Shock and disbelief over Erica Blasbergs death

By Randall MellMay 12, 2010, 6:21 am
MOBILE, Ala. – Erica Blasberg’s voice kept coming back to him.

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.
Erica Blasberg
Erica Blasberg played one LPGA event in 2010. (Getty Images)
“She would tell me to quit being such a `wuss,’” Kim said. “She would tell me that I should `Man up.’ That was Erica. She was so fiery, so competitive, but she was so much fun off the course. I wasn’t her caddie. I was her friend who caddied for her. She brought me out here on tour. She gave me this life. Everything out here reminds me of her.”

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.
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Goat visor propels Na to Colonial lead

By Will GrayMay 25, 2018, 1:29 am

Jason Dufner officially has some company in the headwear free agency wing of the PGA Tour.

Like Dufner, Kevin Na is now open to wear whatever he wants on his head at tournaments, as his visor sponsorship with Titleist ended earlier this month. He finished T-6 at the AT&T Byron Nelson in his second tournament as a free agent, and this week at the Fort Worth Invitational he's once again wearing a simple white visor with a picture of a goat.

"I bought it at The Players Championship for $22 with the 30 percent discount that they give the Tour players," Na told reporters. "It's very nice."

Full-field scores from the Fort Worth Invitational

Fort Worth Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

Perhaps a change in headwear was just what Na needed to jumpstart his game. Last week's result in Dallas was his first top-35 finish in his last six events dating back to February, and he built upon that momentum with an 8-under 62 to take a one-shot lead over Charley Hoffman after the first round at Colonial Country Club.

While many sports fans know the "GOAT" acronym to stand for "Greatest Of All Time," it's a definition that the veteran Na only learned about earlier this year.

"I do social media, but they kept calling Tiger the GOAT. I go, 'Man, why do they keep calling Tiger the GOAT? That's just mean,'" Na said. "Then I realized it meant greatest of all time. Thinking of getting it signed by Jack (Nicklaus) next week (at the Memorial)."

Marc Dull (Florida State Golf Association)

Golden: Dull rude, caddie 'inebriated' at Florida Mid-Am

By Ryan LavnerMay 25, 2018, 1:03 am

Jeff Golden has offered more detail on what transpired at the Florida Mid-Amateur Championship, writing in a long statement on Twitter that Marc Dull’s caddie was “inebriated” before he allegedly sucker-punched Golden in the face.

In a story first reported by, Charlotte County Police responded to a call May 13 after Golden claimed that he’d been assaulted by his opponent’s caddie in the parking lot of Coral Creek Club, where he was competing in the Mid-Am finals. Golden told police that the caddie, Brandon Hibbs, struck him because of a rules dispute earlier in the round. Hibbs denied any involvement, and police found no evidence of an attack.

Golden posted a 910-word statement on the alleged incident on his Twitter account on Thursday night. He said that he wanted to provide more detail because “others have posed some valid questions about the series of events that led to me withdrawing” from what was an all-square match with two holes to play.

Golden wrote that both Dull and Hibbs were rude and disruptive during the match, and that “alcohol appeared to be influencing [Hibbs’] behavior.”

Dull, who caddies at Streamsong Resort in Florida, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“I’ve never seen an opposing caddie engage in so much conversation with a competitor,” Golden wrote. “On the eighth hole I had become extremely frustrated when my opponent and caddie were talking and moving. I expressed my disappointment with their etiquette to the rules official in our group.”

On the ninth hole, Golden informed the official that he believed Hibbs had broken the rules by offering advice on his putt. Golden won the hole by concession to move 2 up at the turn, and Hibbs removed himself from the match and returned to the clubhouse.

Golden wrote that after the penalty, the match “turned even nastier, with more negative comments from my opponent on the 10th tee.” He added that he conceded Dull’s 15-foot birdie putt on No. 10 because he was “sick of the abuse from my opponent, and I wanted the match to resemble what you would expect of a FSGA final.”

Though there were no witnesses to the alleged attack and police found little evidence, save for “some redness on the inside of [Golden’s] lip,” Golden wrote that the inside of his mouth was bleeding, his face was “throbbing” and his hand was also injured from bracing his fall. X-rays and CT scans over the past week all came back negative, he said.

Golden reiterated that he was disappointed with the FSGA’s decision to accept his concession in the final match. He had recommended that they suspend the event and resume it “at a later time.”

“The FSGA has one job, and that’s to follow the Rules of Golf,” Golden wrote. “Unfortunately, there’s no rule for an inebriated ‘ex-caddie’ punching a player in a match-play rain delay with no witnesses.”

Asked last week about his organization’s alcohol policy during events, FSGA executive director Jim Demick said that excessive consumption is “highly discouraged, but it falls more broadly under the rules of etiquette and player behavior.”

Dull, 32, was back in the news Wednesday, after he and partner Chip Brooke reached the finals of the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship. They lost to high schoolers Cole Hammer and Garrett Barber, 4 and 3.

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D. Kang, M. Jutanugarn in four-way tie at Volvik

By Associated PressMay 25, 2018, 12:50 am

ANN ARBOR, Mich. - Amy Olson crossed paths with her coach, Ron Stockton, on her walk to the 18th tee at the Volvik Championship.

''Make it another even $20,'' Stockton said.

The coach was already prepared to give his client $35 for making seven birdies - $5 each - and wanted to take her mind off the bogey she just had at 17.

Olson closed the first round with a 6-under 66, putting her into the lead she ended up sharing later Thursday with Moriya Jutanugarn , Caroline Masson and Danielle Kang.

Do small, cash incentives really help a professional golfer?

''Absolutely,'' said Olson, who graduated from North Dakota State with an accounting degree. ''He'll tell you I'm a little bit of a hustler there.''

Olson will have to keep making birdies - and petty cash - to hold her position at Travis Pointe Country Club.

Jessica Korda, Minjee Lee, Nasa Hataoka, Lindy Duncan, Morgan Pressel, Megan Khang and Jodi Ewart Shadoff were a stroke back at 67 and six others were to shots back.

Ariya Jutanugarn, the Kingsmill Championship winner last week in Virginia, opened with a 69.

The Jutanugarn sisters are Korda are among six players with a chance to become the LPGA Tour's first two-time winner this year.

Moriya Jutanugarn won for the first time in six years on the circuit last month in Los Angeles.

''What I feel is more relaxed now,'' she said. ''And, of course I like looking forward for my next one.''

Olson, meanwhile, is hoping to extend the LPGA Tour's streak of having a new winner in each of its 12 tournaments this year.

Full-field scores from the LPGA Volvik Championship

She knows how to win. It just has been a while since it has happened.

Olson set an NCAA record with 20 wins, breaking the mark set by LPGA Hall of Famer Juli Inkster, but has struggled to have much success since turning pro in 2013.

She has not finished best finish was a tie for seventh and that was four years ago. She was in contention to win the ANA Inspiration two months ago, but an even-par 72 dropped her into a tie for ninth place.

If the North Dakota player wins the Volvik Championship, she will earn a spot in the U.S. Open at Shoal Creek in Alabama. If Olson finishes second or lower in the 144-player field, she will enjoy an off week with her husband, Grant, who coaches linebackers at Indiana State.

''I'll make the best of it either way,'' she said.

Olson was at her best in the opening round on the front nine, closing it with four birdies in a six-hole stretch. Her ball rolled just enough to slowly drop in the cup for birdie on the par-3, 184-yard 13th. She had three birdies in five-hole stretch on the back, nearly making her second hole-in-one of the year at the par-3, 180-yard 16th. A short putt gave her a two-stroke lead, but it was cut to one after pulling and misreading a 6-foot putt to bogey the 17th.

Even if she doesn't hold on to win the tournament, Olson is on pace to have her best year on the LPGA Tour. She is No. 39 on the money list after finishing 97th, 119th, 81st and 80th in her first four years.

''Two years ago, I started working with Ron Stockton and whenever you make a change, it doesn't show up right away,'' Olson said. ''That first year was tough, but we've turned a corner and I've just found a lot of consistency in the last year. And, it's a lot of fun to go out there and play golf a little more stress free.''

Stockton helped her stay relaxed, walking along the ropes during her morning round.

''Maybe some people feel a little more pressure when their coach is there,'' she said. ''I'm like, 'Great. If he sees the mistake, he knows what can go wrong and we can go fix it.' So, I like having his eyes on me.''

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Club pro part of 6-way tie atop Sr. PGA

By Associated PressMay 25, 2018, 12:04 am

BENTON HARBOR, Mich. - Nevada club professional Stuart Smith admitted sleeping on the lead of the biggest tournament available to him might be a problem.

''I can't say, 'Oh, it won't bother me.' But to me, it's fun,'' Smith said after shooting a 5-under 66 on Thursday for a share of the first-round lead in the Senior PGA Championship.

Smith closed his morning round with a double bogey on the par-4 18th, and Scott McCarron, Tim Petrovic, Wes Short Jr., Barry Lane and Peter Lonard matched the 66 in the afternoon.

One of 41 club pros in the field at Harbor Shores for the senior major, Smith is the director of golf at Somersett Country Club in Reno.

''To see my name on the board out there, it's not like I'm blind to the leaderboard, that was cool,'' said Smith, who is playing in his fourth Senior PGA and third at Harbor Shores - where he has made the 36-hole cut the previous two times.

''All my members are taking pictures and I know at home my members are pulling up that screen and like I tell them, going to the middle and looking down. So it probably took them a while to find my name today."

Petrovic, who was among the leaders in the Regions Tradition last week before a poor final round, said it was a little bit of a surprise when he heard Smith was at 7 under through 17 holes.

''There was a little bit of buzz, we were talking about it,'' he said. ''I heard somebody say 7 under and I said 'who is it? And we looked up, but we didn't know who the player was. In a tournament like this, you know how it is, there's always one guy, one smart-alec that shoots 7, 8 under in the first round.''

Smith, who birdied five consecutive holes starting at the seventh, played college golf at UCLA and knocked around the mini tours and South Africa for several years without ever gaining his tour card. He was college teammates with some of the players in the field, including Corey Pavin, Duffy Waldorf and Steve Pate, but said he no longer seeks the tour life.

Full-field scores from the KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship

''It's just not me anymore,'' he said. ''So that's why maybe I do have an advantage this week because it's just fun to me. It's like my wife said - just enjoy the ride.''

Petrovic had seven birdies in his round while McCarron and Lonard played bogey-free rounds. Short holed out from the fairway for eagle on the par 4 12th and made eagle on the par 5 ninth hole, his last hole of the day.

McCarron is the only one of the six leaders with a major on his resume. He won the Senior Players Championship last year, and played The Players Championship recently.

''It was a lot of fun being on that stage, of course being at The Players with the best players in the world playing one of the best golf courses in the world,'' he said. ''I think the preparation there and just being on that stage helped me going into last week in Alabama, and certainly this week.''

The top two money winners on the PGA Tour Champions are not in Benton Harbor. Defending champion Bernhard Langer is skipping the event to attend son Jason's high school graduation, and Steve Stricker is playing the PGA Tour event in Texas.

Paul Goydos, a five-time senior winner including the 2016 Charles Schwab Cup Championship, and Chris Williams of South Africa shot 67. Joe Durant, David Toms, Kenny Perry, Jerry Pate and Fred Funk were among 15 players at 68.

Colin Montgomerie, who won the first of consecutive Senior PGA titles here in 2014, shot 69, and Miguel Angel Jimenez, coming off a win last week in the first major of the year at the Regions Tradition, opened with a 70.