Remembering a Friend

By Randall MellMay 14, 2010, 3:04 am
LPGA Tour _newMOBILE, Ala. – Irene Cho delivered birdies and kisses as gifts to her friend in equal doses.

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.

Erica Blasberg smilingCho 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.

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NCAA DI Women's Champ.: Scoring, TV times

By Golf Channel DigitalMay 23, 2018, 11:00 am

The NCAA Division I Women's Golf Championship is underway at Kartsen Creek Golf Club in Stillwater, Okla.

After three days of stroke play, eight teams advanced to the match-play portion of the championship. Quarterfinals and semifinals were contested Tuesday, with the finals being held on Wednesday. Golf Channel is airing the action live.

Wake Forest junior Jennifer Kupcho won the individual title. Click here for live finals action, beginning at 4 p.m. ET.


TV Times (all times ET):

4-8PM: Match-play finals (Click here to watch live)

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Alabama faces 'buzzsaw' Arizona for NCAA title

By Ryan LavnerMay 23, 2018, 2:00 am

STILLWATER, Okla. – There was no way Laura Ianello could sleep Monday night, not after that dramatic ending at the NCAA Women’s Championship. So at 12:15 a.m., the Arizona coach held court in the laundry room at the Holiday Inn, washing uniforms and munching on mozzarella sticks and fried chicken strips from Sonic, her heart still racing.

Ianello got only three hours of sleep, and who could blame her?

The Wildcats had plummeted down the team standings during the final round of stroke-play qualifying, and were 19 over par for the day, when junior transfer Bianca Pagdanganan arrived on the 17th hole.

“Play the best two holes of your life,” Ianello told her, and so Pagdanganan did, making a solid par on 17 and then ripping a 6-iron from 185 yards out of a divot to 30 feet. There was a massive leaderboard positioned to the right of the par-5 18th green, but Pagdanganan never peeked. The only way for Arizona to force a play-five, count-four playoff with Baylor and reach match play was to sink the putt, and when it dropped, the Wildcats lost their minds, shrieking and jumping over the ropes and hugging anyone in sight.

Watching the action atop the hill, Alabama coach Mic Potter shook his head.

“I was really glad we didn’t win the tiebreaker for the No. 1 seed,” he said, “because they’re a buzzsaw with a lot of momentum.”

Given new life, Arizona dispatched Baylor by three strokes in the playoff, then turned its attention to top-seeded UCLA in the quarterfinals on Tuesday morning.

NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Scoring and TV times

NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Full coverage

Facing two first-team All-Americans, the Wildcats beat them, too, continuing the curse of the medalist. In the afternoon, worried that the adrenaline would wear off, Ianello watched her squad make quick work of Stanford, 4-1.

“They’ve got a lot of great momentum, a lot of great team energy,” Stanford coach Anne Walker said. “They thought they were going home, and now they’ve got a chip on their shoulder. They’re playing with an edge.”

After a marathon doubleheader Tuesday at Karsten Creek, Arizona now has a date with Alabama in the final match of this NCAA Championship.

And the Wildcats better rest up.

Alabama looks unstoppable.

“They’re rolling off a lot of momentum right now,” Ianello said. “We know Alabama is a good team. But they’re super excited and pumped. It’s not the high of making it [Monday]; now they’ve got a chance to win. They know they have to bring it.”

Even fully rested, Arizona will be a significant underdog against top-ranked Alabama.

After failing to reach match play each of the past two years, despite being the top overall seed, the Tide wouldn’t be stopped from steamrolling their competition this time.

They roughed up Kent State, 4-1, in the quarterfinals, then frontloaded their lineup with three first-team All-Americans – Lauren Stephenson, Kristen Gillman and Cheyenne Knight – in their semifinal tilt against Southern Cal.

Potter said that he was just trying to play the matchups, but the move sent a clear signal.

“It gets pretty tedious when you never miss fairways and hole a lot of putts and your opponent knows that you’re not going to spray it,” Potter said. “That’s tough to match up against.”

They breezed to the first three points, draining any drama out of the semifinals. Of the 99 holes that Bama’s Big 3 played Tuesday, they trailed after only two.

“We’re always consistent,” Stephenson said, “and that’s exactly what you need in match play. Someone has to go really low to beat us.”

That Arizona even has that chance to dethrone the Tide seemed inconceivable a few months ago.

The Wildcats had a miserable fall and were ranked 39th at the halfway point of the season. On Christmas Day, one of the team’s best players, Krystal Quihuis, sent a text to Ianello that she was turning pro. Once she relayed the news, the team felt abandoned, but it also had a newfound motivation.

“They wanted to prove that they’re a great team, even without her,” Ianello said.

It also was a case of addition by subtraction: Out went the individual-minded Quihuis and in came Yu-Sang Ho, an incoming freshman whom Ianello described as a “bright, shining light.”

Because incorporating a top-tier junior at the midway point can be intimidating, Ianello organized a lively team retreat at the Hilton El Conquistador in Tucson, where they made vision boards and played games blindfolded.

They laughed that weekend and all throughout the spring – or at least until Pagnanganan made that last-ditch eagle putt Monday. Then tears streamed down Ianello’s face.

Folding uniforms after midnight, she regaled Alabama assistant coach Susan Rosenstiel with stories from their emotional day on the cut line, not even considering that they might face each other two days later for a national title. She was too delirious to ponder that.

“I feel like a new mother with a newborn baby,” Ianello said. “But we’re going off of adrenaline. This team has all the momentum they need to get it done.”

Yes, somehow, the last team into the match-play field might soon be the last team standing.

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Pairings, tee times set for championship match

By Jay CoffinMay 23, 2018, 1:02 am

STILLWATER, Okla. – Alabama coach Mic Potter has three first-team All-Americans on this team. It’s little surprise that all three are going out first in the Crimson Tide’s championship match against Arizona Wednesday at Karsten Creek.

Potter tinkered with his lineup in both the quarterfinal victory over Kent State and the semifinal win over USC. But with the NCAA title on the line, this one was a no brainer.

“We don’t want to sacrifice anything,” Potter said. “We just want to give ourselves a chance to win every match.”

Arizona kept its lineup the same all day Tuesday in defeating Pac-12 foes UCLA and Stanford in the quarterfinals and semifinals, respectively. That meant junior Bianca Pagdanganan, the Wildcats grittiest player this week, was in the last match of the day. She won twice.

Now, with all the marbles riding on the championship match, Arizona coach Laura Ianello moved Pagdanganan up to the third spot to assure that her match is key to the final outcome.

Junior Haley Moore, Arizona’s best player all year, is in the fifth spot and will face Alabama senior Lakareber Abe.

“Win or lose tomorrow, this has been a helluva ride,” Ianello said.

Alabama (2) vs. Arizona (8)

3:25PM ET: Lauren Stephenson (AL) vs. Yu-Sang Hou (AZ)

3:35PM ET: Kristen Gillman (AL) vs. Gigi Stoll (AZ)

3:45PM ET: Cheyenne Knight (AL) vs. Bianca Pagdanganan (AZ)

3:55PM ET: Angelica Moresco (AL) vs. Sandra Nordaas (AZ)

4:05PM ET: Lakareber Abe (AL) vs. Haley Moore (AZ)

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Women's NCAA finals: Arizona vs. Alabama

By Jay CoffinMay 22, 2018, 11:49 pm

STILLWATER, Okla. – It’s the SEC vs. the Pac 12 for the women’s NCAA Championship; Alabama vs. Arizona, to be more specific.

Both the Crimson Tide and Wildcats cruised in their respective semifinal matches Tuesday at Karsten Creek. Alabama easily beat USC, 3-1-1; Arizona defeated match-play juggernaut Stanford, 4-1.

Alabama’s top three players, Lauren Stephenson, Kristen Gillman and Cheyenne Knight were unstoppable forces in both matches on the marathon day. Stacked in the top three positions in the semifinals all three won their matches on the 17th hole, making the last two matches inconsequential.

NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Scoring and TV times

NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Full coverage

Arizona, the eighth seed, won as decisively as second-seeded Alabama, but needed a miracle to be in this position in the first place.

Junior Bianca Pagdanganan drained a 30-footer for eagle on the last hole of stroke play on Monday to get the Wildcats into a playoff against Baylor, which they won on the second hole. Then on Tuesday, presumably running on fumes, they downed top-seeded UCLA in the morning, then crushed Pac-12 foe Stanford in the afternoon.

Pagdanganan, Gigi Stoll and Hayley Moore each won both matches for Arizona on the hot, draining day.

“I don’t want to let them down so I do my best to rise to the occasion,” Pagdanganan said.

Said Arizona coach Laura Ianello: “How many players, when you tell them under pressure that you need them, can really handle it,” Ianello said about Pagdanganan. “This kid can.”