spirit close. Cho says that Blasberg’s life, her adventurous, fearless and energetic nature, changed her. Cho says she was too serious on tour until Blasberg came along and taught her to “loosen up.” Blasberg “totally rubbed off on me,” Cho says.
Cho pledged that Blasberg’s death will also change her.
“I just tried to be like Erica would be,” Cho said of the smile she kept finding when she wanted to cry during Thursday’s round. “I think Erica would be upset at me if I cried. So I’ve been smiling.”
How Cho was able to post a 3-under-par 69 with all that’s happened this week befuddles even the player who posted the score.
“I think Erica helped me out a little bit today,” Cho said.
Fellow players see Cho and think of Blasberg.
“Irene and Erica were like sisters,” said Leta Lindley, a tour veteran. “You couldn’t see one without the other.”
On Sunday, Cho waited for Blasberg’s arrival in Mobile. Cho had offered her caddie, Missy Pederson, for Blasberg to use in the Monday qualifier here, but Pederson got a text when she awoke Sunday. It was from Blasberg. She wasn’t coming to the Bell Micro after all. Cho texted Blasberg later that day to find out why her friend wasn’t coming, but she never got an answer. At the end of Cho’s pro-am Monday, she was startled to see a small gathering of LPGA staff waiting for her. They broke the bad news.
Devastated, Cho drove back to her hotel room and called her parents.
“They said `Irene, please come home, you really need to be home,’” Cho said.
No, Cho told her parents, she couldn’t. Her LPGA family needed her now. She was grateful she stayed when she joined follow players, caddies and LPGA staff at a memorial service for Blasberg in the Magnolia Grove clubhouse on the eve of the tournament.
The service’s theme was “Gone Too Soon.” Lindley, who played at the University of Arizona before Blasberg but had a special kinship with her as a fellow Wildcat, read a poem by Amy Louise Kerswell that brought Cho and others to tears. It was titled, “Miss me but let me go.” The memorial lasted 90 minutes with Cho among a dozen players who spoke.
Appreciate what you have. That’s what Cho told fellow players.
“I said keep a smile on your face,” Cho said. “Life is so short. Always tell the people you care about that you love them. This totally puts things in perspective for me. You don’t appreciate the little things in life. I do now.”
Cho didn’t get back to her hotel after the service until 10 p.m. She isn’t sure how much she slept, but she was up at 4:30 a.m. Thursday to get ready for her early tee time.
With memories of Blasberg floating through her thoughts, with the mystery of the death intensifying everything, Cho guesses she hasn’t slept a total of more than 12 hours all week. That made her performance Thursday all the more impressive.
“It was weird,” Cho said. “I got up today, and I wasn’t tired at all. It’s weird because I love to sleep, and I can usually sleep forever. I feel so energized. I don’t know where I’m getting all the energy from.”
Cho’s 3-under-par score resonated in a special way.
That’s what Blasberg shot at the Tres Marias Championship in the final round she posted as an LPGA player.