Wobbling across Magnolia Grove’s emerald fairways, his player’s bag feeling heavier than it should, Ray Kim got his caddie instructions from a higher plane during Tuesday’s practice round at the Bell Micro LPGA Classic.
Every time Kim felt like putting down Becky Morgan’s bag, he could hear Erica.
And that’s what made Tuesday so painful for Kim.
News that Blasberg, 25, was found dead Sunday in her Henderson, Nev., home outside Las Vegas is hitting her friends in unrelenting waves. Shock, disbelief and sadness mingled with confusion and curiosity from the locker room to the driving range.
“Why?” asks Irene Cho, Blasberg’s closest friend on tour. “What happened? Why did it happen? That’s what we keep asking ourselves.”
Since news of Blasberg’s death reached here Monday, tour pros have struggled with more than the loss of a friend and colleague. They’ve struggled with the mystery. What happened to this attractive young talent who once showed so much promise and was so well liked?
“Everyone’s just in shock,” Cho said. “I can’t believe it. I won’t believe it until I actually see her body.”
A Henderson police spokesman said Tuesday that Blasberg’s death remains under investigation. Police have not released the cause of her death or any details surrounding its circumstances.
The only glimpse inside the mystery came from Blasberg’s father, Mel, who spoke to The Press-Enterprise of Riverside, Calif., on Monday. He’s a golf teacher who’s been integrally involved in the shaping of her game from juniors to pros.
“At first glance, it looks like she might have taken her own life, but at second glance, something is very, very strange,” Mel Blasberg said.
The last time Kim saw Blasberg was at the Tres Marias Championship in Mexico two weeks ago, where Blasberg Monday qualified to get into the field and then tied for 44th. Kim helped her pack before she left Monday morning.
“I told her, `See you in Alabama,’” Kim said.
Cho also was waiting for Blasberg’s arrival here this week. With limited status on tour this season, she was going to play another Monday qualifier in a bid to play her way into this week’s Bell Micro LPGA Classic. Cho was so excited about her friend’s prospects, she offered her caddie, Missy Pederson, to tote her bag. On Sunday, Pederson received a text message from Blasberg. She told Pederson she changed her mind, she wasn’t going to play this week.
“I texted Erica Sunday night to try to find out what happened,” Cho said. “I never got an answer back.”
The Associated Press reported that Blasberg’s bags were packed when she was found dead. LPGA officials said Blasberg had not committed to the Monday qualifier, but it wasn’t unusual for eligible players to commit upon arrival on site.
Cho broke into tears when LPGA commissioner Mike Whan hugged her Tuesday as she left the practice putting green. The flag on property Tuesday was at half mast. Players wore purple ribbons in memory of Blasberg, and LPGA staff made preparations for a memorial to honor her this week.
Beneath the tears, the sadness here, there’s angst and confusion about what happened to this former junior and collegiate champ.
Blasberg grew up in Corona, Calif., as a three-time American Junior Golf Association All-American. She was good enough to play on the boys’ team at Corona High. Her father was a professional instructor and the only swing coach she’s ever known. She went on to become a two-time All-American at the University of Arizona.
“She won everything,” Cho said.
Blasberg was so good that after her sophomore year, she turned pro. She won a Futures Tour event that summer and advanced through LPGA Qualifying School with non-exempt status. She was going to be a star. That was the feeling back home, but it never happened.
In five LPGA seasons, Blasberg’s best finish was a tie for eighth at the SBS Open at Turtle Bay in Hawaii. That’s where she met Kim, a local caddie assigned to her for the week. They hit it off so well that Blasberg talked Kim into leaving the island to become her full-time caddie. They made a strong run at winning with a final-round lead at the 2008 Corning Classic, but Blasberg closed with a 79.
“Erica really believed she was the best player out there every week,” Kim said. “But she didn’t live up to it. She was a really good player, but she had some rough edges she needed to work on and things just didn’t click the way she planned.”
Blasberg and Kim parted ways professionally before last year, but they remained close friends, so close that Kim tried to help her rebound when she slumped last season.
With just five cuts made in 17 events in 2009, Blasberg was down on herself. She returned to Q-School at season’s end.
“Erica didn’t even want to go,” Kim said. “I convinced her to go. I told her I would caddie for her. It was a selfish thing. I wanted her out on tour. She was my best friend.”
With her game unraveling in the second round at Q-School, Blasberg grew despondent.
“She pretty much gave up at the turn,” Kim said. “At the end of the round, she told me she was going home.”
Kim saw a change in Blasberg after that. That failure was an emotional turning point.
“She was supposed to come out and be a star, and she couldn’t make it through Q-School,” Kim said. “I think she saw her life flashing before her eyes. She didn’t finish college, and you could see her struggling with the idea, `What else am I going to do?’”
Blasberg openly talked of feeling depressed after the Q-School failure.
Kim said Blasberg was always full of life and had a sense of adventure. It was hard to see her down.
“She either wanted to be laughing or making someone laugh,” Kim said.
Cho was drawn to that quality, too.
“Erica was so spontaneous, so spur of the moment,” Cho said. “She was intense on the course, but she taught me how to have fun off it. She told me that I had to loosen up. She totally rubbed off on me.”
Kim was worried about Blasberg after Q-School. He worried not seeing her when she headed back to Las Vegas.
“She said she was bored in Las Vegas,” Kim said. “She didn’t know anybody, but Erica liked to party.”
Kim said his worries fell away when he saw Blasberg two weeks ago at the Tres Marias Championship. The fact that she traveled to Mexico to try to Monday qualify told him all he needed about her renewed motivation. She seemed revitalized there. Blasberg even told Kim about the work she had been doing with her father on her swing.
“He’s tough, and he’s very strict and he can be intimidating, but he loves her very much,” Kim said. “She’s his life, his pride and joy.”
Kim said Mel Blasberg’s toughness rubbed off on his daughter. She was as tough as he was. She was no wilting flower in papa’s presence.
“I remember once when he wanted me to start lining her up before her shots,” Kim said. “She told him she would rather quit playing golf than ever let somebody line her up.”
In Mexico, Kim told Blasberg that she felt really good about the bonding she and her father enjoyed over the winter break, when she was so down and needed his help.
“It was unreal how happy she was in Mexico,” Kim said. “That’s why this is so confusing.”
And why her death is so sadly mysterious.